Sunday, 8 February 2015

Review - Battlefield 4 (Xbox 360)

Inline image 2Battlefield 4 - Standard Edition

Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Dice
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Reviewed by Richard Williams

So I finally got around to playing Battlefield 4. I saw it going cheap in a shop and I fancied playing a mindless shooter for a bit. Because you do, sometimes, don't you. Sometimes you just want something that's no more taxing than 'shoot the bad guys as they pop up', like one of those arcade games that people old enough to remember them love so much. I saw the price and thought to myself "oh, that's cheap" and bought it.

All I can say now is 'thank God for trade-ins'. Because despite the low price I still managed to pay too much for this game which is, in my humble opinion, playable. And that's about as nice a comment I can make about it. It works. Mostly. There was a very annoying instance when I died because a wall I tried to hide behind didn't really seem to exist. I could walk right through it and, just for giggles, the enemy could see right through it and shoot me. And there was the aggravating instance of my Jeep in the first level blowing up and killing me, for no reason whatsoever, repeatedly. Reloading the checkpoint took me to the moment about ten seconds before the explosion (so I know I wasn't just being an idiot and making the same mistake over and over again) so after a half a dozen checkpoint reloads I had to restart the whole level. Which, given that it was level one, meant restarting the whole game and going through the intro cut scene again.

NOTE TO DEVELOPERS: stop putting in cut scenes and end credits which can't be skipped. Just stop it, god damn you. In fact anything which isn't gameplay should, by law, have an option to skip it. Assassin's Creed Rogue, I'm not only looking at you but glaring with an intensity that should make you blush with shame. Seriously, if you don't know what I mean, ask anyone who has played the game to completion. Credits that run for about 20 minutes, which can not be skipped, and if you think 'oh yeah? Well I'll just turn it off and restart' then think again, because the save point is right before the credits roll and you've just got to start from scratch all over again.

Wait, what am I reviewing again? oh, yeah, Battlefield 4, right.

So what's wrong with it? Firstly I would say the overall story. It's uninspired and, frankly, kinda stupid. Also, it never really takes the time to explain itself so I'm still not entirely sure what I was fighting for. Basically you start the game running hell-for-leather out of Baku with some vital intel which absolutely has to be got back to the US because the Chinese and Russians are up to some naughty stuff. OK, it's just a shooter so what the heck, it doesn't have to be Shakespeare. It's just that the game then seems to run a course that has just about nothing to do with anything. Suddenly you're getting a VIP out of China then attacks happen and then you're defending a ship and then you're going behind enemy lines for something I don't even remember then you're getting captured and sent to some remote mountain place, because why the feck not, I guess, and by the end of the game you're defending a ship in the Suez canal because, hey, you've got to end it somewhere I guess. It seemed to me that, much as I thought about Call of Duty Ghosts, there wasn't really a story behind the game. The creators just wanted to make a whole load of interesting multiplayer levels and then tried to string together a story that connects the locations. Except I don't think Battlefield 4 levels would be much fun in multiplayer. I don't know, I don't really do multiplayer because I'm old (32, so ancient, really) and there's only so many times I can be shot dead by kids dotted all over the world who have dedicated their lives to the mastery of a fast trigger finger.

So yeah, the story is pretty dodgy. But not only is it a dodgy story, it's told in a dodgy way. I got the strong impression from this game that it wanted to be a movie. Again, welcome to the modern world of video games. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare spawned a whole new approach to FPS games that resulted in some fantastic cinematic game play and stories. I don't have a problem with games being cinematic. But just as you have good films and bad films, you now have good cinematic games and bad cinematic games. And Battlefield 4 is a Michael Bay kind of game. Which, depending on whether you're old enough to have hair on your balls, is either a great thing or a terrible thing. Speaking as a venerable ancient I say it sucks the aforementioned hairy balls. You get the feeling that nobody enjoys a Michael Bay movie more than Michael Bay. And I'm going to stop myself there before I go off on yet another tangent. Suffice to say that this game feels like it's trying to be a bad movie.

