Set in 2020, Battlefield 4 sees you command Sgt Daniel Recker and his elite squad of soldiers through global warzones, trying to prevent a military coup d’état by a corrupt Chinese admiral and his Russian backers. Although the dialogue is also sharper and the characters more engaging than the third game, the plot does veer uncomfortably close to being an American paranoid fantasy. Fuelled by fears of a 21st century dominated by China and a resurgent Russia, it steers just short of feeling xenophobic, but only just.
It’s clear that the story campaign is of secondary concern though. It’s on disc 2 of the Xbox 360 version after all; an offering knowingly supplied to a player base that will view it as an afterthought, if they view it at all. Battlefield as a series has long been primarily a multiplayer game, and with the bulk of DICE’s efforts clearly focused there, the online elements truly shine.
Obliteration Mode, where teams battle over controlling a bomb to destroy key targets, is thrilling, a fine addition to the returning Conquest, where control of areas must be fought for. The biggest change to multiplayer is the return of Commander Mode, last seen in Battlefield 2142. Allowing for one team member to take a strategic oversight and issue commands, it can be a great addition but relies entirely on solid team communication. If you’ve played other FPS online, you’ll have an idea how tricky that can be, amidst a flurry of homophobic insults and offers to fornicate your mother.
There are other frustrations, too. Controlling vehicles feels awkward, often leaving you feeling robbed of control. The visually impressive, much-vaunted ‘Levolution’ moments – extending the series’ penchant for destructible environments to its ultimate conclusion with huge set pieces of map-changing carnage – don’t actually prove to change gameplay dramatically. And, while playing online with up to 64 players is still an adrenaline pumping experience, it’s one Battlefield 3 broke ground for two years ago.
In the end, that’s the greatest problem with Battlefield 4 – for all its scope, it’s crumbling and ever-changing arenas, its wild array of weapons and vehicles, it doesn’t feel like a leap forward for the series, just more of the same for the already invested.