Battlefield 4 hands on with DICE – “doubling down on single-player” but “multiplayer itself is worth the money”
Most games – particularly most modern FPS games – are determined to make you the hero. You’re the one who puts the knife in the bad guy’s eye, you’re the one who defuses the bomb strapped to the little girl’s face, you’re the one who pushes the big red ‘PRESS TO SAVE WORLD’ button. Battlefield 4 doesn’t want to make these concessions: here you’re part of the PS4 war machine, playing one part among many.
Battlefield 4 hands on with DICE
This has long been true of the series’ multiplayer component, and is even more so this time around (which we’ll come to). But DICE also wants to tell a more personal story in the campaign – something executive producer Patrick Bach is keen to hammer home in our exclusive interview. “[Battlefield 3] was good but not good enough. We want to even out the score a bit, so we are doubling down on the single-player. We want to create this narrative about real people in the war. It’s not about the war itself: it is about the people within the war. [We’re] taking a lot of the values we have in multiplayer, like player choice, and keeping the narrative and the drama, and having these amazing moments where cool stuff happens.”
“We are doubling down on the single-player, taking the values we have in multiplayer
and having these amazing moments
where cool stuff happens”
Not an easy balance to strike, but the team’s adamant that the single-player portion is integral to the Battlefield experience and that, despite the huge (and deserved) following that its online component has garnered, isn’t going anywhere. “Even if the single-player in Battlefield 3 wasn’t great, we still have a lot of people playing it,” says Bach. “But to us it is important to not gut react too much, because a lot of people that don’t like the single-player love the multiplayer. Multiplayer in itself is worth the money and we don’t want people to feel like you have to spend time in single-player if you don’t want to. For us it is a combination of creating a full multiplayer experience and a full single-player experience.”
And that confidence extends to the genre as a whole – despite the sense that there’s a growing feeling of fatigue towards gritty, contemporary shooters. “In the end, it doesn’t matter if you have ten movies about approximately the same thing. If someone makes it really good, it is still intriguing. To me it’s about creating an experience rather than trying to shirk away from that. Because there have been many modern military shooters, but not that many that have been great.” And with developers still keen to ape the original Modern Warfare wherever possible, that’s undoubtedly true.
Grand promises were made during development of the last game, though, and yet the single-player campaign was too short, too derivative and too buggy to even get near the ‘classic’ bracket. But where the game did deliver – and where we’re more certain that this one will also succeed – is on the multiplayer front. Talk to a hardened Battlefield veteran about the online offering and they’ll likely glaze over, mumbling like a man fresh from the trenches about the realities of war and the intricacies of driving a tank. And their dedication is well-earned because, without going to the joy-sapping extremes of Operation Flashpoint, the series encourages teamwork and paints a more realistic picture of combat than your average shooter.
It’s a foundation that’s being built upon here, but in terms of size and scope. Size-wise, a whopping 64 players can now take part in online battles, which has the knock on effect of more sprawling and variable maps. And the way you can play with these toyboxes has changed, thanks to DICE’s ‘levolution’ concept. Says Bach: “It’s both from a destructive standpoint where you can affect the world – set traps, bring buildings down, shoot stores, whatever you want – but also small things that will keep the game changing, like shooting out fire extinguishers to create a smoke cloud. We have metal detectors that beep when someone runs through them with a gun, so you can hear someone is close by. We have birds flying out of bushes when someone is sneaking through. So it’s really small things up to the really big destructive events like buildings falling down. This [provides] very dramatic moments, and these small and big dynamic elements create this concept of the map actually changing as you play along. It will be a game changer.”
Sadly in our time with the multiplayer we aren’t able to do any large-scale demolition work, but we do get thrown into one of the most immersive and gripping online warzones we can remember. There are no tactical nukes being dropped, no quadrotor drones buzzing overhead, and no sociopaths teabagging fallen victims. Just soldiers scrabbling around a rapidly deforming city, tactically using cover, hijacking vehicles and, occasionally, crashing helicopters into the bay. It’s the sense of scale and being a part of a much larger effort that is most striking: moving in impromptu fireteams in order to secure a location, or giving team-mates a lift across the vast map in order to provide backup at a stronghold under fire. The immersion is helped by the game’s flawless visuals: tell us where we can find a better-looking shooter and we’ll track it down and kiss it passionately on the mouth.
We’re already convinced that Battlefield 4 will be the purists’ choice for FPS multiplayer come release, and the only way to go when it comes to tactical and nuanced online play. But then that’s long been the case, as have the doubts over DICE’s ability to craft a compelling single-player game that stands the test of time. The team is certainly making the right noises, and what we’ve seen so far, combined with the focus on a more personal and emotive story, is promising. Whatever the end result, we do know that it’ll likely be the genre leader when it comes to graphical prowess, and as of now the game’s troops look to have land, air and sea superiority over Call Of Duty and its canine companion. But in the FPS war things can change quicker than you can say ‘levolution’, even if not as quickly as it’ll be rejected by your spellcheck.