Another couple of quick negatives. While it's not on a par with Metal Gear Solid for standing around watching people talking this game does, nonetheless, have you standing around while some scripted piece of whatever goes ahead. I got so bored of this that whenever it started to happen I would start doing laps of whatever room/space I happened to be in.

NOTE TO DEVELOPERS: Let the gamers play the GOD DAMNED GAME!

Sorry, I'll try to stop doing that. I'm not Angry Joe.

What makes this problem even worse is that your character is supposed to be in charge of the team but all you end up doing is watching everyone else talk about what to do and making decisions. Call of Duty got around this quite nicely by either having you play a mission solo or, as perfectly demonstrated in the ghillie suit mission in Modern Warfare 1, having a superior officer there with you calling the shots and telling you what to do. In Battlefield 4 I just feel like a really bad NCO who is happy to watch his troops scream obscenities at each other and do what they feel like. This problem is even highlighted in the game when one of the characters is talking about another behind his back about how wrong it was to make a call because 'that was your call sarge'. Well shit, I would have made it had there been a way of doing so built into the game. But there isn't so I guess I'll just go run some more laps while you all play out your scripted BS.

Also the characters are all just a bit too over the top and while I'm not a member of the US navy I've got a strong suspicion that captains of aircraft carriers don't freely toss around the F word with their crew. I don't know but I've been led to believe that you have to demonstrate quite a high degree of professionalism and restraint before they let you have that kind of authority. But I could well be wrong about that. Worse than over the top, the characters are also quite thoroughly clich├ęd. The Chinese woman who had to endure her village being burnt to the ground by government forces, the US soldier with a nickname which is slowly explained over several conversations (by which time I solidly do not give a toss), the two team members who don't trust each other and are at each others throats every five seconds but who eventually become bestest buds, the CO who bravely sacrifices himself in just about the most stoic, heroic and god damned square jawed way possible. Ok, that last one was kind of cool and I wished they'd kept that guy around because a) he seemed like a decent character and b) I wouldn't have felt like a waste of space sergeant who might as well have stood around with his thumb up his ass while everyone else decided the course of the mission.

On which note I also want to point out that, having decided what to do for me, the characters then feel the need to constantly shout at me what to do. This is annoying, especially when nine times out of ten the instruction is incredibly vague such as "DO IT! DO IT NOW!". Sometimes it's fairly obvious what they're talking about but other times I'm standing around (and sometimes getting killed in the process) thinking 'do what?!'.

The following paragraph contains a spoiler:
Not long after starting the game I looked at the achievements list to see if there's anything I should be looking out for. I noticed that there were a couple of different achievements based on which character you choose to sacrifice at the end of the game. At the time I had only met the one character but, since the other name was female, and I like to think of myself as a bit of a gent, I said to my team mate (AKA the television) "sorry chap, looks like you don't make it". By the end of the game, and the big decision, my only regret was that I couldn't sacrifice both characters. Plus, screw you game creators. The one choice I do actually get to make and it's which person gets to die? Because I'm supposed to care for these characters now? I chose the one I happened to be looking at after they got through their 'it's got to be me' 'no it's got to be me' 'no, I won't let you sacrifice yourself' etc etc I don't care let me kill one of you and go make a cup of tea.

On top of all these quite specific problems there is the fact that the action manages to only be kind of gripping, the sections where you control a vehicle mostly left me wanting to just walk it (and indeed I did go into a tank battle on foot with some RPGs as a preference) and the level designs felt deeply uninspired. While I'm sure this game must look very impressive on the Xbox One on the 360 it... well... didn't. It was OK. Had some nice detail.

Right... something nice to say to end the review. Hmmm... let me see. Oh, yeah! Did I mention that I didn't pay a lot of money for it? That was good.