Written by David Hinkle
Note: Coverage is presented from the PS4 version of Battlefield 4, though all Naval Strike content will be the same for PC.
I'm running across a small island, towards a crucial capture point that has become the focus for ally and enemy alike. As I sprint headlong into certain danger, a hovercraft with two of my squadmates vaults off a nearby rock and flies over my head. I raise my gun, down a nearby enemy and drop to my belly, right in front of the flag. Before I can capture the objective, a sniper atop an adjacent hill notices me and, with a single bullet, ushers me off this mortal coil.
This is Battlefield 4's Naval Strike DLC, a mix of water-based vehicular combat and infantry slaughter set across four beautiful tropical locales that look like they were ripped right out of a vacation resort brochure.
Naval Strike introduces a new-but-not-entirely-new game mode called Carrier Assault, which has roots in Battlefield 2142's "Titan" mode. In Carrier Assault, each team spawns from a massive aircraft carrier docked on either side of the map, and must scramble to capture the five individual flag points in-between. By capturing a point, a missile silo is spawned and continually lobs explosives at the enemy carrier for as long as your team controls it. The missiles continue to damage the enemy warship until its interior is open for a direct assault. Victory is ensured through direct assault on an open carrier (by successfully detonating two bombs on two different M-COM stations inside) or by simply controlling enough capture points to bring the carrier down through relentless rocket barrage.
An interesting side note: Pilots must watch out for these automated rocket salvos, as DICE gameplay designer Dennis Brännvall tells me their seemingly randomized pathing can absolutely collide with and destroy any aircraft.
The appeal of Carrier Assault is that it feels like the child of Rush and Conquest. The new mode elegantly marries the modern ideals of Battlefield 4's marquee modes: it features the urgency of capture points that drives Conquest and makes it such a tense tug-of-war, but also presents the escalating objectives that characterize Rush mode. And yet, even as a mishmash, Carrier Assault still manages to feel unique enough as its own thing.
"It's something that the fans really wanted and I got 50 tweets a day before we announced," Brännvall says of incorporating the Titan mode variant into Battlefield 4. "The core of the mode is there, the sort of idea that you need to assault the carrier but also defend your own; we feel like it plays really well." One of the main differences between Titan and Carrier Assault is the carriers themselves, which are now less empty inside. "2142 had its version of the carrier, but the interior of that carrier was very barren and not a lot of stuff was happening," he added. "In Battlefield 4, we wanted to make it so it's actually fun playing inside the carrier." This is why DICE added two escalating M-COM stations inside each massive vessel, with multiple points of entry and corridors to fight through.
Carrier Assault can be played across all four of Battlefield 4's Naval Strike maps. These aquatic arenas, called Lost Islands, Nansha Strike, Wave Breaker, and Operation Mortar, follow the same general theme, and offer an amalgamation of small islands littered around a bay or coastal zone within the South China sea. Each have their discernible landmarks, but largely follow the same motif.
Wave Breaker centers around a network of canals running through a centralized base location. Penetrating the base gets difficult when defending players close the numerous flood gates providing external boats entry to the structure's vulnerable flag core. Operation Mortar stood out most for me, however, thanks to the dilapidated fort atop the central island's hill. Not only is it a great sniper's haven, but within that fort are a few rustic cannons that can actually be used to take out enemy infantry. Killing a soldier with a cannon ball will even unlock an achievement.
"It's funny, the whole thing came from a level artist," Brännvall said of the working cannons. After placing the artillery in "because it's an old fort and it needed cannons," some play testers were disappointed to find they didn't function. So DICE went back in and made them working stationary turrets.
The other major addition for Naval Strike is the hovercraft, a bulky two-man ride that handles like a stick of butter inside a teflon skillet. It's slippery but quite fast on straightaways, and navigates both land and sea—which makes it a potent conveyance on each of the four Naval Strike maps, regardless of which mode is being played.
"We wanted to bring in a vehicle that changes the flow of how you play the game," Brännvall says of the hovercraft's genesis. He elaborated that the hovercraft's mobility across both water and land means that players won't feel so safe from boats and other aquatic vehicles when moving around on Naval Strike's islands—at any time, a hovercraft can come speeding up and take you out. Playing as a sniper on occasion, I certainly felt that lack of security when I chose to play as a sniper. Retribution came via hovercraft multiple times during my stint as a sniper.
As someone seeking retribution, I would caution against jumping out of a moving hovercraft as it's boarding a Carrier or storming a beach. You absolutely will run yourself over and, while hilarious both times I accidentally offed myself, it can be quite frustrating during the more climactic moments of a match. And nobody wants to be the guy who lost the match through self-inflicted hovercraft manslaughter.
Naval Strike deploys to Battlefield 4 Premium members first on March 25. The Naval Strike DLC will be made available to Battlefield 4 vanilla players two weeks later, on April 8.