The year is 2020. The United States and Russia are at each other's throats, in a conflict that has been going for six years. A corrupt China is close to joining forces with the Russians as the ill willed Admiral Cheng is looking to assume power. It would likely spell the end of the United States of America as we know it. A special task force called Tombstone is sent to Asia to ensure that the righteous leader Jin Jié survives. This is where we enter the picture.
As Sgt. Daniel Recker I take on all of Asia on foot, in tank and on a boat, making frequent use of my trigger finger. Chinese and Russians bite the dust as my small squad face insurmountable odds. We take on a sinking carrier, collapsing buildings, traverse fields littered with tanks, break out of a Russian prison and fight vicious helicopters out on the open sea during the campaign. And for every quiet minute that passes there is an extremely intense action sequence to go with it.
That's how the campaigns in Battlefield games play out. Heavy action with elements of everything you'd expect to find in the action genre, paired with fairly shallow stealth bits in what ultimately feels like a warm up before the main course - multiplayer. Battlefield 4 is no exception. The campaign entertains the way we expect it to - it's fun to shoot and blow things up - but the experience could have done with a stronger narrative and fresh mechanics. There is a feeling déja vù from start to finish, and it's not difficult to figure out what will happen next.
There is often time to recon an area before it's time to go on the offensive. Thanks to some very sophisticated goggles I can search out enemy positions to tag them so they show up on the mini-map. I also have the option of ordering my squad to focus their attention on a particular group of enemies, something that has the potential to be useful, but rarely during the planning stage as enemies don't die of one bullet, instead they run behind cover as the eventual firefight ensues. Forget about playing this the same way you would play Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. These commands are most useful when you're in a bind and when supporting fire from a certain direction will cover you while you retreat.
Its linear and scripted nature is apparent in sections where you're meant to use stealth. When two soldiers talk to each other and one of them leaves it's obvious DICE means for me to sneak up and kill the remaining soldier with my knife. It doesn't feel very rewarding when you realise you're executing a set piece.
If I'm ever in trouble it's seldom more challenging than hiding behind cover for a few seconds to regain my health. There is plenty of ammunition in handy crates where I can also switch my weapons. It's not until the end of the campaign that there are challenges that really test my tactical awareness. That is apart from an early tank mission that kills me over and over and over again until I played with extreme caution.
I realise this sounds very negative, so let's end on a positive note as I really enjoyed the campaign. It serves a purpose - offers about 7 hours of bombastic entertainment and it acts as a good warm up for multiplayer and that is perfectly fine. If it had offered more experimental game design it may have come at the expense of multiplayer, even if I would have loved something a little more unexpected.
The multiplayer on the other hand is just as solid, epic and grand as you can possibly imagine. DICE doesn't lie when they say there's something for everyone here, and there has been a tremendous amount of attention paid to every minute detail that makes up these massive battles. Options range from small stuff like silencing your gun or picking the colour of your camouflage, to the completely transformative option of blowing up a dam that prevents a small village from being flooded. All of this while up to 64 players experience the consequences of your actions at a steady 60 frames per second with an unrivaled soundscape.
If you enjoy Battlefield you won't be disappointed with Battlefield 4. You'll find everything you've come to expect and more. The arsenal of weapons is full of customisable and well balanced (I haven't noted any unfair imbalances) guns that offer up their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. Some are obvious straight away, while others become apparent after several hours, but there is a favourite gun in there for everyone. Every sound from every gun is affected by the surrounding something, which truly lends authenticity to the experience.
And let's not forget about vehicles. As you'd expect there are vehicles of all kinds and in addition to multiple types of tanks, jeeps, ATVs, helicopters and fighter jets, a lot of effort has been put into boats. A great fit with the franchise and once you've gunned down a bomber with an armoured boat it's hard to imagine what Battlefield was like in the past. The vehicles are also customisable as far as everything from colour to weaponry and armour. It's quick and easy to do in the middle of a match so there's potential for neat tactical counters.
