Getting a chance to play Battlefield 4 was no easy task. Each day at E3, DICE representatives would hand out a limited number of tickets (groups of 64 at a time) to E3 invitees frothing at the chance to try Electronic Art’s upcoming first person shooter. When the free passes were out, that was it: no Battlefield 4 for you!
On the last day of the conference I decided to try my luck, sneaking around a side entrance to get a head start on the line. And while it didn’t get me as far ahead as I had hoped (ticket #63 of the initial 64), I had it. I was in.
Directly in front of me were dozens of computers, undoubtedly all souped up to spew out Battlefield 4 at 8,000 frames per second on maximum settings. Looming above was the command center, from which our team’s overlord surveyed and controlled squads on no fewer than six screens. Maybe seven. It was a lot. I secretly wondered if our fearless general saw us as players to command or simply blips and dots on a screen, vying for points.
Our computers were outfitted with top-of-the-line accessories: gaming keyboards, mice, headsets, mousepads, and… oh yeah… Xbox One controllers. I snickered to my inner PC elitist, laughing at the idea that some of the other 31 guys on my team were going to be attempting to aim at things with analog sticks. My sense of superiority evaporated quickly as the action started and my score hovered at an unimpressive 1:1 KDR the entire match.
My score wasn’t the only thing that proved to remain 1:1. The controls, the graphics, the sounds… all of it was pretty much carried over from Battlefield 3. Sure, there were some general improvements: the size and scale of the level was insane. The menus were clearer and more intuitive. UI elements were general less obtrusive (though the monitor was so big I could barely see its corners). But, for the most part, it was Battlefield 3.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s pretty much a good thing. Gunplay felt good. Vehicles had a large, but balanced, effect on the ground situation. Everything felt epic, visceral, and imminent. Gameplay was full of “Battlefield moments” where the interplay between infantry, ground vehicles, air strikes, and the environment produced outcomes that simply aren’t possible in games like Call of Duty. I’m sure by now you’ve seen footage of soldiers jumping from a collapsing skyscraper, and it’s just as insane in-game as it seems in the video. Events of that magnitude made me feel at once infinitely important and infinitesimally small.
There were, of course, let-downs. Environmental destruction was still incredibly limited, for one. Shoot a rocket at a pre-scripted storefront and you’ll see its windows blow out in an explosion of glass and fire. Shoot another rocket just a few stories up at a nondescript office window? Nothing. Hell, the glass I fired at didn’t even become charred, cracked, or darkened. Either it’s some kind of anti-terrorism blast-proof glass, or DICE has continued to overhype just how destructible its environments are.
Also of note was the uneven pacing familiar to Battlefield games. At many points while my team held the lead or was roughly tied with the enemy, deaths led to fairly fast respawns that put me in the heat of battle. But once our squads had fallen behind, there were fewer and fewer places to respawn, essentially forcing me to resurrect at our home base and walk/hitchhike back to the frontlines, where I’d often die only a few moments later. I understand war isn’t pretty, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
Still, the version of Battlefield 4 I played is, by and large, the premier first person experience it claims to be. Combat is difficult, rewarding, and fun, and the entire engine captures your senses and imagination with a larger-than-your-living-room tone you simply cannot shake. I don’t trust EA (though I do have some sympathy for Origin), but I genuinely believe in DICE’s commitment to creating a multiplayer experience worth remembering.
Battlefield 4 may or may not end up being the “COD-killer,” but it will most likely deliver on its promises of blowing you away.