STAFF REVIEW of Battlefield 4 (Xbox 360)

Monday, November 4, 2013.
by Khari Taylor

Battlefield 4 Box art As the war between Sony and Microsoft for next-gen console supremacy rumbles ever closer, the Xbox 360 continues to be the industry's workhorse, quietly putting out triple-A titles one after another, and highlighting the fact that many of the next-gen games we have been salivating for are actually available on current-gen consoles right now. One of these titles is Battlefield 4, whose reputation for pushing PC rigs to their limits has apparently made it the poster child for next-gen. Cut through the noise however, and you're left with the only questions that matter: How does Battlefield 4 fare on its own merits as a game, and should you enlist for the 360 version or hold out a couple more weeks for its prettier Xbox One sibling?

In Battlefield 4, players take on the role of Sgt. Daniel "Reck" Recker, member of a four-man Special Ops team nicknamed Tombstone, alongside squad leader Staff Sargent (Ssgt.) Dunn, SSgt. Kimble "Irish" Graves and rookie Sgt. Clayton "Pac" Pakowski. Caught in the middle of a quickly escalating cold war between Russia and the United States while a military coup simultaneously rages on in China, Tombstone will ultimately have to wade through hell and back in order to preserve the thin layers of diplomacy preventing all three countries from charging headlong into a full-scale war. Or at least, that seems to be the gist of it. Battlefield 3 veterans know by now that the plot of Battlefield games are dismissible by default and that their logic should not be dug into too deeply, as one will only emerge out the other end confused. The bottom line is that America, Russia and China ARE at war, and while such a scenario in real life would likely result in the annihilation of at least one country and possibly the entire western hemisphere, in a Battlefield game such outright military exchanges are more like sissy slaps between governments and the loss of a few thousand soldiers and civilians on each side is considered par for the course. It's unfortunate that the Battlefield franchise continues to suffer from its writers' inability to clearly lay out for players why the conflict is happening, why the protagonist and his allies must succeed, and most importantly, what is at stake if they fail, but at least this time around, developer DICE has made several positive strides in terms of character development.

While Recker as the player-character is typically mute and incapable of eliciting more than grunts and groans of pain, Tombstone’s other members, particularly Irish and Pac, reveal through their actions and dialogue hints of camaraderie, unresolved issues and phobias that one would expect to know about after working with a small group of individuals for a long period of time. Another plus is Tombstone's uncertain alliance and interactions with Chinese Secret Service agent Huang "Hannah" Shuyi, who while not playable like Battlefield 3's lone female pilot Jennifer Hawkins, has an extensive, active role in the story. Not only is she given a strong voice and independence worthy of her rank, she’s also steely enough to go toe-to-toe with Irish, Tombstone's most verbal member. Like the rest of the squad, she has her own terrors and vulnerabilities as well, which from time to time bubble to the surface mid-conflict. While the revelations that players will discover about Reck's squad mates may not be earth-shattering or cause gasps of shock when their lives are endangered, the efforts made by DICE to fill its story with strong, layered characters and to finally give females a real voice in the Battlefield franchise deserves to be commended.

In terms of gameplay, Battlefield fans will be pleased to know that DICE has not yet "sold out" on its brand of campaign play to compete with the high-octane thrills of Call of Duty. While there are definitely over-the-top cinematic moments and areas that players will ultimately be funneled through for the sake of story, the majority of Battlefield 4's theatres of conflict provide players with some degree of choice. In many cases, this translates to multiple paths that players can take to reach the objective, such as flanking enemies by circling around or sneaking through buildings and obstacles in the environment, and in some cases, purposely destroying parts of it to provide a better angle from which to ambush entrenched enemies. Of course, with Battlefield 4 being powered by DICE's Frostbite 3 Engine, enemies can do the same to the player's cover, often forcing them to abandon their attack strategy and think up new ones while on the move. Unfortunately, not everything in Battlefield 4's many environments can be destroyed, and while it's a relief to slide behind an indestructible wall when your squad is besieged by a tank, it can be frustrating when the shoe is on the opposite foot and that one enemy that you need to take out to move on is behind a flimsy concrete barricade that refuses to go down (and you forgot to include the XM25 grenade launcher in your loadout to hit enemies behind cover more easily).

That brings us to Battlefield 4's weapon and gadget selection, which is quite extensive despite the fact that players are unlikely to unlock even half of them by the time they've completed their second campaign playthrough. While players start each mission with a pre-determined loadout based on the scenario and can procure just about any weapon dropped by their fallen enemies in the field, loadouts can be changed by players on the fly at any ammo or gadget crate the player finds in the environment (not to mention they also serve as great indestructible cover as well as pit stops, since opening a crate pauses the action until it is closed again). Player accomplishments in the field, such as headshots, group kills with certain weapons and stealth melee kills unlock new weapons for use as well, so it won’t be long into the campaign before players are overwhelmed with loadout options. Veteran Battlefield 3 players will likely slide right into the BF4 campaign groove with little effort, as many of these weapons and/or their equivalents were present in BF3, but newcomers to the franchise and military First-Person Shooters in general might initially find Battlefield 4 far less accessible by comparison, as the in-game loadout explanations of each gadget and weapon leave much to be desired. Especially the weapons, which instead of providing advice on how best to use them or what situation they are best suited towards, alternatively give the player an RPG-style stat column that only compares how much better or worse that weapon is to the one the player is currently holding.

