Battlefield 4 Community Test Environment – Xbox One Thoughts

Battlefield 4I talked yesterday about my time with the Call of Duty: Black Ops III Xbox One beta. Today we’ll look at another pre-release offering, the Community Test Environment for Battlefield 4. It’s been available on the PC for a while now, but just recently was opened up to members of the Xbox One Preview Program. I got my invite and set up the game last week and played a few games on the test map available, Zavod: Graveyard Shift. The Nighttime map is part of a new nighttime expansion for Battlefield 4.

After installing the CTE, which runs completely separate from BF4, I loaded it up and re-familiarized myself the mechanics of BF4 versus Battlefield: Hardline. After remembering a few of the more popular and powerful weapons, I headed out to Zavod. I always wondered why there weren’t more night time maps in the modern Battlefield series. Assuming that Zavod is indicative of the whole nighttime set in BF4, I have an idea as to why. I like the nighttime idea – it adds a degree of stealth and tactics back into the military setting; and makes certain sights much more useful (IR in particular). Unfortunately, in my experience playing last week, I found that night was just too nighty. Even with my brightness cranked way up to the max, I found myself struggling to see anything beyond about 20 feet at Zavod. Even when I was using the IR sights, it was a lot more difficult to see the enemies than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because the builds in the CTE are still technically alpha builds, but I would hope in the actual Night Operations expansion that there is a little more light out there.

I ran into one other issue while I was playing around. I played a few games where the entire ground didn’t load in. There was still a floor that I could stand on, but all that really amounted to was my head popping up above the ground level. The actual land geometry loaded in fine, which let me have some way to stand above ground level – and the buildings worked too. But it really did make playing the game that much more frustrating. That’s where I think the CTE stands apart from most betas that make their way onto consoles. Generally speaking the betas we play are pretty close to final builds, if not final builds just before launch. This was very clearly a pretty early build – and as such, there were noticeable issues with the actual gameplay. Go in to the CTE with that in mind, and I think you will actually have a good time – it is a pretty cool way to mix up the Battlefield flow.

The Real Issue With Shooters’ Campaigns

For whatever reason, modern FPS games get a bad rap these days when it comes to their single player campaigns. That partially due to the rise of console online multiplayer becoming more popular, which lets more people play that might not normally do that. Because more gamers are playing online now, developers are putting a lot more time into crafting a multiplayer mode that has longevity, depth, and a strong social element. In order to do accomplish that, that might mean that the single player has to take a back seat. It’s a pretty standard internet argument against Call of Duty – every game is the same thing, and the single player is an afterthought. I would argue that the Call of Duty campaigns are far from the worst experiences out there. Look at another FPS from the last few years – Bulletstorm – developed for a single player experience, I wouldn’t say that it is a better experience than any of the Call of Duty games.Call of Duty: Ghosts

That having been said, this past round of shooters – Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts committed one of the worst offenses that I think any campaign can. It amazes me, that in 2013, the two biggest shooters of the year would release campaigns with silent protagonists. That might have worked back in the Doom, Quake, and Unreal day, but as the general overall quality of games has gone up, the mute protagonist I don’t think really has a place in modern story-based gameplay. In some cases, notably in RPG’s you can get away with a silent protagonist, but the best examples of those games have some level of characterization through dialogue trees. In both Ghosts and Battlefield there are a number of moments, both in game and in cutscenes, where the other NPC’s directly ask questions to your character – who responds by staring back at them blankly. Now for some gamers, that might be fine; but I think that that course of action kills the immersion, taking me right out of the story. It’s especially frustrating in the Call of Duty games, where silent protagonists gain the ability to speak in between games – Soap from Modern Warfare 1 tois a major example. I think it was especially grating last year since BioShock Infinite showed that an FPS can have a fully characterized player protagonist, who voices his thoughts and answers questions asked of him, and still have a fantastic experience.

