BF4 Beta Impressions: There’s A Boat On My Subway Station
Silly headlines and boats aside…
I’m a man who enjoys his Battlefield 3. I’ve logged several hundred hours in the game, give or take — barely touching the 1,000-ish hours I dumped into BF2 during high school and college, but I digress — and it’s a winner in most categories. Where it falls short, as many of you may know, is in the details. There’s no Commander Mode, and there’s no Spectator Mode, which cripples the game’s eSports viability. Some of the rifles and carbines are essentially Moonraker lasers with magazines, there’s a certain lack of finesse in the vehicle control, and many of the levels lack an appropriate degree of vertical scope.
Battlefield 3 is pretty good…but I’m not sure if I would call it great. Battlefield 2 was great (especially before all the patches). Battlefield 1942 was great. 2142 was chock full of great ideas, though many were poorly executed (Titan Mode?)
I’ve logged roughly nine or ten hours in the beta, and it already feels like Battlefield 4 is on the path to greatness.
The beta map is Siege of Shanghai — the same map shown during E3 2013. Where E3 only had Conquest (32v32 with vehicles), the beta includes Domination as well. Both modes pair with the same Shanghai map, but Domination brings the server size down to 32, ditches all the vehicles, and reduces the map size by about 60 percent.
[Two quick notes, readers: First, all the screenshots are based on a beta, so please keep that in mind before you make silly comments about the graphics quality. Second, click through on all the images for larger versions.]
Map Design, Guns, and Customization
As soon as you spawn in, you can instantly tell that the map design is coming from a fresh perspective. I know the ten or so maps in the final product will vary in shape, size, and setting, but Shanghai’s towering skyscrapers, vertical-heavy firefights, and penchant for small sea/bay battles is unlike anything you’ll find in previous Battlefield games. Where Battlefield 3 levels are countryside- and hill-heavy, and buildings only climb 3-5 stories, the Shanghai is replete with tall office and apartment buildings. The C flag — the massive skyscraper you’ve seen in all the various Battlefield 4 ads — is
the only skyscraper with internal access one of several massive buildings that offers rooftop access via elevators on the ground floor. Aside from the half-dozen or so buildings with lifts or ladders, the other rooftops can be accessed via helicopter. Drop down, set up shop with a sniper rifle or RPG, and keep the suppressing fire coming.
The guns already feel better, and there’s undoubtedly some tweaking before the retail release. I’ve spent most of my time with the AK-12 (default Assault primary weapon), the MX4 (default Engineer SMG), and the AK-5C (Carbine for every class). The AK-12 feels like the AK from Counter-Strike: Accurate on the first two shots, followed by some decent spray if your control isn’t sharp. It’s a great start for the accurate shooter, as it handily rewards controlled burst fire. The SMG class is predictably poor at long range, but the MX4 is a good choice for clearing our doorways and tight spaces. If you’re a good shot at long range (ahem), the accessible carbine list is an Engineer’s best friend. Stayed with the AK-5C carbine as soon as I unlocked it, and never looked back.
The only weapon class that needs some polish? Sniper rifles. Something feels off about the class…too easy to kill with it up close, and a bit touch-and-go at the usual long range.
The loadout system is stock Battlefield, albeit with some updates. In BF3, kit additions (your med packs, grenade launchers, etc.) were tied to specific slots, but Battlefield 4 lets your mix, match a prioritize without a hitch. Most of these gadgets are locked out of the beta, but each class has at least two to choose from. The Assault class can access the med packs, defibrillators, and grenade launchers, and the trio can be paired down to two in any order or combination. There are some restrictions in place to keep things fair — the Engineer can’t rock the RPG and the Stinger AA missile at the same time, for example — but the variety is a step up from Battlefield 3.
The last new tweak on the infantry side of things addresses unlocks and upgrades, which have been built out in some ways, while streamlined in others. Unlocks are still tied to your rank and weapon proficiency, but Battlepacks can speed up the unlocking process. I got my first Battlepack at rank 3 — a Bronze briefcase in Battlelog with a trio of free unlocks inside. Every few ranks (3,5,7,10, etc) nets you a new Battlepack, which helps the unlock process feel like less of a grind.
Field Upgrades have streamlined the Specialization process — it’s like the Specialization process from Battlefield 3 had a kid with the killstreak system from Call of Duty. Instead of choosing one option, like extra ammo or grenades, you now choose a quartet of perks, all being offensive or defensive in nature. The better you and your squad perform, the faster these upgrades are unlocked. My upgrades are set to defensive, which means I’m rewarded with more body armor, partial immunity to suppression, fire-proofing, and faster med pack healing.