Saturday, 2 November 2013

Whiskey Reviews: Battlefail 4

Info:
Platform: PC
Release Date: 1 November 2013
Developer: Digital Illusions CE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Where to get it: Origin
Price: £44.99

 I don't think the Battlefield series needs any introduction, every PC gamer knows what Battlefield is about and how time and again it's proven to be one of the superior multiplayer games on the platform.

I'm going to split the review into two parts, one for singleplayer and one for multiplayer, for the sake of keeping things clean and (hopefully) not repeating myself too much. Fair warning, there will be a few spoilers in the singleplayer review.



Singleplayer:
Battlefield 4's singleplayer portion follows a group of US Marines called Tombstone squad through a handful of disjointed missions in and around China and a couple of ships as they try to keep some Chinese bloke in bandages alive after a coup or something. It's never really made entirely clear and that's the biggest problem with the Battlefield 4 singleplayer portion - the story is a mess of broken links and gaps stuffed to the hilt with player assumptions and, more often than not, just not making sense.

Some characters from the Battlefield 3 campaign make a return; that little plastic (ceramic?) dinosaur makes a return as a rear-view mirror ornament and Dima turns up in a mountainside prison for reasons that are never explained in the slightest. Also, surviving that nuke in Paris seems to have given Dima Incredible Hulk style strength as he tears through a reinforced concrete wall like it's tissue paper with his bare hands about thirty seconds after meeting him. I can only imagine that he wanted to just break the fourth wall and escape the poorly written dialogue, recycled models, sounds and technical issues.

Tombstone squad is a largely unlikable bunch; the main character Recker is your usual mute disembodied gun and arm. Irish, the token black guy in the whole game, is an impulsive loudmouth who I had no regrets about sending to his death at the end of the story - it wasn't even a choice (well, it was a choice in game but I just clicked on him instantly). Pac is "leadership material but has a long way to go" - presumably because he can't keep his mouth shut for two seconds and sounds like a lost child with his nuts in a vice and a stick up his ass. Finally Hannah is the token female, a Chinese Intelligence officer who's a good guy, bad guy, double agent, triple agent, deus ex machina. The best thing I can say about her is that the voice actress seems to have actually put a lot of effort and heart into performing for this role and managed to believably sell her character in almost every situation throughout the story. Well done Jessika Van, you're the best thing about the whole experience.

Just as the plot is full of holes, the levels are positively rotten with technical issues. I've seen jets hanging in mid air like model airplanes, I've been catapulted across the South China Sea for daring to climb a ladder when told to, perhaps most hilariously while swimming through a sinking aircraft carrier Recker decided it would be better to just walk through the water and refuse to leave like a stubborn Zora. Those bugs are just over about 10 minutes of a single mission too. Other hilarious encounters include teleporting squadmates, being killed by the recoil of my own rifle, pratfalling off a ladder (because apparently it looks like a ladder but is actually a banana peel), having my weapon refuse to reload, rubberbanding enemies as though experiencing online lag, enemies who fast rope from a heli only to sink into the tarmac up to their waists, a sniper, who when shot in the face with a .50 sniper rifle and exploded by a barrel next to him decided he'd had enough of my shit and killed me instantly. Finally - the x64 executable is completely unusable, only managing about 3-4 frames a minute even on absolute top-end hardware. That's only about a third of the issues I've run into too, take away from that what you will.

Lastly, the story has no ending. There's a literal cut to credits for a crappy monologue after making a choice of who dies at the end. What little good graces the singleplayer portion still had was completely wiped out forever with that nut-kick of a finish. Speaking of endings; onto the multiplayer!

Multiplayer:
Ah, the true meat of Battlefield. What the series is about. Where the "battlefield moments" happen and 64 players experience... simultaneous crashes?

I'll be the first to admit that Battlefield doesn't hold a particularly special place in my heart, when the first two came out I didn't have a net connection good enough to play online and the bots were thick as pig shit but the series has grown on me over the years and for all its flaws, frustrating matches, and all the other bollocks it's still sucked up a huge amount of hours of my life.

