Battlefield 4 E3 Hands On: Old Dog, Amazing New Tricks


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My first stop during E3 was the EA booth to check out Battlefield 4 multiplayer. More important than the MP mode itself, perhaps, was the back-from-the-dead Commander Mode, not seen since the heady days of Battlefield 2 and 2142.

We’ll get to the Commander Mode in a moment, but let’s talk Conquest, and how the multiplayer feels like a subtle but crucial evolution over Battlefield 3. Everything you’ve become familiar with in BF3 is still there; Frostbite, destructible environments, a litany of weapons and vehicles, and the control point style of play that many of us know and love.

The classes are the same, too — Support, Recon, Engineer, and Assault. A few things have shifted back around in the never-ending balance game, so C4 explosives are a Recon item again, taken away from the presumably-overpowered Support loadout. That aside, Engineers still rocket and repair, Assault still heals, revives, and…well, assaults, and Recon is still the class of choice for the scoping crowd.

Frostbite 3 is an evolution as well, as it includes seemingly more natural movement in player models, and a bigger emphasis on dust and other particle effects. If a building goes down (side note: the skyscraper collapse in the MP demo from the EA press conference is NOT scripted; it can happen anytime, once the building’s support columns are destroyed), the dust from the demolition sits in the air like a fog, wreaking havoc on satellite optics and gunship line-of-sight.

I spent a fair amount of time in a tank’s gunner seat, and the changes extend to firing mechanics as well. There’s a greater, more defined arc to bullets, especially when you’re sending hundreds of rounds towards a US attack helicopter that’s relentlessly giving chase.

The aesthetic in Battlefield 4 is gritty, to say the least. Everything has a…dirtier quality to it — not in a bad way, but as a part of combat. Dirt, dust…particles and real elemental issues not seen in BF3 are present here, giving the whole experience a more life-like look and feel.

The Commander mode, in short, was exactly what I wanted it to be. For the Battlefield 2 veterans in the audience, the new CM takes the aerial view components found in BF2, and updates them to modern times. The main difference is Commanders cannot fight on the battlefield, so your only view is from above, and your interactions with enemies are via Tomahawk rocket and gunship.

The Commander has several important tasks, like ordering squads around to different points, highlighting high-value targets (enemies with a killstreak of 5 or more) for your troops to hunt down, and dropping UAVs and anti-UAVs (also known as EMP UAVs…that’s a lot of UAVs). Infantry scan is back, too, which scans the whole map for ground soliders. the Tomahawk takes the same kind of finesse that the BF2 artillery strike required — aim where he’s going, not where he is, etc. Zooming on the battlefield is an important tool as well, going from a map-wide view down to the view of a single flag, seeing troops and tanks scurry around like ants.

Commands to troops are given in two ways: by voice and through the Commander interface itself. The latter is the same as other Battlefield Commander experiences: click and command. The voice function wasn’t available in the demo (E3 is a noisy place), but telling squad leaders what to do via VOIP should make for a smooth tactical experience, provided you’re not playing with a bunch of trolls.

As for who actually gets to be Commander, that is still up in the air. DICE might implement a rank system (highest rank gets priority), or it might be a first come, first serve kind of queue.

Battlefield 4 is, in my limited playtime with the MP demo, exactly what Battlefield fans want. The “new” Commander Mode is spot-on, and will introduce a dynamic not seen in seven years. Every aspect of the gameplay has been tweaked or retooled, from the engine to the way guns operate to the feel of mounted MGs on the tank. Battlefield 4 is by no means a simulation, but it does bring a more life-like quality to the gameplay, if only incrementally.

Oh, and let’s not forget about Spectator Mode (which I have not seen, but was supposedly live-streamed by EA/DICE earlier today), which means Battlefield 4 will have a larger eSports footprint when it launches later this year.

Battlefield 4 is slated to launch October 29, 2013 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

Devin’s on the floor at E3 – you can follow him on Twitter at @DevinConnors, and follow Game Front for more E3 news at @GameFrontCom.

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