There’s something about Battlefield that escapes explanation, which is exactly why EA/DICE’s marketing for Battlefield 4 is so brilliant. Only in Battlefield isn’t just a silly slogan, it’s the very thing that makes Battlefield the epic FPS experience that fans have to come to expect from the franchise.
Yes, it has guns (lots of guns), explosions, lens flare, a modern setting and more explosions, just like every other FPS game of the last few years. But it’s the subtle ways in which all those arbitrary components that make up the vast majority of FPS games come together only in Battlefield that makes it the jaw dropping adrenaline rush that the trailers make it out to be. Yeah, it has it’s dull moments, but they’re often punctuated or interrupted by a building crashing down around you, a tank exploding in your face, a skyscraper falling, or a killfeed that not even the most experienced Call of Duty player has earned. The things that connect these moments are what makes Only in Battlefield more than just a slogan. They make it an experience you can’t get elsewhere.
There you are, going about your business, securing a hostile objective when “BOOM”, the wall next you explodes in a flurry of concrete, C4, and gunfire and before you know it, an enemy squad has you pinned down screaming into your mic for your squadmates to come and save you. That wall exploding isn’t a scripted event, it’s just what the enemy squad decided to do in that particular match. That’s what separates Battlefield from most other FPS games and the way DICE has spiced up those moments is, in part, what makes BF4 a true sequel to BF3 and not just a re-skin. Yes, the gunplay is tighter, thanks to no more random bullet spread and severely toned-down suppression and, yes, if you played BF3, chances are BF4 will feel like riding a bike, but then an aircraft carrier comes ashore and cuts you off from killing that enemy you were chasing down, forcing you to find a new, and probably utterly decimated path to victory.
Historically, the Only in Battlefield moments were something players were solely in control of. With BF4 and Levolution, DICE has given the levels a chance to make some moments of their own happen. While it’s true that Levolution might feel a tad scripted in that players initiate a scripted destruction event, no other game even comes close to the scale and level of depth DICE is able to achieve by bursting a dam or dropping a smokestack on your head in BF4. Now instead of just having C4 kamikaze or helicopter dogfight stories to pass onto your gamer friends and teammates, you get those set-piece moments that made for some seriously entertaining scenarios thrown into the mix from back when FPS gamers still enjoyed replaying a single player campaign a few times. But what really sets BF4 apart from it’s predecessor, to me, on a fundamental gameplay level, is the little things DICE has done with just about everything in the game to liven up and re-focus the gameplay.
It used to be that you and a buddy would hop in the attack chopper and hope to survive for as long as possible before getting the dead-in-the-air-notification, telling you your ride’s just been disabled and it’s either land while evading enemy fire, or blow up in the process. In BF4, thanks to a smart but simple and totally revamped damage system, getting in a tank or a chopper doesn’t feel like it comes with a guaranteed death sentence after you’ve been hit a few times with enemy anti-vehicle weapons. Now, you can take a few hits and keep your ride alive if they aren’t well placed shots to your tank’s fat butt or your chopper’s rotors. That makes every time you hop in a vehicle feel just a little bit different, which has a surprisingly large effect on that feeling of freshness that we expect from proper sequels and the match-to-match gameplay.
Everything else about BF4, from the way your character accelerates rather than jumps into a sprint, weapon handling, and even reloading is done with a fresh spin but stills bears a happy resemblances to its BF3 origins. While some might argue that BF4 is really just BF3.5 or what BF3 was truly “meant to be,” I see all these little additions to the way the game plays and can’t help but think how awful they would have been had DICE put them in BF3 without having the mountain of new data that I’m sure BF3 gave them. Being the minor, and in some ways drastic, overhaul to the franchise that BF3 was, BF4 is an improvement in every way. But all of it’s triumphs, in true sequel form, have a basis and were made possible by DICE’s experience with BF3. While most FPS sequels try simply to replicate what made previous entries successful with a fresh coat of paint, BF4 is a total redesign of not just how that paint is applied but also why it’s applied. Everything that’s changed from BF3 to BF4 was made so for a reason and almost every change, if not for the better, is a very strong step in both a new and good direction.
All things considered, Battlefield vets are going to find themselves right at home in BF4 while new players will be introduced to the idea that not every franchise spawns recycled sequels to fulfill an annual quota of attempted shock and awe. We’ve only had our hands on the beta, but I can already tell BF4 delivers on not just the skyscraper-collapsing-moments, but on the core gameplay as well and in a way that feels familiar but totally fresh at the same time.
Battlefield 4 officially launches on 10/29 on the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, 11/12 on the PlayStation 4 and 11/19 on the Xbox One. Stay tuned to MP1st as we’ll be covering everything there is to cover with Battlefield 4.