The ten maps available with the standard edition are adapted to the game mode you're playing. Epic game modes such as Conquest, Domination and Rush make use of the entirety of maps most of the time, while more intense game modes such as the Counter-Strike inspire Defuse are played out in smaller areas. Regardless of the mode you're playing, destructible environments have been taken to the next level in Battlefield 4. There are much greater opportunities on offer than blowing up buildings and tearing down walls. On Floodzone you can blow a dam to flood a town to such a degree that it makes more sense to jump into a boat than a tank. Making your way between buildings on foot is also out of the question as the streets are completely water filled.
I found myself outgunned many times in a building only to jump out into the water and find myself face to face with a captain and his trusted machine gunner. In order to survive I dive under the surface, and swim into the house of the other side. I make my way up the building and fire my rocket launcher at the boat that is suddenly at a great disadvantage. Everything happens organically, and it happens for all players at the same time, and that is Battlefield in a nutshell. It never reaches the same epic proportions on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, that sadly had to do without a lot of the extras found on PC and PS4. That is true for visuals naturally, but it also limits the number of players to 24 rather than 64.
What all versions have in common is Commander Mode, which you can control from your PC or tablet. This is a game mode where you have more influence on the outcome than your average soldier, but I wouldn't spend a second in this mode unless I have lots of friends on the team I'm commanding. During my review session I issue commands, send out UAVs, counter enemy UAVs, and launch missiles with my iPad while I witness the devastation on the screens of my comrades. If I had been sitting at home this wouldn't have been nearly as much fun, but when you're playing the game together in the same location it adds a dimension to the experience.
New this time around is the quick fix mode, Defuse, that appears to be aimed at those who prefer the higher pace of Call of Duty titles. Teams of five face off in quick rounds where you have to either plant or defend against a bomb and you're only given one attempt as there is no respawn. The short, intense matches play out on small areas and offer a break from the more epic and tactical game modes. Personally I feel the level design isn't really primed for this kind of mode. I'm often caught off guard by some boring camper who has been hiding in a shed, and then I have to wait for a chance to avenge my death, seriously pissed off and with wounded pride.
I prefer to play the similar (and new) game mode Obliteration, where teams of 32 players duke it out over a bomb that is used for blowing up various positions on the map that you need to defend or attack depending on what team you belong to. This is where the bond with my team is the strongest, and this is likely the mode that I will be playing most on release. Rushing with the bomb surrounded by 31 teammates who are all working towards the same goal while I'm being given a ride is simply brilliant entertainment. This is where Commander Mode comes in handy as a well-aimed missile or the option of parachuting to a chosen spot on the map from the spawn menu can mean the difference between winning or losing.
I mentioned it previously, but it deserves a second mention. The sound is of the absolute highest order - the best this industry has to offer. Battlefield 3 was equally impressive in this regard and Battlefield 4 certainly challenges for best sound of 2013. Audio is of tremendous importance when there are 32 opponents bearing down on you from every direction. The excellent sound allows me to be in control of all things. I immediately hear if there's a tank bearing down on me from behind, and I can tell whether the vehicle is coming at me from land or water, or if it's going after me or just happens to be heading in the same general direction. You can tell the difference when Floodzone is covered with water, and I can tell difference in the shots from my Scar-h when the wind is picking up on Paracel Storm. It's a massive leap from Battlefield 3, and that in itself is very impressive.
It's also an improvement as far as graphics go. It may not impress us quite as much as Battlefield 3 did two years ago, but DICE has certainly gotten as much juice out of Frostbite 3 as it's possible to squeeze. The contrasts in the environments - sand-coloured antennas surrounded by dark green forests and dark caves with white snow - do their part to dazzle us. The PlayStation 4 version impresses me the most, and I realise the importance of the upcoming generational shift. But objectively speaking, the PC version triumphs in terms of graphics.
I could go on and on about the merits of Battlefield 4. Describe the maps in detail, recall how I spent an hour fighting over the best position in a ruined building, or tell you how I made all the difference (at least that's what I'd like to think) when I piloted a helicopter over a critical point in Shanghai with four teammates on board shooting at the enemy on the ground. But there's no need to tell you all of that. It's enough to state that Battlefield 4 delivers the most immersive and polished experience in the franchise's history. No one will leave this game disappointed, unless your focus is the single-player mode.