I thought that I would be playing Call of Duty for years, but it seems that it wasn’t meant to be. Even then I never thought of converting to the Battlefield series, until I was tempted by Origin Access. So here I am now, battling in the online battlefields of Battlefield 4 on most days. And I’m having fun. Woohoo!
It may be four years old, but it’s far easier to get into a match of Battlefield 4 on PC than one in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. It’s far faster to enter a populated Call of Duty 4 match than have Black Ops 3’s matchmaking provide you with one, actually. But I digress.
That Battlefield still has a nice PC population was welcome but not very surprising. What did surprise me - by a teeny-tiny amount - was how the Battlefield experience didn’t push me away, but gladly welcomed me instead. Previously I’d only played the free-to-play Battlefield Play4Free and Battlefield Heroes, and I wasn’t a huge fan of running around in large, spacious maps and getting killed from unseen enemies from far away. It took me a few matches before my K/D in Battlefield 4 looked less horrid to me, but I experienced a good deal of joy from the start.
Perhaps it helps that Battlefield 4 features superior visuals (the 2013 graphics still look pretty today) and larger battles than Play4Free, as well as having destruction and more immersion. My first game was on Paracel Storm, after the storm hit. It wasn’t a mind-blowing experience for me, but the atmosphere sure won my admiration. Grey skies, strong winds upsetting the waves and trees, helicopters and boats unleashing fire, soldiers running here and there. It was lovely.
I preferred looking at Hainan Resort, however. A classy resort hotel, its surrounding area dotted by fire, smoke and gunfire. A holiday retreat turned warzone that still maintains some of its elegant beauty. I like it.
It was during my first time on Hainan Resort, I think, that I commented to myself on how structureless the game seemed. Matches felt less like coordinated battles and more like sandbox multiplayer playgrounds. Many maps didn’t really feel like they had a flow to them. I didn’t mind though, especially since games never became a glorified team deathmatch.
And speaking of multiplayer playgrounds - man, the things you can do on those playgrounds, or most of them. Disembarking from a helicopter as it landed on a control point; parachuting onto the roof of a skyscraper; looking down and firing rockets at a hostile tank that was at street level and oblivious of my location; gunning down several enemies with a light machine gun from the opposite roof; hearing an explosion and seeing points appear when a disabled enemy helicopter just happened to land on a mine I had set. Just Battlefield things, I guess.
Although Battlefield 4’s guns overall sound more pleasing than Call of Duty’s, shooting someone certainly doesn’t feel as punchy as its competitor. Still, I find the text and points that appear at the bottom of your screen after a kill to be satisfying in their own, quiet way, and the feedback more than suffices for the objective-based modes that are the meat of the game.
The compulsion loop of unlocking stuff here doesn’t feel as strong either, but that’s actually a good thing, in a way. I like that my attention is usually centered on the match experience instead of my next unlock. I do wish the unlocks were a bit more interesting though. There’re a ton of guns, but after looking through their stats, less than a quarter of them interest me, and I’ve no urge to strive for the high level weapons. And the slow levelling was - at least for me - annoying as an Engineer, since the default rocket launcher felt underwhelming. It took me about 20 hours to get new launchers that I enjoyed.
Okay, I’ve just realized that I’ve only mentioned the word “destruction” once. So, destruction! Thanks to games like Red Faction: Guerilla, Red Faction: Armageddon and Rainbow Six Siege, the destruction in Battlefield 4 didn’t shock me or blow my mind, and neither dd it really stand out, aside from the times when a tank was blasting away at a wall I was directly behind seconds ago. Perhaps it’s because the map design doesn’t centre on the destruction the way Bad Company 2’s seems to, surrounding the gameplay with destruction instead of the opposite. Despite that, it still clearly comes across as an integral and major part of the experience, and the subconscious part of my mind definitely registers and appreciates the effects it brings to matches. When the subject of destruction pops up in my main conscience though, it’ll be because of some indestructible part of the environment that withstood a direct blast from my tank.
Levolution is the least interesting aspect of the destruction for me, and the only time I enjoyed it was on Operation Locker, which might seem a bit ironic given it’s indoor close-quarters, meat grinder design. It wasn’t much of a major event, but I happened to be standing at the top of the panopticon tower as it collasped and leapt off as it did so, so it became a pretty cool moment for me. Siege of Shanghai and Hainan Resort’s Levolution events were noticeable, but they made things a little less fun. For Paracel Storm… I’m still waiting to see its Levolution event occur, actually.
But it doesn’t really matter if I don’t see it happen in front of my eyes in a match I’m in. What matters is the freeform multiplayer experience that Battlefield 4 delivers, the shootouts that occur at various ranges and the cool, unscripted moments that occur. It may be 2017, but the game remains a compelling multiplayer shooter, and I don’t think that this year’s Call of Duty can do much to sway me.