From the rooftop you can see the whole of Shanghai burning. All around, for many miles, buildings belch out vast black oceans of smoke. But there are more pressing matters at hand – like, for example, who is about to emerge from the lift that just arrived on the top floor of this vast skyscraper. Because this rooftop is an objective point in the Battlefield 4 map, Siege of Shanghai – and the elevator is the only way up here.
Here we are then enjoying a glimpse into the future of the Battlefield series – one of 10 new multiplayer maps rolling out with the forthcoming instalment. In the Conquest mode, there are three points to secure and hold against the enemy squad: one is in an underground carpark beneath a vast open square, the second is on that skyscraper rooftop, and the third is in a shopping arcade build around a large glass atrium. The three points are separated by a large river, with the skyscraper positioned on a thumb of land in the middle – so, for ground troops, access between the points is over two highly exposed bridges, or a quick swim across the water.
It's a tactically rich set-up, expertly realised by the team at EA Dice. For the carpark point, there's a glass roof allowing players to lob down grenades, while the clear space makes the square a happy hunting ground for snipers hidden out behind nearby buildings. The shopping centre has two large exits at either end, allowing vehicles to be driven in, but balcony areas along the sides allow the flag to be defended by troops with RPGs. It's that old FPS magic of give and take – every entrance is also a risk.
The highlight though, is the point at the top of the skyscraper – here, the holding team must guard the two groups of elevator entrances, while watching out for enemy chopper attacks. There are also glass areas of the floor that start to crack under gun fire, before exploding away, taking anyone standing on them along for the drop. For the brave or foolhardy, base jumping from the rooftop also affords handy aerial access to the other two flag points, and dropping down from above, firing at unwary enemies is as thrilling as it always has been in the Battlefield series.
Both Battlefield and Call of Duty want to draw us to the dynamic elements of their latest map designs, and Siege of Shanghai has the most spectacular. It's possible to take out the columns supporting the skyscraper with grenades, prompting the whole thing to collapse into swirling dust and jagged claws of masonry. Suddenly, the little triangle of land in the centre of the map becomes just about the hardest flag point to hold, as helicopters use the clear airspace to rain down fire and snipers wait on the other sides of the river to take out unwary foes.
It is a map, then, of contrasts – of neat little skirmishes and then great battles between helicopters and tanks. I like how the play flow can be subtly redirected, perhaps by bringing up the barriers on a bridge, or closing the shutters on a shop – clever players are able to subtly manipulate their enemies. I also likes the renewed sense of verticality, symbolised by that vast tower in the centre. Everything has an overwatch point, everything is vulnerable from above, and you're constantly attempting to pincer the enemy, not just from the sides but also from above and below.
There have been some interesting little updates to the interface too. The lobby, which shows the pre-spawn field map, now lets you spawn directly into vehicles – a simple but effective shortcut. When you pass the cursor over the different flag points, you get a little bit of CCTV footage showing you what's going on, which brings a little bit of life to the screen.
Elsewhere, vehicle handling has been changed. Tanks and APCs are controlled using a single analogue stick for direction and acceleration; there's no accelerator/brake set-up. It resembles the vehicle controls in the Lego games and takes a while to get used to, but it may work better in the long run. I haven't yet tried to fly a chopper.
Only two modes are available in the beta – Conquest and Domination, the latter a more condensed, infantry-based affair, that I still don't like in a Battlefield title. There are five more modes to come.
So yes, this is positive stuff from Battlefield. Graphically, the current gen consoles are showing their age and struggling with some of the depth of aesthetic ambition – perhaps it's Shanghai's endless banks of concrete and steel, but texture detail looks stark in some places. But this map shows that Dice still knows how to create maps that combine stealth and strategy with choke points of sheer ferocity and noise. With Call of Duty: Ghosts also doing some intriguing things with its multiplayer modes and map designs, there is still fun to be teased from these FPS old-timers.
• Let us know about your experiences with the Battlefield 4 open beta in the comments section.
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Source: Tablet Android