Battlefield 4 looks like it has something to prove. Right from the opening moments of its reveal event in Stockholm in front of the world's gaming and tech media, the single-player demo for DICE’s new shooter aimed straight for the audience’s collective gut and its shot fired true.
It presented us with four characters – a team of soldiers trapped in a car sinking into the sea – and it made us care about them to the extent we could still name them all by the time the demo was finished: Pac, Recker, Irish and the ill-fated Sgt Dunn.
Battlefield 4: Plot & Characters
We only mention all that because characters - and indeed plot - weren't exactly strong points in Battlefield 4's predecessor, Battlefield 3. Indeed, while players and critics alike all praised the game's sublime, wide-open assymetrical online mode, they were equally universal in their dismissal of Battlefield 3's turgid and unmemorable single-player campaign.
It's to DICE's credit, then, that it's taken this criticism on board and gone to great lengths to build a single-player that, at least in what was presented, looks as engaging and as impressive as any Hollywood blockbuster.
The way it's done this is through some rather decent writing and voice-work and some pretty mind-blowing tech. The beautiful way four characters are rendered makes them seem life like and the super smooth, realistic way in which they move lends them a geunine sense of authenticity.
This was topped off impressively by the voice acting, which lent the four of them a sense of camaraderie - even if they mostly communicated in the demo in macho grunts and screamed military jargon.
Battlefield 4: Visuals
The silver bullet in Battlefield 4 – the aspect that makes all of this possible – is the game’s Frostbite 3 engine. It’s through this technical marvel that DICE is able to make its world and characters seem utterly believable. The level of detail – from dynamic lighting, to particle animations to the game micro and macro-scale destruction rendering – is utterly stunning in Battlefield 4.
Watching it on the big screen, it looked and sounded as though we were watching an action movie from the point of view of the protagonist. Blink, and it almost looked like real life.
Battlefield 4: Features
It all looked impressive enough when the player controlling the demo was sneaking through the corridors of a slum filled with sewer-water and fading graffiti.
But when we witnessed a gun battle in an abandoned factory that featured a helicopter crash, the dynamic destruction of the film around the game’s protagonist and then a high-speed chase involving a commandeered taxi cab and a helicopter gunship, our jaws were nailed firmly to the floor.
DICE has always had a sense of what it takes to present an epic action set piece, but the Frostbite 3 engine makes it look all the more visceral and terrifying to behold. The action ended on a downbeat, with Pac, Recker and Irish having to leave Sgt Dunn to drown in a submerged car that had landed in the sea after spinning out of control.
Battlefield 4: Verdict
The fact that we even remember Dunn’s name, however, shows you DICE is moving in the right direction. The developers have realised realised that in order to infuse some interest in their game’s single-player campaign, they need to present players with fully formed characters that we'll care about for more than twenty-seconds at a time.
It’s new territory for the developer; what they need to ensure is that their always impressive technology is wrapped firmly around a visceral human heart. Watch this space…
Battlefield 4 release date: Expected Autumn 2013
Battlefield 4 price: TBC
Battlefield 4 price: TBC