Watch Out for Falling Buildings

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Since last week, gamers have been collapsing a skyscraper over and over again in virtual Shanghai in the Battlefield 4 beta, and I joined them over the weekend for some hands-on time with DICE’s latest war simulator.

Let’s get the worst over with up front: I wasn’t immediately blown away by what I saw. Graphically, the game appeared very similar to Battlefield 3 which didn’t make a good first impression. I was fortunate not to experience the low frame rates reported by players from the first few days, though, and my Radeon HD6970 graphics card coped very well, maintaining my frame rate somewhere above the 30fps mark which was more than playable.

As I played, the game’s awesome destruction engine came through loud and clear, and not in a scripted, this-is-the-only-way-things-will-break kind of way. Not everything is destructible, though, but the bits of the map that are, break beautifully and change the dynamics in real ways, resulting in paths that were open initially becoming blocked with debris as the level plays, forcing many a routing re-think. Accordingly, my initial impression of the game’s visuals as being too much like Battlefield 3’s quickly evaporated as I played more.

EA calls the way levels change “levolution”; it’s a terrible word, but it’s at least accurate: levels do indeed evolve according to player behaviour. It was hard not to be impressed by the map’s collapsing skyscraper, which goes down when vital pillars are destroyed, leaving behind a cloud of dust and a huge pile of rubble. I noticed players gunning for it to make it fall as soon as possible, probably due to the novelty factor of never having seen anything like it in a multiplayer game before. To DICE’s credit, the actual collapse is spectacular and worth watching over and over again.

Such complete destruction of one of the map’s buildings does raise a concern about consistency, though – when none of the other buildings can be destroyed, and the lifts seen on many of the buildings don’t actually work, it’s hard not to be disappointed at the contrivance of it all. Maybe it’s a limitation of the hardware DICE (the game’s developers) were working with, maybe it was done for balance reasons or to keep players in specific areas, or maybe my expectations were just a bit too high. I liked what I saw, of course, I just wish there was a bit more of it, and am very keen to see what the other maps hold in the full game. 

Siege of Shanghai is the only playable map, and it can be played in two modes: Conquest (capture the flag) and Domination (team deathmatch) modes. Despite it supporting 64 players, its massive size left me feeling a little lost and on my own initially, although when I joined up with other players the action came hard and fast. I like how I felt encouraged to play with others rather than on my own due to the rewards – more kills, more XP, more action – something which is carried over from BF3. 

The conquest mode has teams starting on opposite sides of a large body of water, with easy access to nearby tanks, helicopters, armoured cars, boats and jetskis and bridges, and they must compete to capture and hold five different points in order to make the opposite team’s “tickets” count down to zero. The fifth is the most contentious, as it sits atop the building that can be collapsed, and once that is done it makes the point more difficult to defend, as the once-elevated rooftop becomes a ground-level debris field that is difficult to hide in.

I loved how DICE put in switch-activated bollards that can pop up and disable and even trap enemy vehicles if activated at just the right moment on the bridges that connect the level’s main areas. Since the map is quite sniper-friendly (there are lots of elevated places to hide and pick people off), I also liked that the bridges have footbridges below them, which provided me with much-needed cover when I moved around on foot.

In terms of how the game plays, I died a lot (but that’s not unusual). The assault weapons look and sound quite powerful and take down enemies in just a few shots, although my pistol felt very underpowered – I often fired multiple shots into enemies without killing them. Tanks are a little harder to drive: they’re more sensitive than before plus they now have limited ammo that needs to be replenished every few shots, and they can’t shoot as high as in BF3 which makes it even more difficult to take down a helicopter or jet with a tank shell. I still can’t fly a helicopter but I’m pretty sure that’s a me thing and not a Battlefield 4 thing.

I am an MWEB subscriber, and I was very happy at my super-low ping to the BF4 servers of just 10ms, and total lack of connectivity issues while I played.

So after spending some time with the beta, I can say I’m really enjoying what I’ve seen of Battlefield 4. I can appreciate what the developers have tried to do with it, and I’m sure that fans of the series will find themselves right at home with the multiplayer portion when it launches. I hope the final version is a bit more polished and balanced, though, and that other multiplayer maps feature even more destruction and dynamic changes that keep things interesting, and players playing.

For a run-through of what to expect from the Siege of Shanghai map, check out the official video below taken from the multiplayer demo shown at E3 earlier this year. If you want to see the skyscraper fall, watch ’till the end.

The beta initially became available on the 1st of October to people who pre-ordered the game, but then opened up to everyone on the 4th. Gamers can take part on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 until the 15th of October, when the beta ends.

Deon du Plessis

Deon du Plessis

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.