Commander Mode is back. The holy grail of Battlefield multiplayer, not seen since Battlefield 2142, is returning after an absence of three games, and following some persistent lobbying from fans. DICE felt the time was right with Battlefield 4.
If you weren't around back then, or if you've only played Battlefield on console, you may wonder what this is all about. Don't worry; we'll get to that. For now all you need to know is that Commander Mode is just one of the pillars of Battlefield 4 multiplayer. The other one is a skyscraper.
We paid a visit to the Stockholm offices of DICE to learn more and be among the first in the world to test the multiplayer of Battlefield. We were re-introduced to Commander Mode and the significantly improved Battlelog, and given a brief demo - after that we were invited to sit down and try it out for ourselves.
The map we sampled is called Siege of Shanghai, and according to creative director Lars Gustavsson, it's based on an idea the developers have had for some time, but only now get to realise. It's a Conquest map for up to 64 players with five control points set in central Shanghai. It offers a varied urban environment, and more vertical action than any previous Battlefield map.
Tanks and lighter vehicles make their presence known as they thunder down the streets, while helicopters chase eachother in between the high rises. There is a lot of variation with control points positioned in diverse locations. One of them is found in open terrain, another one in a parking garage, a third one in a metro station. The most central point is located on top of the aforementioned skyscraper, placed on a small peninsula in the centre of the horseshoe-shaped map. It's so tall that the only way of reaching the top is via helicopter or elevator, and once you're on top you can easily base jump to any of the other four points. Holding this position is of vital importance.
One of the areas DICE has focused on with Battlefield 4 is something they refer to as "levelution". Simply put this is the concept of player actions influencing the layout of the map. If you're familiar with the most recent entries in the series, you may have picked up on slightly toned down options for tearing down buildings and blowing up scenery in Battlefield 3, when compared to what was possible in the Bad Company games. Battlefield 4 is a return to form. For instance, you will be able to blow up supporting pillars in the metrostation, and in doing so opening up a hole in the road above potentially trapping vehicles, while also providing you with a new exit out of the station.
And then there's the skyscraper. What do you do when the enemy is positioned on top of the building and dominating the match from above? Well, you take out the heavy artillery - C4, rocket launchers and tanks - and focus your fire on supports on the south side of the building. As these supports fall, the building begins to crumble, glass shatters and falls from the sky and before anyone can yell out "Timber!" the whole thing comes crashing down. The skyscraper pretty much disintegrates as the floors collapse on top of each other. The end result is a massive cloud of dust and debree that more than doubles the size of the peninsula where the building once stood. The once hard to reach control point has fallen from the sky.
It's an impressive sight to say the least. My jaw literally drops the first time we see the building tumble down. It happens three more times during our play session and I can't help but grin each time. I've never seen anything like it. It's the sort of thing that has previously been reserved for scripted cutscenes and major story points. You can stand on top of the building and follow it down to what amounts to Ground Zero.
DICE casually mentions that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Battlefield 4 will support 64 players much like the PC version, and they will run at 60 frames per second.
Time has come for Commander Mode. It was first introduced in Battlefield 2, but disappeared as the series transitioned to consoles with Bad Company. The basic idea is that one player on each team has a tactical overview and is able to issue commands to the players on the battlefield. The commander is also able to make use of tactical aids such as deploying drones, jamming the enemy scanners in a certain area, supply drops, and more. The Commander also gains new abilities - or assets as they're called - depending on what points his team is currently in control of. This category of abilities include Tomahawk missiles, calling on AC-130 gunships or airdropping vehicles (the game picks suitable options depending on the location, so there's no risk of dropping tanks in the ocean).
The commands you issue can be as simple as directing your team towards a certain target, but the Commander can also choose to speak to individual squad leaders through voice chat. The squads have internal voice chat set to default, a feature many felt was missing in Battlefield 3. The squad sizes have been increased to five instead of four this time around.
In Battlefield 4 the Commander is not seen on the actual battlefield, unlike previous games in the series. There is no risk of getting stabbed in the back by an enemy while you're trying to direct missiles to their targets. This also means that the Commander isn't included in the 64 player cap.
We should mention something about Battlelog at this point. Previously this interface could only be accessed through a web browser, but now it's an integrated part of the game. All features, from stats to the option of jumping into a friend's game, can be reach through the in-game menu. Or you can pick up the tablet App that will be made available on both iPad and Android. You can make adjustments to your load out as the game loads a map, while you're on the bus, at work or anywhere you want. And if you're not able to play the game you can also play as a Commander on your tablet.
There is so much to say about Battlefield 4 that I simply cannot fit into this text. For instance, DICE have given battles at sea more focus with new wave phsyics, far more boats and the options of diving under the water surface, to name a few improvements. The game engine itself has been given countless small improvements and adjustments, that makes for noticeably improved controls. In short Battlefield 4 appears to the game fans have been dreaming of, but never quite thought was possible. Well, if you're dreaming of skyscrapers that come crashing down that is.