Note: This review is based on the PC and PlayStation 3 versions of the title.
Lets get this started off on the right foot right away. No one is buying this game for the single player campaign, just like you wouldn't buy, say, Uncharted for it's multiplayer, even if it's pretty decent. This is a good thing, because Battlefield 4's single player is nonsensical and boring, but that's pretty much what we expected.
If there's a silver lining to be had with the single player campaign in Battlefield 4, it's that this should be the last time DICE bothers attempting to do one in this series. It's not that it's the worse single player experience you could have, it's just not that enjoyable. While some people will likely get some enjoyment out of it, I was pretty eager to just get back to real reason to buy a Battlefield game, the amazing multiplayer.
Multiplayer is truly where this game delivers in spades. I first had a chance to try it out at the Tokyo Game Show in September on the PS4, and I've been dying to play it more ever since. Getting into a 64 player (Note: PS3 and Xbox 360 are limited to 32 players) large Conquest game with a squad of friends is some of the absolute most fun you can have online. This is largely because of the amount of freedom the player is granted in choosing how to play the game, usually resulting in spectacular player controlled set pieces, the likes of which other games reserve for cut scenes. BF4 improves on this formula from it's predecessor greatly by adding naval combat, dynamic weather and the unfortunately named but still really awesome "Levolution" moments.
Levolution is the buzz word DICE is using for events that occur during a match that change the battlefield. These range from small things like raising a barricade to block vehicles and blowing holes in walls to ships crashing into islands and gigantic skyscrapers collapsing in spectacular fashion. At first this might seem like just a gimmick based on how it has been marketed, but Levolution in most cases actually changes the gameplay experience on a particular map and forces you to adapt to new strategies and keeping the gameplay fresh. Paracel Storm for example starts off as a beautiful tropical setting with calm blue peaceful waters. As you progress through the match dark clouds and strong winds start moving in decreasing visibility. As gigantic waves start rolling in attack boats and jet skis became more difficult to drive against the currents. A huge ship can also potentially come crashing into the island taking out players and buildings in it's way.
Aside from Levolution, the amount of unscripted events that can happen in any single multiplayer game really makes for a different experience every time you play. Dropping C4 on a tank from a rooftop and blowing it up, taking out a helicopter in mid air by jumping an ATV into it, or going head to head in fighter jet battles only to eject and take out the enemy fighter with an RPG. These moments in the match are nothing new to the series, but Battlefield 4 gives you more toys to play with than ever, making the possibilities endless. Despite how realistic things can look on the Frostbite 3 engine, Battlefield 4 has a silly playfulness to it that puts a big fat grin on my face.
The best of Battlefield 4's new maps (which are all really good) combine all of it's features spectacularly for air, land, naval and infantry combat on a large scale. Haihan Resort and Paracel Storm are my two personal favorites in this regard, as you battle it out between islands, under bridges and on battle torn aircraft carriers. The new attack boats in particular are a blast to play with and have jet skis on the back that you can eject into for a quick getaway. There's nothing else that even comes close to this much fun in a multiplayer environment.
All of the maps can also adapt in size to work in any of the game's several modes and offer a different experience. For example playing a game of Rush will usually focus the gameplay on some areas of the map you wouldn't usually go (or have access to) in a game of Conquest, which makes it feel much different. Because each game mode in Battlefield 4 is so different, there's enough here to keep you from getting bored for a really, really long time. I was however disappointed at the exclusion of the Gun Master mode introduced in Battlefield 3's Close Quarters expansion pack. It's unclear if it will be added in a future expansion, but it would seem simple enough to add it using the Team DM map layouts. Perhaps DICE felt there wasn't enough interest in the mode to include it, but it ended up being one of my most played game modes in BF3.
As with most big online launches these days it seems, Battlefield 4 is not without it's share of problems at launch. The first week of the game being available has seen players suffering from big problems like frequent game crashes and loss of progression, to bugs that really should have been resolved long before the game shipped. Audio on some maps completely cuts out for all players at times, completely taking you out of the experience, and the notification that you've leveled up tends to repeat 5 or six times on the screen while you're playing. These types of things should never have made it past QA testing, especially when there was an open beta as well. It feels like Battlefield 4 needed another month or so to clean things up but DICE had to get the game done in time to be a next-gen launch title. These issues are being patched, but it has made for a frustrating first few days of playing.
Battlefield 4 takes everything that Battlefield 3 did well and expands upon it, while fixing many of the things it did wrong and players complained about. One of the major gripes of BF3 players on PC was the lack of an in-game voice chat solution, something that seems ridiculous to be excluded in such a team work focused game when pretty much every other multiplayer game has it. This has now been added in BF4, allowing you to communicate with your squad by voice when holding down a key on the keyboard. While this is great to have, I would have liked to see DICE push the envelope a bit and add some kind of positional VoIP for communicating with nearby non squad members, enemies and other people in a vehicle with you. This is something that would lend itself so well to a game like this. A much requested spectator mode has also been added, and a test range for practicing your driving/piloting/shooting skills without having to enter an actual match to do so.
Commander Mode also makes a return from Battelfield 2, allowing one player on each team to assign orders to squads, give supply drops, UAV scans and send in missile strikes. It's an interesting addition to the game that definitely gives the team with a good commander the advantage. The only problem with it being that the commander mode itself can be quite boring to play. Although it's not available yet, the mode is coming to tablets, which might make it a bit more appealing. I can see myself jumping in for a game as a commander if I'm on the bus or on a break at work and getting some XP. Time will tell if people will maintain and interest in actually playing as a commander though. Only a small number of the matches I played in had a commander online, but it does add to the experience.
Also available via a tablet or a second computer on your network is second screen functionality. You can use this as a larger mini-map, to change your loadout while in game, or to change servers while you're still playing on another one. It's a really awesome feature to have, especially having a larger map to look at to see where enemies have been spotted or where your teammates are.
Overall the Battlefield sandbox multiplayer experience is the most intense, crazy, beautiful, spectacular and pure fun that it has ever been. The single player campaign is a waste of time, but the multiplayer is the real reason to get the game anyway and more than makes up for that short coming. If you're a first person shooter fan, or just a fan of having fun online with your friends, then you'd be a fool not to pick up Battlefield 4. While the current gen versions lack some of the graphical umph and intensity of it's PC and next-gen counterparts, you'd still be hard pressed to find another shooter that's as much fun to play, on any platform.