Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Gaming: Battlefield 4



Lately, I've been pretty harsh on the world of PC gaming, even to the point of labeling the industry as being downright disreputable. I still stand behind those sentiments. And little, if anything, has changed in the intervening months. Things are still pretty rotten around these here parts, perhaps more so as we now can add disreputable indie developers - who hype projects, pocket lots of crowd-sourced cash, and ultimately release mediocre products - to the mix. It's all enough to make a man want to take up chess again.... 

Be that as it may, there is one aspect of the shameful record of modern gaming that I do feel I need to revisit in the interest of fairness, and that would be EA/DICE's Battlefield 4. As I have pointed out time and again over the last few months (most notably here & here, amongst other threads), BF4 was a good poster child for everything that is ailing the modern games industry: it was a title that seemed to be a sequel for the sake of just raking in more sequel cash; it was bug-ridden and incomplete at launch despite having a $60 price point ($110 including premium); and it required months and months of patching before the player got what he paid for. 

Shameful. Inexcusable. Reprehensible.

But having said all of that, I do have to give EA/DICE a hard to swallow "kudos" for finally releasing a game worthy of the Battlefield name. Battlefield 4 has finally arrived - granted, some seven months post release - but it has arrived nonetheless.  

And it all makes for some good summer gaming. Why summer, you ask? Because Battlefield 4 has so much swimming and boating in it, that they should have called it Battlefield 4: Extreme Water Sports





This is perfectly acceptable and appropriate, though, as this version of the Battlefield franchise deals with a theme long overlooked by a world of combat games.  That is, in a 21st Century reality where China is increasingly playing the part of an aggressive would-be regional hegemon, for some reason most game devs remain obsessed by a 1980's-styled World War III setting that deals with Americans and Russians going at it. Weird.  Blessedly, not here. Instead, this is a game tailored for the Obama administration's pivot to Asia (one of the scant areas where I completely agree with this administration - like with BF4, credit where credit is due). With the exception of the map pack that revisits some of the favs from Battlefield 3 - mostly the Persian Gulf  and the Caucuses - most of the maps in Battlefield 4 all seem appropriately set in believable PTO locales, such as rocky island outcroppings, sub pens, carrier assaults, rice patties, and Pacific Rim cities. Really, DICE has outdone itself in the thematics department based on what I have experienced so far. It is all convincing and on target (unlike Treyarch's Black Ops 2, a game that initially visited the same geopolitical theme, but later got distracted by wacky DLC that featured such incongruities as skateboard parks, rock concerts, and other WTF oddities).  

With that in mind, be prepared to get wet as you fight your way across the Pacific! I hope you like to swim because you will be diving into refreshing tropical waters quite a bit!

The waters began getting rough as a storm closed in - not good for a leisurely swim!
You will also be doing your share of recreational boating:

That hotel looked much better in the travel brochure....

In some ways, BF4 reminds me of a high intensity warfare expansion to Ubisoft's tropical island-themed Far Cry 3.

Now, DICE has made much of the "Levolution" thing in the lead up to the release of this game, but I have to say that, by and large, "Levolution" is little more than a gimmick, one that DICE doesn't even seem all that committed to as it seems to be entirely missing from many of the maps (or maybe it is just not being triggered?). Be that as it may, it is still a shame that it isn't more present as it can be a neat gimmick that can really add some nice additional atmospheric effects to a fight.  It can make for quite the show at times, such as when the player is assaulting an island and has a tropical storm blow in, something that causes the sea to become especially frightful - not fun when you need to cross it on a boat!  Likewise, it is pretty darn cool to be fighting your way through a Pacific Rim city when a rainstorm blows in and floods the streets, forcing the combatants to take to the rooftops! 

"Water water everywhere" is definitely the theme of BF4....

Swimming downtown -  there's never a taxi when you need one!
To be honest, I am not really surprised that water is everywhere in BF4 as the new theme in the world of video game design is clearly the art of creating believable moisture effects. I noticed this trend begin with the unveiling of Watch_Dogs at last year's E3 - was there ever more ink spilt in transcribing all the "oohs" and "ahhs" that were heard when that's game's rain-slicked streets were first unveiled? So, yeah, expect a lot of moisture in your gaming for the foreseeable future because high fidelity rain effects are clearly the "hot, new thang" in gaming. As a lover of rainy skies - a powerful mood setter if there ever was one - consider me enthusiastic for this trend.

Dawn, after a brutal, rainy night of combat

In addition to the new moisture effects, BF4 also has some nifty lighting improvements, from brighter, more believable tracers, to impressively neon-lit city skylines (see screenshot above).

I will say that DICE has also amped up the destruction engine in this game. While I still think it might be a bit behind where the classic Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was, it is a definite improvement over the surprisingly limited destruction in BF3.

Destruction 3.0! Or is it 4.0 now?
As fans have come to expect, all sorts of things can be smashed in this game, from vehicles, to buildings and even the landscaping.

I am literally hiding under a table as an enemy gunboat demolishes the bungalow across the way, and part of mine, too! 


I am also glad to see the return of totally collapsible buildings, something that has been missing from the BF since we left the glory days of Bad Company 2.

As usual, the sound is fantastic in this title.  Be sure to set your audio settings to "War Tapes" and crank up the volume for the maximal effect!