Battlefield 4

This coming year I think will be an interesting one when it comes to shooters. As of this writing, there hasn’t been a new Call of Duty announced, although we all know one is coming; and while Microsoft has said a Halo game is coming this year, I have a feeling it will be the Halo 2 Anniversary Edition that’s been rumored for a while, since it’s the ten year mark for it. Add in that Battlefield hasn’t really been a yearly series, and Medal of Honor is all but dead, I think that leaves the door open for the two new kids in school – Titanfall and Destiny. Both look like they are taking new, unique approaches to the genre, in terms of blending story and multiplayer. Titanfall has said that they won’t have a traditional campaign, instead telling the story through the online multiplayer. Destiny looks like it’s blending shooters, RPGs and the persistent world of MMOs to craft a truly unique and new experience. All that’s left now is to just wait for March and September.

Mapping Out December: Part Two – Hitting the Battlefield

I started looking at what I consider the best multiplayer maps in shooters. Last week, I looked at few older games, like Quake, Unreal Tournament and GoldenEye 007. Today, I’m bringing it a little more modern by looking over the best maps from the Battlefield series – primarily 1942, Vietnam, Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4. Let’s get started with the very beginning of the series, Battlefield 1942.

Battlefield 1942

The true strength of the first game’s maps is the setting of the game – the Second World War was such an incredibly over the top period of time, it’s almost hard to believe that some of the battles actually happened. So let’s look at possibly the biggest battle of them all, the Normandy Invasion,  presented in the game as Omaha Beach. If you forgot your high school history, go brush up on Omaha Beach, because it’s seriously insane the amount of carnage and action that took place there. As for the map in game, it’s pretty simple and straightforward map, essentially a straight series of three command points. The Allies start the map out in the water on a ship, while the Germans spawn at the top of a cliff. The Germans can set up a number of sniper posts, artillery and really get dug in before the Allies even get to the beach head, which makes the push up the hill a real hard struggle, but if you can push all the way up, that will pretty much end the match.

One other really well built maps from the first game is Operation Market Garden, based around the real-life operation of the same name. The map is set around the village of Arnhem, and the real focus of the map is around two bridges. It’s a combined arms map, with paratroopers dropping in left and right, making for a fast paced and all around fun map.

Battlefield Vietnam

Jumping forward a game to the next entry, we have Battlefield Vietnam, somewhat of a dark-horse in the series. My favorite map was always Hue – 1968, the first of the two Hue maps. Set during the Tet Offensive, the map is set in the city of Hue, and features frantic combined arms combat the whole way through. There really isn’t anything like rounding a corner, putting a few C4 charges on a tank, ducking in a building and blowing it sky-high, and Hue is built for moments like that.

Battlefield 4

Now let’s look at the two current games in the series – Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4. We’ll start with one of the smaller maps from the base game – Tehran Highway. It’s a night map, so flashlights and thermal scopes perform well. There’s no air combat to worry about, and limited ground vehicles, but they can really change the flow of the game. It plays well on conquest and rush, as well as the squad modes too. But that’s not really what makes Battlefield different – we need to go big to see that. So I would point to Kharg Island – it’s one of the biggest maps in the base game, and features all the different parts of combat the makes Battlefield unique – air combat, heavy tanks, APCs, transport vehicles and long range infantry combat, as well as close quarter combat in the oil refinery. I think this map really shines on conquest, showing off all the different parts of the map and the different forms of combat.

Jumping into Battlefield 4, I’ll admit I have real limited experience with the maps so far, but that said I think I can make a few picks. First off, Lancang Dam I think shows off a few of the new points of focus that DICE has with BF4. First off, the major change of destroying a large section of the dam, totally changing the flow and layout of the map. It’s a big map, with long sight lines to show off some major sniper skills as well. Finally, I would pick the Siege of Shanghai as another real strong map – the focus of being able to totally destroy the middle conquest point, changing not only the layout of the point, but also the sight lines for snipers and having the dust and debris totally affect vision for a new way to be stealthy really makes the map strong on all fronts.

