Battlefield 4 video review: current-gen combat

This review is specific to the current-gen console version of Battlefield 4. All video and screenshots are taken from Xbox 360. The console versions of Battlefield have always played second fiddle to their bigger, badder PC brother. Less players, less pretty, less everything. And while Battlefield 4 is ready to go "next-gen" on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 outings will nonetheless be played by a significant audience. How have EA and DICE fared on the current-gen? Battlefield 3's campaign was short, and for the most part, just downright painful. Battlefield 4 addresses the shortcomings of its predecessor, providing a slightly longer experience with a more focused story. While modern military games frequently suffer from schizophrenic settings and characters, DICE focuses on just one squad (Tombstone) from the perspective of the aptly-named player character, Sergeant Daniel Recker. The prose isn't great, but it's not nails-on-a-chalkboard, either. Characters are developed enough that you might care that China has thrown the planet into conflict... again. The linear campaign showcases DICE's proclivity for chaos. There's nary a moment where something isn't exploding or 50 guns aren't firing at once from myriad directions. There are few places to catch your breath. However, Battlefield 4 introduces open areas that provide a little more flexibility. Scattered weapon and gadget crates allow you to adjust your loadout mid-mission, providing further malleability. It's less claustrophobic than its predecessor, but the open areas can also feel like an illusion. If you fail to take the intended path, these levels can seem almost impossible to complete. There's plenty of incentive to play well. New weapons are added to your arsenal as you complete assignments with points accumulated throughout each mission. You can add to your cachet further by finding guns left by dead enemies or hidden around the environments. Once you wield or unlock a weapon, it will always appear in the gun crate going forward. It guarantees you always have the right tool for the job. Variety is nothing new in games of this ilk, and in Battlefield 4, you're piloting vehicles or firing from a gun turret almost as much as you're on-foot. It keeps the campaign from dragging and helps prepare you for the online skirmishes to come. While improved from Battlefield 3, the campaign still feels like a cheap knock-off at times. It borrows multiple scenarios from other games, and overall, demonstrates a distinct lack of creativity. It can be completed in a solid sitting, and despite numerous setpiece moments, it struggles to find its own identity.

The bombastic campaign can feel too familiar at times

The multiplayer suite is where you'll get your money's worth, but its updates are subtle and its additions mostly expected. Just about every object can be reduced to rubble, and it doesn't take a tank shell to do it. One second you're in cover, and the next second you're not. DICE calls it "Levolution" and it's a far more useful mechanic than it ever has been before. Water-based assaults are now viable, and in conjunction with the re-introduction of commander mode, boats can swoop in and take an objective along the shore to quickly turn the tide. Most of the 10 maps feature a lot of verticality--allowing enemies to strike from every conceivable angle. Never knowing when or where death will come instills a palpable sense of urgency. If you like to constantly feel threatened, Battlefield 4 is your game. There are eight total modes with four supporting vehicles and four just for infantry. Classics like Conquest, Rush, and Deathmatch return along with some new twists like Obliteration where you must take a bomb to three detonation sites before the opposition. The rest are spin-offs of these concepts. No matter which option you choose, you'll spend a lot of time taking and defending things.

Once again, multiplayer is Battlefield's strength

Squads are boosted to five and it improves the breadth of available team-based tactics. The return of field upgrade buffs from Battlefield 2142 provides further incentive to be strategic with squad composition. The systems under the hood in Battlefield 4 continue to plumb the depths of combat, leaving a lot for the player to uncover and exploit. Just about everything can be upgraded in some way and there are multiple systems designed to progress your soldier. It can seem overwhelming at first, but right down to the sluggish pace of gaining levels, Battlefield 4 is a game that's designed to reward the dedicated. While you get 64 total players on PC and next-generation consoles, on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it's culled to a measly 24. It doesn't have as large an impact as you might think. Properly scaled maps, a healthy sprint distance, and vehicles galore keep the downtime at a minimum. If anything, you'll enjoy the brief reprieve from the constant tension. Battlelog returns to keep track of your friends through the game, but Battlefield 4 still lacks a rigid competitive structure for eSports and other accoutrements like a theater mode to relive your greatest glories.

Water-based assaults are now viable in multiplayer

With so many versions for the team at DICE to create, it's not surprising that Battlefield 4 on the current consoles lacks some polish. Hit detection can be dodgy when firing through complex structures and bullets sometimes fly through materials that should be impenetrable. Yet there's some nice attention to detail, like environmental elements you can activate and multiple firing modes per weapon. Just being able to open and close doors adds more to the game than you might think. As Xbox 360 and PS3 head off to pasture, Battlefield 4 will not be remembered as a graphical showcase. The improved destruction comes at the price of an overall murky display that can make spotting enemies difficult--particularly in multiplayer. Textures lack definition and LOD issues are prevalent as plant life constantly pops into view. It's a shadow of the glorious PC iteration, but the Frostbite 3 engine runs steady most of the time, and compared to other games on the platform it still checks a lot of graphical effects boxes without throwing a rod. Battlefield 4 doesn't break any molds, but whether you're making your way through the glossed-up campaign or burning scores of hours battling online, there's always a strong underlying sense of anxiety and uncertainty. You simply never feel safe. All the great things you remember about the series like realistic ballistics, balanced vehicles, and solid gunplay are here. If you can't get enough of this stuff and new maps are all you need, you know what to do. [7]
This review is based on early retail Xbox 360 code provided by the publisher. Battlefield 4 will be available at retail on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC on October 29 for $59.99. It is also available for download on PlayStation Network and Origin. The game is also coming to PS4 on November 15 and Xbox One on November 22. The game is rated M.