Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Those familiar with DICE's work have come to expect a visually impressive experience with each subsequent iteration of the Battlefield franchise, and I'm delighted to report that the fourth proper installment likely won't let fans down. Battlefield 4 blows its predecessors out of the water technically, thanks to a new-and-improved graphics engine that is downright jaw-dropping.
Before firing up the demo, the guys over at Electronic Arts made it perfectly clear that what we were about to see was in-engine footage. Naturally, my expectations (and likely everyone else's in the audience) were incredibly high, and yet I was still wowed when I saw how lifelike each of the characters looked thanks to some superb animation.
The demonstration kicked off with a group of soldiers in a sinking car, submerged deep below the watery depths. The squad's leader is trapped, and there is no chance of saving him. He orders the player as Recker to shoot out the window, freeing himself and the rest of his squadmates, leaving his commander doomed to face an unpleasant fate. As the player turns to the window and fires his gun, the screen goes black, rewinding time to the events that lead to this catastrophe.
The game then opens up in an urban setting with the team on a mission to safely extract a piece of intel. Things go sour rather quickly, and they are forced to fight their way to safety. In typical Battlefield fashion, firefrights are massive and open, truly showing off the large scale of the world. With advances in technology and the power of Frostbite 3, DICE has been able to create an experience that is so detailed, it tiptoes along the line of disturbing.
Light shines and scatters through the windows, illuminating the various dust particles floating in the air around you. Paint-chipped doors and walls covered in graffiti looks incredibly lifelike, with a level of detail I have never seen in a game before. At one point, the player opens one of these doors only to find a slew of unsuspecting birds that scatter in a frenzy—a technical marvel. The sheer number of things happening on the screen at any given time is astounding. Massive vehicles rolling the the background, sparks flying on the left, smoke billowing on the right, all while choppers circle overhead. The draw distance is stunning and adds to the level of detail and realism one would expect from a next-gen-developed DICE game.
As Recker and his squad attempt to make their escape, the thunder of bullets and explosions fill the air. Gunplay appears to be incredibly similar to prior entries in the series, so fans will undoubtedly feel right at home. The sound design (to no one's surprise) is incredible, with thunderous booms and eardrum-shattering blasts. Destructible environments have always been a big part of the series, and they're back and more impressive than ever. Not only is blowing a hole in a building disturbingly lifelike, but it yields a gaping hole that looks wholly authentic. After spraying bullets into a slew of enemies, racing through buildings, and dodging helicopter fire, the squad hops in a vehicle, as the player grabs the wheel.
Because the first section of the demo already made it clear how this mission would end, it was almost difficult to bear watching the player race away from enemy pursuit, blowing a pursing chopper into a state of disrepair, sending it plummeting to the earth below. Unfortunately, the destruction sends the car careening off the road and into the water, bringing the story full circle.
There aren't many who'd argue against the fact that Battlefield 3's single-player campaign was rather underwhelming, and based on what we've seen of Battlefield 4, I'm happy to say that it appears DICE is very much on the right track this time around. With characters that the player will actually care about and missions that put the player in difficult situations, there's a lot of potential here. Oh, and it's really pretty, too.