I digress. What's it like? Pretty much more of the singleplayer's issues. There's crashes, sudden lag, horrific hit registration and the level geometry has hit boxes that make shooting over or around cover a complete gamble. For those of us who love bipods - don't even bother, there's even less places to properly deploy one here than there were in Battlefield 3, with them glitching into geometry and giving you a lovely view of the muddy recycled Battlefield 3 wall textures.

Speaking of recycling - it's completely unforgivable that so much has been recycled from Battlefield 3, and it's noticeable too. The Battlefield 3 models and textures are noticeably worse than the ones made for Battlefield 4 and they litter the map like some kid accidentally mixed his Legos and Mega Bloks (if you're too young to know what those are, you're too young to play the game, stop reading!).

If I may still use childrens toys as an analogy; the Support class and their associated weapons are the equivalent of a half melted plastic army man (not even a cool green one either). The LMGs spray wildly, do about as much damage as a spitball and generally go out of their way to make Support players feel like they're getting a digital purple nurple from the developers. In contrast the Assault weapons are largely accurate, controllable and powerful. Engineers likewise. Snipers are still for the cool kids too, those most elite of keyboard warriors who love to stick a laser sight on their bolt action and pretend it's doing something a mile out (not that any of Battlefield 4's maps are a mile long). Okay, the childish references are done now.

Helicopters take such a beating as to practically be flying tanks and vehicles with the 25mm cannon (Chinese IFV, I'm looking at you) are essentially bullshit cannons capable of turning an Abrams into Swiss cheese while shrugging off blows because apparently all the vehicles are made of the same nanomachines as the soldiers now and regenerate health if not shot for two seconds.Vehicles do play a key role on most maps though, with the soldiers largely being nothing but an annoyance to the rampaging LAVs and Hueys.

That's ground and air but what about the boats? Well, bluntly they're crap too. While the wildly undulating (turned on yet?) waves looked and sounded like an amazing revolution in digital nautical warfare they're actually a complete buggy mess. The boats bob up and down like bricks in a tumble dryer, often clipping down through the waves and ended up underwater for several seconds. Even when you're not piloting a wannabe submarine the boats tend to only have time on target for about half the time they're in use thanks to the wibbly water. The best way I can think of trying to describe it is this; imagine you have a sheet with a toy boat on it, and the sheet has holes in it at various points, then you shake the shit out of the sheet like an unwanted puppy and then get bored and give up to use the LAV (poop joke intentional).

The commander role has made a return for the first time in ages and has some new toys like cruise missile strikes and old favourites like UAVs and supply drops but even the mightiest of all team players is so gimped as to be pointless. The UAV flies too low, preferring to circle the chosen spot at a height where a moderately sized stepladder threaten its wings, the missiles are about as accurate as a blind putt-shot amateur and god forbid the commander call for a supply drop anywhere useful as the maps are largely so cluttered that it ends up on a roof or wedged 20 feet from the floor between two trees half the time.

I refuse to type out the word DICE use to describe the major destructible features of some maps, instead preferring to just tell you what they are; stupid, crap and an annoyance. The first time you see a dam burst, flood waters rise, or a skyscraper flatten a street it's a spectacle and a triumph of modern gaming technology. Then you realize that by and large the level has evolved into an inconvenience with a huge portion of it inaccessible, destroyed or simply no longer fun to play in anymore. It's only 36 hours after launch and already people seem to have learned to avoid triggering these events - that says more than I ever could.

So the soldier-shooting is shonky, vehicle vivisection is vile and geometry gimpy but is it worth buying or playing? No, absolutely not. If you have Battlefield 3, or any of the others, avoid this like a rabid  plague rat dripping diarrhea in your dinner. It's a showcase of graphical triumph wrapped in the cozy, familiar blanket of shoddy programming, careless QA and gameplay balance that's on vacation right now.

Score: 3 hundred rounds fired out of 10 thousand needed to kill a Littlebird (it'd be 2/10 but the glitches made me laugh sometimes).