The surprising thrill of Battlefield 4's night maps

Battlefield 4 Zavod chopper boom


We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

Five minutes into a Battlefield 4 round, I realize I miraculously haven’t fired a single bullet. I’ve crept up alongside the collapsed wall of a depot housing an all-important capture point—a typically volatile objective now suspiciously deserted. Crouching low, I steal a glance over the wall’s rubble. Inside, a pool of lamplight repels the nighttime darkness just enough to frame the flag I need to take like a heavenly beacon. I check my weapon: an M416 assault rifle with a suppressor, rail-mounted flashlight, and a bulky infrared scope. I’m geared for quiet wet-work. Now, my prize lies feet ahead of me.

Hurried footfalls thud onto concrete. A teammate thunders past me and barrels into the depot. Glory-seeking is practically second nature to the regular Battlefield player, but really, I'm charging in by myself in order to grab sturdier cover closer to the objective. A bold and aggressive move, but too exposing.

He doesn’t get far. My ears pick up the thwip-thwip-thwip of rounds exiting a silenced barrel and the staccato metallic clicks of a slide cycle on full automatic. My short-lived comrade crumples in a heap. I start as a dark shape shifts right next to me. An enemy soldier had been lying in wait just inches away to ambush incoming attackers, and I only spotted him from his movements during his victory reload. I send a respectful salute to the ninja from my chair before sending some lead into the back of his skull.

Zavod 311 is one of my favorite BF4 maps. Its hilly topography and clusters of buildings blends an equalized ratio of vehicular and foot combat with a good mix of close- and long-range engagements. With the recent Summer Patch comes an alternative Zavod—Graveyard Shift—plunging the abandoned Cold War-era tank factory into night. The layout stays the same, but the contrasting appearance between the stock daytime Zavod and Graveyard Shift is strikingly steep. That translates into a dramatic swing in BF4’s normally fast-paced dynamic of high-pressure action and fluid frontlines.

Battlefield 4 Zavod outdoors

Visual clarity is an FPS player’s best friend. When the lights switch off, other tools become more important: sound, minimap pings, radio callouts, and so on. Those abilities aren’t anything special beyond the repertoire used in any shooter, but from a perspective of map flow, Graveyard Shift predictably encourages more conservative play. Slow approaches to and campy defenses on control points are quite common. Even the twin objectives housed in the central depot and warehouse trade chaotic infantry grinds for smaller, methodical assaults and shadowy infiltrations.

The darkness brings an interesting effect to kit and weapon selection. Beefing up the vital minimap with devices such as the recon class’ motion detector is key for gathering as much information as possible against the lowered visibility. Staying off the minimap is just as important for survival. The light mist floating throughout the area (a neat little atmospheric touch) blurs distant targets and geometry, forcing a close in the distance needed to acquire a target. The murkiness pervades certain areas of the map so heavily—indoors and the underground passageway connector between the two central capture points, specifically—that I’d sometimes brush right past an opponent without either of us noticing.

Suppressors and stealthy weapon attachments are popular choices for staying hidden throughout the map. It’s a thrill—and slightly unfair, I think—to perch on the sniper’s heaven of the depot rooftop and deliver quiet double-taps with a silenced marksman rifle. Heat-detecting FLIR and the iconic tacti-coolness of night-vision scopes are kingly advantages, but they also constrain your view whenever you zoomed in. Still, they’re go-to optics for immediately picking out nearby troops.

Battlefield 4 Zavod flare room

Utility grenades such as flashbangs and flares see more use as temporary handfuls of sunlight. They’re particularly helpful for their blinding effect on FLIR/NV users. During one round, I traded tracers with an enemy squad entrenched in the aforementioned underground corridor. The floor was littered with sparking flares, throwing the entire hallway in an eerily sinister red glow with shadows flickering on the walls. It was a wonderfully theatrical moment, and I really liked utilizing that player-driven power to add or remove illumination as a contextual tactic for either escaping into shadow or revealing threats.

Just as showy are the large-caliber fireworks of Zavod’s driveable tanks and APCs. The map’s contingent of rolling thunder are deadly force multipliers in skilled hands, and Graveyard Shift affixes always-on headlights and taillights to each of them. That makes them easy to spot, but they’re still potent dealers of death and destruction streaking the night sky with fireball-like explosions and clouds of sparks.

As a gunner, I had access to the infrared crosshair camera with a greatly expanded field of view than its smaller, weapon-mounted brothers. In a close match, I helped seal a win when my tank driver simply rumbled directly onto a fortified capture point while I easily mopped up brightly indicated infantry on my viewscreen. I didn’t get much airtime in the map’s transport choppers (I tend to avoid the missile magnets), but I could make out next to nothing at the ground level with a naked view in the passenger seat. It looked like coptering over a black, lumpy blanket.

And that’s really DICE’s straightforward intention with Graveyard Shift: a true, unfiltered night map. Little touches go a long way to nailing just how dark an environment gets in the absence of light—my favorite side-activity was shooting out lightpost bulbs to, well, darken the dark. (You can shoot out most of the map’s light sources, and the result is quite spooky.) I definitely recommend finding a server running the classic preset. It removes 3D spotting, the small triangular symbol that briefly floats above an enemy’s head whenever you press the spot key while aiming at them. That keeps Graveyard Shift’s presentation firm, and it’s the optimal configuration for experiencing your own stealthy surprises.

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