Battlefield 4 beta impressions: is it any good?

Thursday, 3 October 2013 08:02 GMT By Dave Cook

Battlefield 4’s beta is online now and VG247’s Dave Cook has been playing it. It’s fun, but doesn’t seem to represent the new features all that well. Find out why in his opinion blog.

My four-man squad has just piled into an elevator and we’re ascending to the top floor of ‘that’ skyscraper. The muffled sound of gunfire and explosions can be heard outside the metal cabin, and with a ding, the doors slide open to a hail of gunfire. We kill the enemy troops lying in wait for us to emerge and secure the flag point outside. With the area claimed, I leap off the edge and base jump down to the next objective before deploying my parachute.

When EA’s marketing division drummed up the slogan, “Only in Battlefield,” they hit the nail on the head. No other console shooter gives me this much freedom to exploit the environment in this manner. There is a real sense of scale in the Siege of Shanghai map that really takes you by surprise. Peering over the skyscraper ledge to see tanks and choppers do battle on street level really is a spectacle to behold. It looks great on Xbox 360 too.

But yet there’s something missing. Despite all the bombast and vertigo, I simply wasn’t excited by what the Battlefield 4 beta offered. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Bad Company 2 and the opportunity to level almost all of the map if you desire. No joke, I seriously loved that game and poured significant time into it, but by contrast there is very little destruction in the Siege of Shangahi map. I was honestly bored, but couldn’t precisely say why. It’s something I’ve wrestled with since Battlefield 3 released. I know it’s a good game, but I just didn’t gel with it.

Speaking destruction, Siege of Shanghai has that toppling skyscraper sure, but it never fell once when I played. The experience felt sterile, and I’ve never really been fond of how the series has veered towards realistic aesthetics. There was a lack of insanity, not to mention that it both feels and looks like Battlefield 3. I was struggling to find many new elements in the map or anything disruptive in a gameplay sense, but I’m aware that this is just a beta.

So before some people out there start accusing me of ragging on the game out-right, just know that everything I say here is focused purely on this small beta trial only. I’m aware this is just a testing phase and not representative of the full game. Seriously.

The Levolution features on this map stem to pressing switches to raise road-blocking bollards, calling elevators and setting off car alarms. These things have been pitched as marquee features by DICE, but they’re really not that significant in this map. Now on the other hand, Paracel Storm’s run aground ship and flooding map sound more like the kind of dynamic map-changer I want to see more of. In Siege of Shanghai, I just felt like I was trapped in a static environment you’d expect from Call of Duty. It’s like an arena that – while massive – managed to make me feel constricted.

I think part of the issue was player count. There were clearly a lot of people playing the beta yesterday, but I never managed to successfully jump in to a full lobby. The sparse drippings of troops here and there made the environment feel barren, so I’m sure with a full player-count Siege of Shanghai will indeed get pretty manic. As a result, I also suffered the usual ‘Spawn, run for ages to join the fight, get sniped from miles away and restart’ thing. That really irks me but it’s not the game’s fault, so it’s okay.

”While the Siege of Shanghai beta left me pretty uninspired, I’m thankful that the format hasn’t been overhauled in such a way that it breaks or tries to blatantly ape the competition too closely. It still feels like a Battlefield experience with things you can only do in Battlefield.”

Gunplay does feel slightly slicker and the pace appears to have raised just a notch. Traversal is smoother and you still have to be very aware of your surroundings to avoid being blind-sided by concealed enemies. There’s also a new request wheel activated by holding down RB that makes your troop yell out for more ammo, health packs and so on. You can also snap to walls or low cover and lean in and out fairly easily. Spotting enemies is also automatic.

These are all subtle changes designed to make the gameplay experience run better, but I still felt like I was playing an incrementally updated build of Battlefield 3. This is what I was talking about in this next-gen blog. The beta represents the same thing we’ve done before but with better visuals. I’m honestly not complaining as it’s a solid formula that works well, and I do feel that DICE is holding its best cards until launch. We’ve not even seen the zenith of what Battlefield 4 has to offer, and I’m excited to see what comes next.

So while the Siege of Shanghai demo left me pretty uninspired, I’m thankful that the format hasn’t been overhauled in such a way that it breaks or tries to blatantly ape the competition too closely. It still feels like a Battlefield experience with things you can only do in Battlefield. It’s just a shame that I’ve done most of it already in the previous game. Some people will likely say, ‘Yeah, but Call of Duty does the same thing every year and no one complains,’ but no, Call of Duty doesn’t exactly do the same thing every year.

The bare-bones twitch format is the same because that’s Call of Duty’s hook, just like the base Battlefield formula must remain for it to be a Battlefield title. Both franchises are smart in doing this. The thing is that the changes in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 felt significant compared to Modern Warfare 3. Treyarch really did stir the pot with that game – believe it or not – but this beta may as well be for a Battlefield 3 update. Again, I’m well aware that this is just a beta, not a full game but I’m not seeing much of an overhaul so far. I’m positive that will all come in the full release though.

I’ll stress once more that this beta is just the beginning, and I’m sure the full Battlefield 4 experience will expand greatly on what has gone before. As a taste of what’s to come, DICE certainly has me interested in the November 1 launch in Europe.

What do you think?