Looking back on Battlefield as a series, there really have been way more strong maps than I pointed out here today. If you missed out on the original game, I believe that it’s available for free through Origin now, so there really is no reason to not pick it up. There are plenty of awesome maps in it, and you can really make some awesome moments happen. Next week, for part three of this little series, I will be heading to the Xbox and looking at a series I am very familiar with – Halo. See you then.

Why I Love My Xbox One (Without Even Owning a Game Yet)

In case you haven’t been paying attention this month, the next-gen is here now. PS4 launched two weeks ago and the Xbox One dropped on this past Friday. I was fortunate enough to get an Xbox One Day One Edition on Friday, but I made the decision to save some money for now and not pick up a game at the same time. I mean, I do still have a perfectly good Xbox 360 with a ton of great games to play. I did feel that, as someone who wants to make a living writing and reporting and discussing video games, it was important to get one of the next-gen consoles early, and I’ve become a bit more loyal to the Xbox brand over the last 7 years or so.

Xbox One

And that’s where we get to Friday – opening up that black box and pulling out all the different components. Now, I don’t have a cable box in my room with the consoles, at least not at this time, so I don’t get the 100% experience with the Live TV functionality, but I think that’s a little part. After I got the Xbone all set up, I set out to exploring the new dashboard and features. This is the first Kinect I’ve personally owned, so I was hesitant that it would even be able to work in my small space, but it picked me up right away. Thank God for that, because the voice commands that the Xbox One has are one of my favorite features of the new console. I was skeptical at first that the recognition would be a little spotty, but all through the weekend I haven’t had any issues. It works well, and it works quickly – the apps I tell it to launch are open much quicker than on my 360, which could honestly be due to the 360 hard drive being much more filled. In general, the Xbox One is much faster than the 360, which not only makes sense, but fits with what people had been saying pre-launch.

Snapping apps is a really cool feature too – letting me play a game and have my Monday Night Football on screen at the same time is really awesome. Going forward, as they add more snappable apps, the feature will grow and become, at least I think, a really integral part of the console. Same thing with the quick minimize to home – being able to quickly go home is really neat, better still without closing the app in use. Little things like face recognition too so my Gamertag is linked to my actual face is really nice.

Killer Instinct (2013)

In terms of games – I like that the option to buy any of the launch titles digitally is there, but I wonder how steady that will go (Day one digital as well as physical). The one game I’ve been able to actually play is Killer Instinct, since you can get the game with one character for free. I’m enjoying it actually – I’m not a huge fighting games fan, since I tend to not be great at them, but I do like the look of the game, and the speed of it – it needs a bit more content, but even buying it, it isn’t a full $60 title, so they knew that. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to play a true next-gen game, I’m leaning towards Battlefield 4 for now – the game clips people have posted on the Xbox One itself look so much better than the 360 Beta I played. I will probably also pick up LEGO Marvel and Forza 5 as well, and check out the next-genness of them.

One other thing that I think bears mentioning is the redesigned controller. While the general feel and layout are the same as the 360 controller, the actual feel is a lot different. The larger triggers pull much smoother than the old controller, and the bigger shoulder buttons should be much easier to press in the heat of a game, with less sticking as time goes on as well. The analog sticks feel much more responsive, with no sticking at all and the nubbing on the sticks is a nice little touch. Clicking in the sticks is now a much more direct action, I don’t see it happening by accident, unless you have the stiffest movements ever. Same thing with the new D-Pad – making each direction an actual switch makes the d-pad that much more responsive. Overall, the controller is a huge improvement over the 360’s.

Overall, the Xbox One does exactly what they said it would – brings all of my entertainment into one box. I love the sports apps, I like being able to watch Twitch streams or YouTube videos with a quick command, and it’s clear going forward that they will be adding snapable apps for Twitter and Facebook. It’s the little things that make a console succeed, and so far at least, I’ve been impressed with all the little things the Xbox One does. It’s quiet, sleek, cool, powerful and I am very happy with it so far. Hopefully it has a lifespan similar to the 360.