The first time I tried to fly a helicopter, a few good men died on the landing pad. On attempt two, I got airborne before landing in the ocean. On lucky number three, I flew that bird as god intended, making long sweeps around hotspots and waiting for Wagner to kick in. This is the life, I thought, lazily hovering towards an enemy squad. Too low; the blades hit a tree, I lost control, grunts scattered below, and the ground span wildly – dead. Multi-kill! Taking out enemies this way is one of the many reasons Battlefield 4 is amazing.
Housekeeping first though, because the singleplayer campaign isn't one of them. The best you can say is it's a well-executed take on this generation's familiar FPS cliches, until an abrupt and disappointing multiple-choice ending. Firing the guns feels great, but the entire exercise has an air of redundancy – enemy behaviour you've seen before, scene ideas you've played before, and even the seemingly-obligatory torture scene. The template for this stuff is 2007's Modern Warfare, and despite BF4's near-constant spectacle, the years have not been kind.
Still: who cares? Battlefield has a singleplayer campaign because it has to have one, but this series is so loved because of multiplayer. The key feature is destructibility; any structure can be chipped away by gunfire or blown apart by explosions. It's one of those things that sounds like an incidental feature until you pop off a few shots at a tank then hide in a building – at which point the tank's driver, quite sensibly, fires at the wall and takes you and the house with it.
The destructibility gives this world an atmosphere, makes it feel more solid. Bullets chew up masonry as you fire down corridors, explosions puff out obscuring clouds of dust, and shelter becomes open ground. This theatre of war crumbles during the show, and it's an environment done full justice by surround sound that picks out skittering footsteps, the crack of a sniper's bullet, or the overwhelming impact of a tank shot.
The polish extends far beyond BF4's more obvious charms to systems like squad spawning or the AI mic chatter that flags enemy targets. These tie together large groups of players and large objective-based maps, forging fast links between random players and giving reinforcement waves an underlying rhythm. So many small features are a delight; I love 'spotting' enemies by pulling the R2 trigger, which means you forego opening fire for a second to flag their position for the team. It's a slightly risky choice but a heavily rewarded one, so players like me keep on doing it, and the whole squad benefits.
Guiding behaviour like this is the mark of a great developer, but what makes Battlefield brilliant is in how this setup leads to endless one-off situations and emergent battles. Multiplayer's main mode is Conquest, where three to five objectives have to be fought over and held – some of these are flags in mini-arenas, and some of them are flags on things like a skyscraper.
With friends like these …
I remember the first time I fought on top of the skyscraper, because it was going well. We had an awesome group of six or seven locking it down, I'd got a few kills, and everything was peachy until an alarm started going off. The four guys near me got up, turned around and jumped off the building. I looked down to see their parachutes blossoming up one-by-one, and was thinking 'how beautiful' as the skyscraper collapsed and killed me.
You don't get that in Call of Duty. And these marquee moments are matched to a more extended beat, the way that Battlefield produces great strings of stories during multiplayer. I played on Zavod 311, a sweeping map punctuated by empty tank factories, and fell in with a soldier called Poopagore (a pretty tame handle by FPS standards). Initially we just happened to be in the same fight. Then we started following each other around, watching each other's back, and using the squad spawn system to stay together.
Soon enough we'd both tweaked our loadouts so we were carrying defibrillators to revive the other when things went wrong. Poopagore found a tank, and in a mad five-minute spell we took every Conquest marker. We hid out in factory gantries and spotted targets for each other, flew choppers on wild sorties in the enemy's general direction, and took out a three-man squad in an instant with synchronised grenades. Over a 42-minute match, this random person and I didn't exchange a word but played together in an awesome one-off buddy movie.
It has to be said that, for anyone familiar with Battlefield 3, this is more of the same with welcome tweaks – new features include things like leaning out of cover to fire, which slots into your move-set neatly but hardly revolutionises things. It would be easy to be sniffy about the similarities between the two games, but fundamentally Dice has done the right thing – BF4 plays superbly, a mighty game in its own right, and is simply glorious in action.
On the level
It's outside the matches themselves that things get uglier. The first problem is that encrusted around progression is a gradual and grinding unlock/upgrade system, so most of the guns and kit are locked until you've spent hours and hours and hours levelling up. And then levelling up individual weapons for upgrades like handles and sights, and upgrading your vehicle boosts, and perk packages. This type of thing clearly has a place, but BF4's formulaic take feels pointlessly expansive, something that may serve its hardcore fanbase but rather restricts things for those who only want to play every so often.
Still: grinding out reflex sights isn't ideal, but I can live with it. Far harder to take is the heavy hand of the bean-counting overlords at EA, who do not like the idea of customers only paying them once. BF4 costs £40, or if you want to wait for the next-gen versions closer to £50. For this not-inconsiderable ticket price you might expect to have bought the greater part of Battlefield 4 – but then the menus spend most of their time suggesting otherwise.
A slow clap please for Battlefield Premium, a year-round calendar of DLC content and extras for another £40, and something BF4 is constantly forcing into your sight. It certainly has a premium position on the game's starting menu, and even modes like the 'My Soldier' customisation also funnels you towards – what? Premium knives, premium paint, 12 golden premium 'Battlepacks', premium customisation and premium events. The slogan for Battlefield Premium is, I kid you not: 'Own more, be more.' I mean, tell us what you really think.
It's as well to remember at times like these that Battlefield is a toy and not a lifestyle choice. The really unfortunate thing with this Premium nonsense is that the greater body of players are made to feel like they're travelling in economy class, so that the core fans can be milked. I'm not anti-DLC, but the way Battlefield Premium constantly thrusts at you just feels grubby. It's not a nice way to treat paying customers, and it's a pity to see it besmirch such a great game.
• Battlefield 4 reviewed on PlayStation 3
Source: Theguardian. com
Readmore: Games News: Battlefield 4 – review