Article by John Strike
Next week we'll catch our first proper glimpse of Battlefield 4 , and if the picture on the press invite is anything to go by, DICE's latest in the supersized shooter series will stick with the near-modern-day setting. Also: it will have rain. Though I'm delighted by the presence of these delicately rendered drips, with over 700 Battlefield hours under my belt, and a clan to lead, I have a few more items on my wishlist.
One of the most frustrating parts of Battlefield 3 is spawning and dying immediately in one of four equally infuriating ways. Firstly, you may spawn on a squad beacon that looks clear but has snipers watching it and deliberately not destroying it. Secondly you may spawn on a squad leader who's about to step on a grenade. Thirdly you may spawn on a a flashing Conquest flag half-capped by an enemy that has every spawn place covered. Or you can find yourself at the mercy of a point-hungry medic under fire in some god forsaken corner of Operation Metro, being revived and instantly killed by a support soldier on overwatch. Regardless of how it happens, it feels like a frustrating waste of time.
DICE's answer to this was to add a one-second 'safety time' in BF3 which allowed you to grasp your bearings and start firing. It's a great solution for the vulnerable spawnee, but it creates a knock-on imbalance for the spawnee's opponents, who aren't rewarded for their skill in quickly spotting an enemy. You can often empty a clip into a freshly spawned enemy, and then perish during the reload. By protecting newly-spawned players, DICE have penalised the abilities of their opponents. Admittedly, they've sweetened the pill: deaths from which you're revived don't count towards the scoreboard, but this alleviates little of the annoyance.
There's no easy fix here, but it's an issue DICE must address. While it could be resolved by a wholesale restructure of the spawn system, I feel like revives and squad-spawning are elements that set Battlefield apart from its rivals. It would be a shame to lose them entirely and revert back to static spawn points sheltered from the frontline. Planetside 2 allows you to decline revives from medics - that seems like a good solution to one part of the problem. Meanwhile, perhaps emphasising the risk of a certain spawn points would help alleviate the annoyance of being murdered instantly. Skull icons currently mark recent deaths on the minimap, but it could be made even more explicit: changing the colour of the spawn marker to a bright red if everyone who drops in there dies within moments. There are probably even more elegant solutions out there - let us know in the comments.
A more specific problem is that of friendly fire or, rather, how the risk of friendly fire is flagged. Anyone who plays Battlefield 3 will have at some point been killed by an enemy who they've plainly seen but presumed is a friendly due to a blue/green tag above his head. What they're actually seeing is the ally marker of a team-mate some distance behind the hostile trooper. There's no differentiation in the size or transparency of the tag to help you deduce this. I'd like to see friendly tags vanish if positioned directly behind an enemy.
Whatever happened to the sweeping orchestral music at the start of games, or the support of a commander who could call in pin-point artillery? How could we forget what fun we had spotting a camping sniper for the commander as he dropped a jeep on his head in a brutal act of "cartillary". Whatever happened to those big 6-man squads and a class dynamic that never felt like it needed changing? Why did I seemingly sacrifice my netcode and framerate for destructible buildings? Why can I level up a character in a matter of hours?
Some of Battlefield 3 and BFBC2's features have been fantastic and series has undoubtedly evolved in line with others, but I think much of the legacy of BF2 and perhaps even the identity of the Battlefield games has been lost along the way.
If I had a pound for every time I shouted, "He just shot me round a fucking corner!" I'd be able to pay transport costs for everyone on the server to come and sit in my lounge and play on LAN.
Of course, the UK's abysmal network infrastructure is rather out of DICE's hands, but the game's design can account for it up to a point. And, as BF3's Close Quarters' DLC maps illustrated, the netcode was never built for fast, twitchy encounters.
BFBC2 and BF3 are among the most sonically accomplished games ever made - witness the sudden subdued volume and tinnitus ring that follows a close detonation, or the way sounds echo off the walls of a confined space. These are key to the sense of embodiment that roots you right there in the action.
But they could expand their score-related sound indicators. Currently, there's only one sound used to represent everything from "YES! My mine blew up a tank" to "Bollocks I'm dead". You even hear the exact same soft ping if you clock up a teamkill. Surely a set of sounds could exist attributed to Battlefield 3's huge number of bonuses.
I also quite miss the use of non-English languages from Battlefield 2 and BFBC2. As an English-speaking player there was an exciting vulnerability in not being able to interpret enemy barks - although, if you played the game long enough, you began to unconsciously assimilate the phrases. If I ever get stuck in China or Russia, I will be able to confidently ask for a lift from passing jeeps, although I suspect "Grenade!" and "Enemy tank spotted!" may be rather more hazardous to use in everyday conversation.
Visually stunning and relentlessly tested maps are crucial if Battlefield 4 wants to be what we need it to be. Aside from perhaps Operation Metro, BF3 has been a leader in flowing and multi-layered map design, with minimal choke-points and plenty of neat little hidey-holes.
Playing the Armoured Kill maps in particular I was struck with how good the game looks on a larger scale, and feel that even more could be done for Battlefield 4 to make those environments more interactive. Alborz Mountains for example has heaving great rock formations above Conquest flags which I'm just itching to destroy. If you can flatten a two-storey building why not bring rocks and rubble crashing down around your foes?
Consider Alborz' steep inclines, laden with snow. It would have been fantastic if you could cause avalanches. What better way to ambush a convoy of attackers in a ravine than by blocking the road with snow? Imagine breaking up those sheets of ice in the lower valleys with tank fire, sending crossing troops into the sea on impromptu icebergs.
Vast, open environments and destructibility were the defining features of previous Battlefield games. In the singleplayer at least - DICE abandoned that in favour of aping Call of Duty's cinematic linearity. This was definitely a mistake. This is what the "next-gen" should be all about: wowing audiences with dynamic, interactive worlds, not funneling them through a slightly prettier duckshoot.
The running joke of game patches needing patches of their own has never seemed as true as in BF3. From its catastrophic server problems at launch to the frustrating wait between updates (thanks to them being tethered to patch approval processes on consoles ), Battlefield 3's patch history has been turbulent, but DICE's support for the game has been strong.
However, as a player, there's one aspect of this patching process that has been slightly frustrating: the radical changes to the strengths and weaknesses of the game's arsenal. Game balance is obviously an ongoing process, but it seems that something's gone wrong in your QA or beta-testing process if, after launch, you end up shifting weapons and vehicles into completely different brackets of strength and agility. As a gamer the consistency of your instruments is important, and a more thorough closed beta or external game testing by trusted members of its community would make DICE's Battlefield 4 a game to remember.
That's my wishlist - what's yours? Let us know what you want to see from Battlefield 4 in the comments and add me on BL @ Stryk_uk if you like hardcore mode and teamwork!