Electronic Arts didn't hold back at last week’s E3 with the Battlefield 4 multiplayer demo, which supported up to 64 players via high-end PCs. The line to get in was long, but the wait was definitely worth it.
Siege of Shanghai was the featured map, and teams were divided into 32 per side, one for the United States and China. The Conquest mode - where point-to-point domination rules the day – required our team to capture certain focus points on the map, with the main one placed atop a skyscraper in the center of the board. The goal of the Chinese team was to successfully defend the building from invasion while the U.S. sought to destroy it, either by placing bombs up top or taking out pillars at the bottom via tank or rocket launcher.
We were introduced to the game's four classes: Recon, Assault, Engineer and Support. Recon spots an attack from afar; Engineers help repair and maintain vehicles while in the midst of combat; Support lends a hand to fellow soldiers low on ammunition; and Assault runs at the forefront, entering every skirmish with guns held high. Each class is worth a go, and players can swap in between re-spawns.
Here’s something that separates Battlefield 4 from the competition, the commander. This player doesn't play on a PC or console. Instead, he or she uses a tablet. When guided by high-ranked soldiers on the ground, this person will call in more powerful attacks. They'll be able to see where every soldier is positioned through the top-down on-screen display, then coordinate tactics with these elite soldiers, like a Tomahawk strike that can lay waste to an enemy platoon in a matter of seconds. It's a neat role to play, especially for those without a computer.
The Siege of Shanghai map is massive, but thankfully the game has a fair re-spawn system that doesn’t force people to run all the way back to the beginning. Instead they’ll join a nearby soldier before they're killed so they can jump into the action. This is a helpful feature, though you'll want to pay attention where you drop in, as you could easily find yourself in the midst of an enemy ambush. Stay with your group whenever possible.
Another key component is the use of vehicles. Engineers have most of the fun, whether it's cruising to a capture point via jet ski – even though you don't get to fire while riding one – or slowly decimating enemy soldiers with the help of a powerhouse tank. Our personal favorite, though, is the chopper. Manning one of these things feels great with a control pad, though players can opt to use a keyboard and mouse on their PCs if they prefer. There's also a side gunner seat, allowing players to mow down aerial and ground defenses with a turret gun.
Battlefield 4’s ground combat can feel slow if you're a great distance away from the checkpoint, but the action picks up once you reach a battle. DICE's Frostbite 3 effects can be seen from every angle, whether you're blowing out walls with a grenade or seeing bullets whiz past as you slide into cover. The game’s intensity rose as we fought for capture points and it led to a powerful crescendo for the U.S. group, watching the skyscraper topple to the ground.
What we saw during the Battlefield 4 demo was just a portion of the big picture, as the final game will ship with more maps, weapons and modes to choose from. It's going to be a multiplayer beast no matter which platform you prefer, including current and next generation systems. We can’t wait.
Battlefield 4 arrives October 29th for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and sometime after for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.