Battlefield 4 - The First 17 Minutes Dissected


Battlefield 4 - The First 17 Minutes Dissected
DICE has unveiled their first person killer app, read all about it
Click’s Daniel Anderson just got back from the reveal of Battlefield 4, read on for his impressions of a live demo and the future of the franchise.

The Skandia Theatre in downtown Stockholm has played host to hundreds of red carpet premieres since it opened its doors as a picture palace in 1923 but never one quite like this. Before an assembled crowd of journalists, local developers Digital Illusions CE (that’s DICE to you and me) gave a first look at the latest entry in their blockbusting Battlefield series, as well as a glimpse at their shiny new engine Frostbite 3.

The game’s existence was confirmed in July 2012 but this was the first showing of any kind of finished footage for the appropriately titled Battlefield4, which took the form of 17 minutes of live play of pre-alpha code.

A black screen gives way to the title ‘Fishing in Baku’ and some very unexpected audio accompaniment – Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. Let’s set the scene...

It’s a light hearted moment, supported by some chatter from the soldiers who appear on screen and abruptly reversed when you realise the situation they’re in. The squad is trapped in a car, underwater, with their captain jammed against a seat unable to move. The glass is cracking, the waters closing in. If they try to free him they could all drown. Without hesitation, Captain Dunn draws hisrevolver and hands it to us, Recker – ordering him to shoot out the glass and escape. With faltering fingers you move, aim and get ready to fire...

Cut to black and on-screen timer tells us we’re 15 minutes in the past and on the run. Our team has grabbed some important intel and is being pursued by Spetsnaz forces on the way to a chopper exfil at an abandoned factory. Once you regroup, it’s time to help out a team-mate, an African-American who answers to the name ‘Irish’ and looks a whole lot like Omar from The Wire – probably because he’s performed by the man himself Michael K. Williams.

Hey Omar!
Hey Omar!Enlarge Enlarge

The firefight takes place across the first wide vista the game has shown off, skyscrapers in the background revealing that the level takes place in the Azerbaijani city of Baku. The claustrophobic early moments in the car and corridors open up scene by scene to this moment and the next, which takes the squad to a lush forest environment, after another fade to black. Here, we also got a glimpse at DICE’s new persistent social element, with a dog tag challenge flashing briefly up on the screen. It’s likely that EA’s Autolog system will track achievements in single player, sizing you up against your online friends even in the campaign mode.

The level continued with a look at another new feature – direct squad commands. In the middle of a firefight, the player could respond to some NPC dialogue (this time from Williams’ Irish), telling him to initiate cover fire so you can flank. The new destruction available in the Frostbite 3 engine was in evidence as you used a shotgun to clear a path through the environment to get a better angle on a mounted gun.

Squad controls can also be used to get whatever allies you have to attack all nearby enemies – something which could do with some balancing as it currently paints each foe with a tag that makes them easy to take out. And the game even lets you direct other ally forces, in this case our exfil chopper could send a hail of lead into the enemy. These tactical options were paired with the level opening up even further, adding a scale rarely seen in previous Battlefield titles and some sense of freedom in how you could approach engagements.

|Wider vistas in Battlefield 4
Wider vistas in Battlefield 4Enlarge Enlarge

The factory beckons but not without a perhaps expected appearance by an enemy chopper. It’s here that we see the destructible environments working against the player, with walls and floors disintegrated in a hail of fire as you try to catch a ride out of the fray. Soon, the birds engage each other and the result sparks a chain reaction which takes the building to pieces. Though the crumbling floor is scripted, the player retains some level of control, into a frantic cut scene that sees the team fall into a hellish pit of disintegrating cement, ash and fire.

With their helicopter down, the remaining squad hijacks a car and heads to an alternative rendezvous, but not before Recker is tasked with taking a knife to the leg of his commanding officer to free him from a piece of masonry. Then the enemy bird makes a reappearance, forcing you into a player controlled car chase which ends with some slow motion gunplay to take the enemy down and a slip up that sees the vehicle tumble into the water.

We’re back at the beginning, the water cover the car and we exit to a brief sting that shows a glimpse of other characters, including an Asian woman who might just be the much rumoured Hanna and some voice over that suggests the squad’s next stop is China, with Recker now in command.

DICE wants an emotional connection to the game
DICE wants an emotional connection to the gameEnlarge Enlarge

These opening 17 minutes represent just the prologue of Battlefield 4 and go hand in hand with DICE’s new commitment to a single player story. While BF3 made an attempt to deliver a more in-depth narrative, the results were mixed – leaning a little too heavily on linear sections and less than interesting personalities. Battlefield 4is intent on working from the opening moments to make you invested in its characters, to bring you on an emotional journey that is markedly different from the chaos of multiplayer while also harnessing elements of the more freeform competitive play to give the players more tactical choice on the battlefield.

DICE is so intent on single player that the event passed with hardly a mention of multiplayer, something which has become synomymous with the brand. And the evidence of this first look is positive – the writing is decent and the performances are strong, even if everything falls into the shouty/cursy soldiers ballpark at the moment. Emotional connection isn’t something first person shooters have had much luck with in the past but if there’s a primary focus on one squad with a real character arc for our lead, Battlefield 4stands more chance than most of having something memorable to experience in its campaign.

Battlefield 4 is likely to arrive in late 2013 for current and next gen consoles. We’ll have an interview and more behind the scenes info very soon.

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