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Preview: Battlefield 4

Dice and EA held a live-demonstration of the first gameplay from the upcoming Battlefield 4, both at the Scandia Theater in Stockholm as well as at GDC 2013 in San Francisco. I attended the former of those two events where me and other members of the press were show a 30-minute presentation of Battlefield 4 called Fishing in Baku.

As the demo started we were presented with a under-water sequence set to Bonnie Tyler’s 1980’s hit ”Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Four soldiers are trapped in a car that is sinking fast as the panic of death starts erupting amongst them. The names of the soldiers are Irish, Pac, their sergeant and Rooker, the player character, Irish talks about how he don’t want to die to this song and they realize that the wounded sergeant is trapped between the seats of the car.

The sergeant hands the player-character his revolver, telling him to shoot out the window of the car so that the player, Pac and Irish can escape on their own. The player aims the revolver at the front-window with hand shaking and the other soldiers are yelling at him to not fire, realizing that the sergeant will drown if he does, ignoring the fact that they might all die if they don’t take this chance. The player pulls the trigger, and the screen goes black.

This is the introduction to the game, one long cutscene presented through a first-person view ending with the player only pulling the trigger in terms of direct input. Having sequences like this can be effective, but as the game continues I to fear for how common they will be. I’m not a big fan of having control taken away from me, but if it works it works, and the opening surely did a good job of making me interested in what had happened to the team.

Flashing back thirteen minutes earlier the game gives the player full control as he’s making his way through a building trying to get to the safehouse set up by the team as the rendezvous point. The player is out of ammo, so confrontation is not an option, showing off some potential stealth elements as the player tried to keep quiet to not alert other soldiers, though it’s possibly that this is one scripted event and not a feature they intend of having as anything major.

When the player finally reaches the safehouse he’s reunited with Irish who mentions that he’s fairly certain the soldiers around here are Russian forces, despite them being in Azerbaijan. Pac comes bursting in through the door, and informs the others that the sergeant is across the street with the intel they are here to acquire. The player picks up ammunition as the soldiers remove the window-barricades to back-up their sergeant fighting off dogs and Russian forces.

Reunited with their sergeant the game finally opens up to the regular style of gameplay that is to be expected, from here on out the game does a few time-skips every so often, counting down to the eventual under-water sequence from the introduction. First the team is making their way across a rather open field that despite obviously being linear in terms of progression design, allowed a lot of movement and alternative paths to take out the enemies at hand.

This is also where Dice decided to show off the team mechanic of the game. The player can basically order around the soldiers he/she is in control of, it was said this was created so that they could make singleplayer feel more like the multiplayer Battlefield is typically known for, with team-based tactics and play rather than just the standard lone-hero approach. It’s not unlike what Rainbow Six Vegas did, and something I think could be a lot of fun to play around with.

The player jumps into a Humvee to make his way around the level. It should be noted that this was not a scripted driving sequence, but simply a optional approach the player can do if he wants to drive. Giving the player options of jumping into vehicles just for a different approach is another thing that Dice mentions as a way to add the feeling of Battlefield multiplayer into the singleplayer campaign.

After getting out of the Humvee and taking out some more Russians the game decides to do the obligatory ”Get to the chopper!” part as you race to get to your helicopter that will take you out of Azerbaijan, but as we know at this point thanks to the intro, the team will not be making their way out. Seconds away from the helicopter a helicopter from the Russians pop out and takes down the helicopter that the player was heading for, the roof caves in from the airborne chaos and the player starts sliding down debris while firing at enemies.

Once they finally think they’re done, they realize the sergeant is stuck under the debris and they’re going to have to cut his leg off, the player is prompted to do so by the sergeant during which a action-prompt comes up, allowing the player to hit the F key to cut. The problem with this attempt at immersion is that it fails a bit if you don’t have the choice not to do it, which we know the player doesn’t have since we’ve seen the wounded sergeant in the car, hopefully later implementations of this will be done in a more well-planned way.

After dragging the sergeant’s body to a civilians car which you ”borrow” the player enters the final section of the demo, which is a scripted car sequence unlike the previous part of the demo that featured a car. When they entered the car Bonnie Tyler was already blasting from the speakers, making me wonder why the song was playing from the start in the under-water sequence, but I can’t say a small detail like that is too bothersome, just odd.

The car-chase was my favourite part of the demo as it awoke the feeling of what a good scripted sequence can be. Similar to how I felt that the snow-mobile sequence in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 or the opening chase in FarCry 3 managed to really pump me up in a exciting way, it’s only a shame the car-chase was quite short as you got blown out into the water, setting the game back to where it started.

As the team makes their way out of the sinking wreck the demo fades out to another black screen. A conversation between two high-ups in the military are talking about the intel the team had retrieved. Apparently the Russians are teaming up with the Chinese for something big. The other person proclaims ”that confirms the rumours we had heard” prompting the first person to ask if the sergeant died for something they already knew. The other person tells the first person to simply do his job and the demo ends.

Visually, Battlefield 4 is both stunning and a bit too standard. While there’s no doubt I’ve never seen a prettier game on a technological standpoint and the fact that it ran in 60 frames per second shows what wonders the Frostbyte 3 engine can put out. But apart from some of the blue-tones that sometimes came through, the game still looks mostly like the standard grey/brown modern war shooter we’ve seen throughout this last generation, only with better lighting and textures.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect Battlefield 4 to blow me away with a new art-direction, but it stands to show that maybe the ”realism” aspect of visuals just don’t do it as well for me any more as it once did. With all the lens-effects put in to filter the game I can’t say it looks that realistic either though, more like someone filmed it with a cellphone camera. In the end, it’s a game with visuals that are impressive beyond what I have ever seen before, but nothing that really excited me. Weird.

Gameplay wise, the game presents what you expect from a Battlefield game. The shooting looked tight and driving cars seemed like a lot of fun. The destructible environment aspect is back even if it wasn’t shown off all too much, but all of that with the added team mechanic and the open areas should make for a game that feels diverse enough to allow for multiple playthroughs without repetition. Of course, it comes down on Dice to deliver on those promises in the end, which will be hard, but I think they can pull that off.

The game ran smoothly throughout the entire demo except for one small stutter (possibly a checkpoint) at the start of the first open area. I noticed one late texture-pop-in as well, but it was something on the minor level of a piece of debris in the down-left corner, nothing that shouldn’t be fixed in no time at all. But what did surprise me was the lack of animation when the player got into a car. It was there for the scripted event, but in the optional vehicle demonstration the player just popped into seat in a instant.

After the demonstration we were presented with the concept that Dice is bringing to Battlefield 4. They want to bring in those cool moments that would happen on a whim in classic Battlefield multiplayer, Dice is calling these ”Only in Battlefield” moments that will now be a part of the single-player campaign of Battlefield 4. What this is meant to be is a way to allow players to fully replay the same missions over and over and have different cool things occur. It’s a nifty feature that I’m looking forward to seeing in action in the full game.

The presentation ended with the reveal trailer of Battlefield 4, showing off some more gameplay including a boat sequence and a female soldier that asks ”You’ll back me up, right?” to the player, whether she’s going to be a major character in the story is yet unknown. The trailer is set to Rhianna music and the tagline ”Prepare 4 Battle” flashes up and the trailer ends. Short but sweet.

Battlefield 4 is looking to be a very well-made and fun game, a bit on the non-surprising side, but maybe EA and Dice is doing best by playing some things more safely with a clear winning concept following the success of Battlefield 3. I’m looking forward to checking it out more during the coming year, it hasn’t wowed me yet, but I’m certainly interested. Very interested.

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