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Battlefield 4 single-player campaign review: Theater of war

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Can war be beautiful?

Battlefield 4, developer DICE’s latest game about violent conflict on a massive scale, orchestrates carnage and fire like a stage play. The explosions are spectacular, red, and almost palpable with the heaps of dust that sweep across your view. The gunfire is striking as it echoes off the walls of a concrete pipe, nips the ground at your feet. And the dirt that flies up and meets your face isn’t placed at random, it’s exact, so as not to completely cover your view of an assailant, struck by a stray bullet, gracefully falling backward in instant death. Or for a nagging helicopter to burst into flames and leave a trail of smoke as it spins out of sight. In Battlefield 4, war is not the horrific product of a disagreement taken to the extreme, it’s the product of an artist.

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At the heart of the piece is a simple structure. Battlefield 4’s campaign is series of battles, most of them set in expansive modern locales, like a war ship or the neon streets of China. Each firefight is separated by unexplainable boxes of ammo and weapons, tools to paint the upcoming scene. From the confetti spray of a shotgun, to the echoing bark of a sniper rifle, they have it all. When bullets aren’t enough, when the resistance comes from both land and air, a separate cache offers claymores, C4, RPGs, and the like. This is part one of the routine, the backbone of Battlefield 4.

Part two is the blip before the bang. As Sergeant Recker, the leader of Tombstone squad, you direct your team on who to shoot with a tactical visor that marks enemy soldiers and vehicles for slaughter. When you’re not reloading, sprinting, or worse, dead, you’re tracing the landscape in black and white, looking for targets. Like attack dogs, you sic your teammates on enemies while you creep into a flanking position, or in tougher fights, cower in cover. The view of your opponents through any structure replaces the fear of a surprise attack with the strategy of carefully cleaning them out of each scene. In Battlefield 4, your gun is a broom, just as much as it is a weapon.

Your job would be much more difficult if the evil Russian and Chinese soldiers has learned a modicum of tactical awareness. But maybe the ease of which you pick them off and sneak by them is on purpose. They swarm as if they were pins at the end of a bowling ball lane, next to combustive barrels, no less. You create a wall of bullets and they keep walking into it, as if they were simply the catalysts for your explosive creations.

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It’s a shame, because the sprawling canvasses of Battlefield 4 are crafted to support dynamic back-and-forths. Each battleground has pockets of debris, stacks of crates, rising structures, or even abandoned houses to hide and attack from, and almost all of them allow you to climb upward and gain the advantage of high ground before you grow bored of your lame prey or the building crumbles beneath your boots.

Thankfully, when the pressure to travel to and from cover is light, the game pummels you with a specific visual palette to gaze at. The bright reds, cold blues, and smooth greens are simplistic, but give Battlefield 4, a game as binary as shooting and killing, a boldness that other shooters lack. It’s distinct without being overwrought.

The same couldn’t be said for Battlefield 4’s stale attempt at giving the action a narrative excuse. If the predictability of it wasn’t enough–there’s a stealth mission where you follow a Russian man–, the broad execution of it leaves the story weightless. The characters yell at you to plant the C4 in the same breath as they give you bland descriptions of their backgrounds. What’s worse is you can’t talk back, doomed to be nothing but a pawn.

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In Battlefield 4, you go where you’re told to go, kill who you’re told to kill, save who you’re told to save. To make the most of it, you soak the journey in, thrive in the exotic vacation of sun and snow, rain and dust without thinking about the real consequences of your actions. You take part in the killing of hundreds of virtual humans, a debatably worrying act, but it’s far more difficult to argue with the affecting splendor of the scenery and the destruction. Battlefield 4 leaves behind the the scores of tragedy war brings about, and basks in a barrage of color and visual flair. Nothing is real in this artist’s dream. So, can’t war be beautiful?

Stay tuned to our Battlefield 4 multiplayer review coming within the week!


Pros: Distinct color palette, spectacular visuals and graphical fidelity

Cons: Misused level design, predictable enemy AI, rote story

Final Verdict: 7/10 (Battlefield 4 looks great, just don’t come to it expecting a good story or a well-designed campaign.)


DICE sent us a copy of Battlefield 4 for Windows PC. I played the game for roughly 8 hours. It was on high video settings on an Intel i5 3570K PC with 8 gigabytes of RAM and a AMD Radeon HD 7950 at 1080p. The game is available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC. All the screenshots used in the review were taken by me, if you’d like to view all of the ones I took, go here, but beware of spoilers

You can purchase Battlefield 4 and BF4 Premium via GamersGate to experience all the action.

39 comments on “Battlefield 4 single-player campaign review: Theater of war

  1. Personally, and while it is true that I didn’t buy BF4 for the singleplayer, I thought it was definitely a better campaign than in BF3. The characters were more likeable, the gameplay was far more refined (and the enemy didn’t immediately zero in on your face on hard, unlike in 3), and it had a good if repetitive mix of levels.

    That said, it was far too short (seven missions is far too short. I’d have loved at least a few missions with “The Russian” as a part of your squad, maybe a couple more in the Tashgar theatre (sorry for spoilers), and there would have been nothing wrong with having a few missions while playing as a part of Tombstone with Dunn in command (sorry, I can’t avoid the spoilers!).

    Your staple part of the campaign lies in three parts – good levels, good story, and good characters. Call of Duty, while usually utterly predictable in the storyline, does characters pretty well, less so in the more recent outings, but they make up for the fact that there are a good number of levels that you just want to replay (*cough* All Ghillied Up *cough*), and while Battlefield 3 had a few missions that were good (Paris, Thunder Run and the jet mission), the characters let it down. With Battlefield 4, you had the start of having good characters, but they needed more time to make them stand out, and while the storyline could have been good, much of it was being left to the imagination (or working things out based on the presence of “The Russian”) rather than being explained in some fashion. And the levels, none of them stand out to me as being one I want to just jump into and replay. In short – more missions, and more storyline development needed.

    Overall, I’d probably say 6 or 7 out of 10.

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