I was only 90 seconds into my return to Battlefield 4 when I was reminded why it's the greatest Battlefield still kicking. You know the story: Bullets are flying, tanks are a-blasting, we're capturing a flag, and out of nowhere comes an enterprising jet pilot eager to make a strafing run on my squad. The jet's only a few meters from my face when its left wing clips a pole, sending the plane into a fatal hyperspeed swirl before it explodes.
It was a beautiful mess, and the kind of calamity I'd sincerely missed in the years since Battlefield left the modern-day setting behind. Don't get me wrong, Battlefield 1 was cool and Battlefield V was… also a game, but Battlefield feels incomplete without helicopters, jets, and some sort of M4 that I can slap a scope on. DICE is finally returning to the games it does best later this year with Battlefield 2042, the first modern-day game in the series since 2013's Battlefield 4. I'm pretty excited about it, and judging by BF4's recent surge in popularity, a lot of other folks are too.
I was a little nervous to return to an almost eight-year-old FPS that I loved at the time, but Battlefield 4 holds up remarkably well. Every match still feels exciting and dynamic, like there are always ten other stories unfolding on the other side of the map that you'll never see. The sheer variety of vehicles, turrets, missile launchers, and random doohickeys you can unlock creates improbable scenarios and guarantees memorable moments. There's so much crammed in here that I forgot about most of it. Remember this AC-130 jumbo jet that lets you pick off vehicles from above like ants in a magnifying glass?
Nowhere to hide, once mighty tank.
I'm pretty sure that'll be fun no matter what decade you're in.
This is the first time I'm playing it on PC, so it was especially nice to crank every setting up to max and enjoy what're still very attractive maps and weather effects at competitive framerates. That, and incredible audio, is why BF4 still feels really good in action. Soundscapes are busy, bassy roars of machine guns, tank treads, and desperate soldier callouts. The screech of a jet flying by one ear and out the other is intimidating the first and tenth time it happens. With the volume cranked up to an appropriately overwhelming notch, BF4 is one of the few FPSes that significantly benefits from a fancy pair of headphones or a high-end sound setup.
Few games transcend the era they were created in, and there are definitely some awkward, 2013-ass design decisions that feel outdated now. I was immediately taken aback by how slowly bullets travel. I used to be a whiz at leading targets from a mile away and now every bullet feels like sending a postcard with the words "you're dead" scribbled on the back. The speed never bothered me before, so what the heck changed? I think all of my more recent hours in pacey battle royale games like Call of Duty: Warzone, PUBG, and Apex Legends are the culprit.
Fair enough. While DICE was fiddling with Star Wars and World Wars, battle royale was making bullet travel hip again. Last year, Activision swooped in with Warzone and made what is essentially a Battlefield-shaped battle royale game that outclasses DICE's own Firestorm mode in BFV. DICE seems to have surrendered in that particular war—there are no plans for battle royale in Battlefield 2042.
For all of Warzone's buggy faults, its shooting model is an exceptionally good simulation that picks up where DICE left off. Guns feel like hitscan up close (as they should) and still allow for realistic target leading at longer distances. It's an impressive system that sidesteps the awkward firefights I've been having in BF4 where we both miss each other at close range despite being on-target. I recall bullet velocity being a bit snappier in BF1 and BFV, so hopefully DICE adopts a similar model for Battlefield 2042's double-big 128-player maps.
I'm not suggesting Battlefield 2042 should try to be some ultra-competitive Warzone killer—on the contrary, Battlefield's greatest strength is its lack of rules. Capture points nudge players in a general direction, but get to define your own goals within the sandbox. Like, sure, I can fight tooth-and-nail over the C objective for 40 minutes, but I've decided that my true mission is to jump this jeep off the biggest hill I can before we blow up. I might not be maximizing my war effort, but it's also a low stakes game of Battlefield, so who gives a hoot.
Battlefield 4 was always about getting the most out of a new gimmick for me. For a few weeks back in 2014, that meant finding a quiet corner to hide while I piloted a little EOD bot. You were supposed to use the little one-armed bot to dispose of mines and repair vehicles (which I occasionally did), but its secret power was sneaking up to enemies and burning them alive with the repair torch. It was surprisingly effective! A few bullets could destroy it, but the micro-tank was completely immune to explosions. I was basically one of the giddy lads in this hilarious highlight video. I wish I could unlock the EOD quicker on the new PC account I've been playing on, but alas.
I was also surprised that my old friend Levolution, DICE's goofy name for the dynamic map events like that iconic falling skyscraper or the crumbling dam. The idea of changing the landscape of the map through normal play is really neat, but Levolution has the same exact problem in 2021 that it had in 2013: as soon as a match starts, everybody just hops in a tank and shoots at the building until it falls. Come on, I didn't even get to go inside!
It's especially annoying because the post-destruction version of a map is usually less interesting. Who'd rather climb up some rubble than jump off a 40-story building? DICE is bringing good 'ol Levolution back for BF2042 and I'm pretty skeptical it'll be any different.
So yes, Battlefield 4 is surprisingly still a very fun game in 2021. Some bits feel old and the handful of map packs still locked behind a paywall feels incredibly outdated nowadays, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better modern-themed FPS that matches BF4's scale, action, and sights.
Realizing just how good it still is has made me more hopeful than ever for Battlefield 2042, partly because it looks a lot like BF4, but also because of the major changes on the way. Guns are no longer defined by classes! There are operators with unique gadgets, including a dang grapple hook! You can customize your gun on the fly! Those all sound like they'd be fun if they were added to Battlefield 4 today, so I'm on board.