The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco held a lot of grand opportunities for us – the ability to hobnob with a few game developers, the chance to see up-and-coming independent titles, the truth about what Metal Gear Solid V really was – but one of the key things that took us by surprise was the official unveiling of Battlefield 4, Electronic Arts' follow-up to the 2011 first-person shoot-em-up. The company held a private event to show us the game the only way it knew how, in a private theater with surround sound, to give us an idea of what kind of next-gen oomph is going into it (even though it's also slated to arrive on current consoles, like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3).
Though not much is known about the story as of yet (the ending left a lot of cryptic details to be deciphered, revolving around China), it does follow a team of soldiers who are working their way through an overseas country, fending off against terrorist threats while desperately seeking extraction from a mission. The game actually begins with them trapped underwater in a car, with Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" playing in the background, and your character being forced into the decision to shoot out one of the windows to escape.
The story is then told through flashbacks, with the team working its way through a crumbling building while engaging in a shootout with gunrunners across the street, as they attempt to save one of their own, who's running towards the building. The rest of the demo then consists of them trying to make an escape, running towards an abandoned oil building and finding themselves knee deep in trouble, thanks to enemy forces who have surrounded on their position.
DICE, knowing a thing or two about making quality shooters (just look at the previous Battlefields or, for that matter, Bad Company games), has pumped a lot of heart into this fourth chapter, trying to top the bland emotions of the third game with even rawer stuff this time around. You'll be forced to make some hard decisions, such as saving a soldier when he's pinned underneath a car by cutting off a part of his leg. (Fortunately, the function doesn't involve back and forth wiggling with the analog stick – that might be asking too much.)
The game has action to spare, as there were a number of shootouts that were remarkable to watch throughout the demo, including one that ended in an explosion that ravaged half the oil factory that was being fought in. Another part of the game forced the team to rumble through a structure that was literally falling apart, shooting soldiers in the process as they made their escape. It's one of the more tense moments of the demo, and a true testament to the Frostbite 3 technology that the developer put together for this game. The destructive angle is really off the hook here, especially when you send a helicopter careening into a fiery wreck.
As for the gameplay itself, a couple of small changes could be noted with the Battlefield formula. The whole point-and-shoot thing seems pretty standard for the series, but the dual-scope system has been adopted from Medal of Honor: Warfighter, giving you the option to either look through a sniper scope or a more traditional iron sights to target an enemy. It looks like you can also call upon your AI-driven teammates to provide suppressing fire on targets that you highlight, enabling you to scramble for cover so you can pick them off from a better position. You'll need all the help you can get from them, too, mainly because Battlefield 4 won't come with any sort of co-op support. (DICE is too concerned with making the single player and multiplayer experiences shine.)
Though the game's single player content was satisfying, there was very little mention of multiplayer – a part of the game that a lot of players are certainly looking forward to, judging by the attention that part three got with its core content and add-on packs. E3 is likely to be the place where the team reveals more of the modes that will be included, but here's to hoping that a variety of missions – and the return of the beloved Conquest Mode – are somewhere in the cards.
Battlefield 4 is still a little early yet, judging by the lack of details during the event. But still, there's some promise here if DICE is able to deliver on all its Frostbite 3 promises. We'll be keeping a close eye on this one in the months ahead as development moves along, providing you a more detailed preview and a few gameplay strategies. In the meantime, gear up – war is about to go next-gen.
Battlefield 4 is slated for release later this year. You can watch the full 17 minutes of gameplay footage here.