Nonetheless, choice is still Battlefield 4's greatest strength. Unlike Call of Duty, Battlefield demands more of the newcomer, asking him or her to think more tactically and utilize all the tools at one's disposal. Learning when and where to use each to its best effect can make the difference between blasting through a fortified area in minutes or battling a lengthy war of attrition (which can also be thrilling as well, depending on how you look at it). Players with patience and a love of experimentation are likely to come away with a number interesting war stories.

This doesn't excuse the fact however that Battlefield 4 is rather brutal at normal difficulty, particularly in the way that it sets up checkpoints. There are several long scenarios throughout the campaign that scream for checkpoints between major skirmishes, but oddly do not offer any, a situation that is bound to turn some players off from certain sequences once they’ve had to play them over and over for 30 minutes. Enemy soldiers are bullet sponges and often take many shots to kill unless the player headshots them with a sniper rifle, scores a direct hit with a rocket launcher, or blasts them up close with a shotgun, and it can be especially frustrating when those same enemies run about cluelessly in the open and keep getting up after the player has already downed them with 6 or 7 bullets to the chest. Finally, while players can use the "Engage" command to have Tombstone and their allies focus fire on enemies that Recker “spots” in the environment, the mechanic is far too simplistic and the player has no control over when or how squadmates will execute on the command. In one situation, they'll lay down cover fire from where they are currently positioned, in another, they'll rush the enemy on open ground, blowing their cover if they were previously undetected and often running right in front of your crosshairs, all the while screaming at you to cover them.

Visually, in the absence of a next-gen or PC version of the game running alongside it for comparison, Battlefield 4 surprisingly holds its own on Xbox 360, appearing to deliver on much of the fidelity seen in the famous next-gen campaign reveals of the Fishing in Baku and Angry Sea missions. When the action is hot and heavy, players will be too busy enjoying the ride to concern themselves with the lower poly counts in the character models and the lack of detail in their faces. It's only during quieter, calmer moments where these graphical sacrifices clearly bear themselves out, reminding players that the game is essentially a scaled-down version from the PC/next-gen builds, rather than one developed from the ground-up for the Xbox 360. Similarly, many objects and textures in the game are basic and flat under closer inspection, impressive only when you are running past them or popping up over them to fire at enemies. The sound in Battlefield 4 however is fantastic on current-gen, especially in 5.1 surround, where locating the enemy’s position by the origins of their gunfire and shouts becomes even easier. The soundtrack is always appropriate to the tempo of the action, and when the Battlefield theme (which sounds a lot like the Terminator soundtrack, by the way) begins its low thumping in the background and rises to a bombastic fever pitch during a favorite action sequence of mine (trust me, you'll know it when you get there), I guarantee that you'll feel like a major badass.

All this aside, hardcore Battlefield fans play it for the multiplayer, and Battlefield 4 offers a solid experience for those opting not to jump into the next-generation right away. Supporting up to 24-players and featuring 10 multiplayer maps out of the box, there's plenty of game to keep players busy until the first DLC pack (China Rising) drops on December 3rd. Conquest mode is where it’s at, however, as it’s the one mode out of the 7 available that even comes close to approximating the kind of large-scale matches that Battlefield players are already enjoying on PC and are soon to be a reality on next-gen consoles as well, which like on PC will support a whopping 64 players. Naturally, fan-favorite modes such as Team Deathmatch, Domination and Rush will also be reporting for duty.

When all is said and done, Battlefield 4 is a very hard title to say no to if you own an Xbox 360 and you're even the least bit curious about first person shooters. While its campaign isn’t perfect and presents some challenges for newcomers, it’s also just the right length and offers the most entertaining off-rails single-player action you can have in a game of this genre right now. Then there's the irresistible draw of Battlefield 4's online multiplayer, with all of its vehicles, destructible environments (including the new "Levolution" set pieces such as the skyscraper in the Siege of Shanghai map), and the fact that all your stats on Xbox 360 will carry over to Xbox One should you decide to upgrade to the next generation version. And the cost to do so? Only $10 via participating retailers (for a limited time – visit for details). Either way you look at it, for the shooter fan, Battlefield 4 is a no-brainer. My recommendation: If you're keen on playing Battlefield 4 on Xbox One, there's no harm in getting it on Xbox 360 now, as you'll get a head start in multiplayer and the differences in graphic fidelity and player count will be all the more appreciated once you upgrade. On the other hand, if you're sitting pretty with the current-gen right now, Battlefield 4 on Xbox 360 is still Battlefield, and still well worth your while.

Provide better explanations of the advantages, disadvantages and proper use of each weapon in the loadout screen, and offer suggested loadouts.

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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