E3 2013: Battlefield 4 Preview

June 19, 2013

One of the biggest games to make a proper debut at E3 2013 was Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 4. As Rocket Chainsaw’s self-confessed Battlefield addict, I attended both the single-player presentations and took part in the hands-on multiplayer.

To start things off, we have the technical details, which are rather significant for Battlefield fans. The shooter will be released on both current and next-generation systems, but the latter will naturally be the better home. Confirmed for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launches, Battlefield 4 will run at 60 frames per second on the new hardware and allow for up to 64 players. Whether the console version will render at 720 or full 1080, it is yet to be confirmed. High-end PC players will nevertheless enjoy all the bells and whistles of DICE’s propriety and latest in-house Battlefield engine, Frostbite 3.

Battlefield 4 forgoes co-op entirely in favour of single-player and multiplayer. Before getting into the meat of the multiplayer, it is worth touching on the solo endeavour. Most people will probably scoff, but DICE has nevertheless affirmed its support for single-player adventure. We’ve already seen the debut Fishing in Baku campaign trailer, and at E3, EA revealed the Angry Sea trailer. I’ve embedded it below for your viewing pleasure, but there a few takeaways worth noting.

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First, I think you can agree the game looks absolutely stunning. Second, the vibe of the trailer seems to portray a climactic and focused solo offering. The biggest issues I personally have with shooter campaigns is that they try to be too bombastic, have difficulty finding the right pacing and usually make little sense. The plot of Battlefield 4 seems to follow a logical script involving the US and Chinese superpowers. The set-pieces we’ve seen are extravagant but possess a degree of subtlety, and the moments of high-octane action are paced so that you can take a breath and regroup between encounters. If DICE adhere to these points and build the highs and lows of their campaign with a degree of believability, we might just get a worthy solo adventure.

But who cares about single-player? Multiplayer is where the real Battlefield action lies. E3 played host to 64 high-end computers sporting pre-alpha Battlefield 4 code, as well as a Commander (more on that in a moment). After braving the long E3 line, I was thrown in the middle of a chaotic Conquest battle on the map Siege of Shanghai.

The game so far is confirmed to have the following modes: squad deathmatch, conquest, rush, and team deathmatch. The shooter will have other modes, including a few unique to Battlefield 4. Players can side with the US, Russia or China, and track personal progress on a new and all-encompassing version of Battlelog.

Despite opting for the controller against ‘superior’ keyboard-and-mouse players, I was able to hold my own and build a respectable score in the 20 minutes or so of play testing. Battlefield 4 feels natural with either control inputs, and despite only running early code, the game is a visual powerhouse (albeit running on high-spec computers). Movement, mantling and aiming are robust and Battlefield 3 veterans will be right at home. Players can spawn from their base, captured points or with any of their squad. The atmosphere of 64 players fighting fiercely for control of points on the map is best described as tense, engrossing and conducive to teamwork. Perhaps the largest changes – or evolutions – for the forth game are the class set-ups, perk breakdowns, destruction mechanics and the return of Commander mode. In this respect, it may be fair to say Battlefield 4 feels more like Battlefield 3.5, but for fans, there is still enough new content to justify a whole new game.

EA has trumpeted the new ‘Levolution’ as one of the biggest additions to the Battlefield franchise. Essentially, every map will feature a mechanic or something similar that will change the layout of the map. In the Siege of Shanghai level, a gigantic skyscraper towers from the middle of the map. It acts as a tactical spawn point and flashpoint, but rather than fighting for control, players can always destroy the supports and in the words of the trailer narrator ‘bring the whole dawn thing down’. After it falls, dust and debris fill the area and visibility is reduced. The actual terrain isn’t altered, but the flow of the battle has changed dramatically. Maps also possess a new level of destructibility. For example, if you are in a tunnel with a tank overhead, collapsing the roof will cause the tank to fall down a level, allowing for more strategic flanking and enemy vehicle removal.

The next big feature is the return of Commander mode. In addition to the 64 players, 2 ‘commander’ players gain a tactical overview of the map. Commander mode can be chaired from a console, PC or even remotely from a tablet. The commander has a set of tools at their command to assist soldiers on the ground. They can deploy UAV scanners, tomahawk missiles, and gunships to specific areas of the map, and send in ammunition, transport and medical drops. These assets are tied to your team’s performance on the ground, and essentially need to be earned by following the commander’s orders, which also net players bonus points.

The four classes from Battlefield 3 return. Assault are again the versatile frontline soldiers offering health and revives. Recon players pack a sniper rifle for taking out enemies from afar and can deploy C4. Engineers are responsible for destroying and repairing vehicles, while support soldiers can lay down suppressive fire.

Of course, an armoury of new weapons and tools will be at your disposal. In between frantic battles, I was able to briefly explore the new weapon modification system. In short, the depth and variety is staggering. New attachments include different colour hipfire lasers, various foregrips, silencers, barrels and more. Aside from the usual optics, you can also add an accessory like a canted sight that turns the gun 45 degrees to display a more traditional ironsight, or even a magnifier that that doubles the range of your chosen optic. Pistols can also be modified in Battlefield 4 with optics, barrels and laser pointers. When you run out of bullets, a melee attack might be your last line of defence, but now, knife attacks can even be countered by following a button prompt.

Of course, no Battlefield would be complete without vehicles. With a new focus on sea warfare, we tinkered with jetskis and combat boats in our demo. The downtown battlefield was a chaotic dance between infantry and machines of war including tanks, armoured carriers and attack helicopters.

My hands-on time with Battlefield 4 demonstrated that it possess the capabilities to satisfy the next generation of virtual warfare. Robust gameplay, astonishing visuals and detailed soldier-building will satisfy veteran multiplayer players and we may just even receive a properly built single-player campaign. Battlefield 4 is set for release in October.