Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher: EA Games
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Grade: 4 stars (out of 5)
We're getting closer to a universal truth about "Battlefield": You come for the action, and you stay for the multiplayer.
Recent editions have proven that quality is fleeting in the franchise's single-player campaigns. Where we gamers end up (correctly) focusing our attention is in the online competitive modes, where EA seems to be devoting its efforts. I long for a military shooter that sucks you into a tightly woven narrative with complex players, but that just isn't what "Battlefield 4" sells. It sells controlled mayhem.
First, about the campaign: You go through the peaks and valleys of the plot, but not much sticks with you. The characters deliver some lines, and world leaders bark out orders to send your band of soldiers into harm's way via massive set pieces and shootouts. Unfortunately those characters' lines plummet deep into a well of generic dialogue and the missions follow predictable beats with overly dramatic twists and turns. Perhaps the 15 people who've never played a military shooter will find them compelling, but for the other 80 bagillion folks playing the game it's worn-down territory.
Tighten up those boots and make sure your flak jacket is securely fastened because everything changes once you enter the online multiplayer. Rather than just rehash and improve the standard death-match and team-based modes, "Battlefield 4" makes some intelligent twists to make new modes addicting. Obliteration stands out as a blockbuster, where two teams fight control of a bomb and use it to take down enemy positions.
In previous games vehicular engagement was a luxury, but now everyone can play and experience game-changing moments. Boats hum down watery channels laying suppressing fire or perhaps a helicopter wastes an entire pack of soldiers waiting to ambush your compatriots. Never before has a game so wonderfully packed battles with land, sea, and air components. Trust me when I say the Paracel Storm mission is one you'll likely never stop playing and will change the way you see multiplayer maps.
It's bad enough that customization options for your soldier and vehicles fill up several hours' of your time; now EA has developed multiple ingenious maps to test your mettle in the war theater. Level up enough and the much-beloved commander view becomes available, allowing you to issue orders to squad leaders and see the entire battlefield from high above. Type-A personalities will drool over this ability to help shape the outcomes of missions by pointing out potential traps or assisting their team with a timely aerial strike or airdrop of a vital supply cache.
Since we're fully mired in the "should I buy it now for my 360/PS3 or wait for the new consoles to come out" void of decision-making, I'd say let reality (and your wallet) be your guide. The Xbox One and PS4 versions look amazing and provide not only better visual quality but expanded options. But if you crave the desire to rain hellfire from an unmanned drone or knock down buildings and don't plan to get a new console soon, you won't be disappointed by the current-gen versions of the game.