I also have to give credit to DICE for providing many more cosmetic options in this iteration of the series. BF3 was a paltry Call of Duty rip-off in this regard, what with its minor handful of unlockable cosmetics. Not so in BF4. At last, the BF4 community has a very nice selection of custom camo for both our soldiers and our weapons, as well as the ability to design our own logos and have them appear in game:
My custom logo can be seen on the side of my jeep, as well as on my weapon (near the bottom of the magazine). It also appears as a patch on my uniform!


Finally, I am happy to say that DICE has addressed the "Hollywood sound stage" map design issues found in BF3 (you can read about it here). Now buildings actually seem inhabited with furniture and the other detritus of life, albeit, still not up to CoD standards.
Furniture in a Battlefield game!  We are making progress!
Even though DICE has clearly upped the graphic ante from the Battlefield 3 days, I am impressed by how well this game runs on even a dated, stock GPU like mine. While it is true that I have had to step down my BF3 high-ultra settings to medium-high for BF4 for a good framerate (roughly 45-50 fps), I will say that I hardly notice a real distinction as the game still looks mighty fine while running great. Here, DICE deserves a definite pat on the back from PC gamers for taking the time to see that this game didn't become a resource hog. For example, compare the great graphics and solid performance of the Frostbite engine as used here to the highly modded Source engine(!) being used in another EA title called Titanfall - that game looks nowhere near as good, but runs like a fat pig by comparison (I am actually forced to play that game on all low settings!). Nicely done, DICE.

What about the infamous netcode that plagued the early months of this game? Well, I can say that I have encountered few issues of rubber banding and/or delayed hit detection. Now, I said "few" issues for I have encountered such issues very occasionally - say, a dozen or two times out of roughly 50 hours of gameplay to date - and that is with the most recent patch's latency setting set to "medium" (truth be told, I suspect the majority of those issues had more to do with server-side issues rather than the game's netcode). While a competitive player might have a better eye for such issues, this casual player is more than satisfied with the netcode at this point. 

Nice and dry inside of an IFV

Lastly, let me mention Commander Mode.  Like Levolution, I think it is little more than a gimmick at this point.  Half the games I play in don't even have a commander, and when they do, I notice little difference.  

Final Thoughts

It's hard to stay mad at DICE when despite all the initial hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, they still managed to deliver another excellent entry in the Battlefield series. Granted, their behavior (along with EA's, of course) was disreputable and reprehensible at the outset. This is something that must not be forgotten. However, they ultimately did right by their fans in delivering the product we all hoped we would have had last October. 

Now, having said that, I still believe DICE and EA need to be held accountable. With that in mind, I made it a point to refuse to pay full price for either the base game or the premium add-on. By doing so, I not only saved myself money (by waiting for sales, I saved roughly 60% off the original purchase price for the base game +  premium), but hopefully also sent a message to EA that I will not reward their egregious behavior by paying full price for their shoddy products with a Day One purchase;  I'll buy it when the product is fit for sale, and not before.  Ultimately, that meant I had to wait over half a year, or more accurately EA had to wait over half a year past release to get my money, and only a portion of what they would had otherwise earned if they didn't resort to such sleazy tactics.  I am sure that if all gamers did the same, EA would quickly get the message loud and clear (and perhaps already have).  

But let us put all that ugliness behind us. Battlefield 4 is finally here, and I am having a blast yet again. DICE likes to use the "only in Battlefield" slogan as a selling point, but the truth is that there really is nothing like Battlefield when it comes to combined arms action in a highly destructible and immersive environment. Only in Battlefield does the first person shooter environment truly reach the level of an epic war movie in which you are the star.  

It might have gotten off to a very bad start, but if you were on the fence like me, take my word for it: Battlefield 4 is now seaworthy and ready for battle.  

Come on in!  The water's fine!  


2 comments:

  1. I have BF4, I just need to play the game more. I do like that it runs better than BF3 while looking better as well.

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  2. I would like to make three corrections to this entry.

    First, I wrote:

    "I will say that DICE has also amped up the destruction engine in this game. While I still think it might be a bit behind where the classic Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was, it is a definite improvement over the surprisingly limited destruction in BF3."

    I think it is actually fair to say that BF4 exceeds BC2's dynamic destruction. Since fiddling with my graphics settings, I have noticed a lot more things to destroy in the game. The settings might be irrelevant, though, because it could just be do to my general lack of awareness. Speaking of:

    Point 2:

    I described Commander Mode as a gimmick because I said that it was only available as an app and not accessible in-game on the PC. This is wrong. I thought this was the case because Battlelog keeps advertising the Commander app for tablets. That fact, combined with the additional fact that, for whatever reason, I rarely see the option to play as a commander, left me to believe that only tablet users can play as a commander. This is wrong as I actually spotted the play as commander button in a game yesterday and gave it a try! Boring. :) Be that as it may, you CAN play as a commander from within the PC game.

    Point 3:

    I wrote:

    "Now, DICE has made much of the "Level-ution" thing in the lead up to the release of this game, but I have to say that, by and large, "level-ution" is more often than not missing from most maps."

    I actually think this might be do to the"Levolution" thing not triggering on maps, or maybe even due to the fact that I often join a match after it has already triggered. In the last few weeks, I have noticed more "Levolution" events for whatever reason.

    Just FYI.

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