An orange-red triangle lights up on my minimap; someone has spotted an enemy near me, and they’re headed my way. I change tack and ready my PDW, weapon trained on the corner. Sure enough, the enemy comes into view, and I open up on them. Bullets spray forth, but my hit marker only flashes sporadically. He just keeps on walking, unfazed by my attack. Frustrated, I switch to my sidearm, but he suddenly wakes from his stupor, bringing his Type 88 to bear and perforating me with a handful of rounds. I die in a heartbeat. The screen fades to grey and highlights my killer: an AA vehicle, sitting at the edge of the map, firing blindly into the sky.
I sigh, feeling my jaw tense, and wait to respawn.
Everyone loves to shit on the big boys, and DICE’s Battlefield series is one of the biggest. For all the players clocking in hours on servers, people still criticise it for being a buggy mess, alleging that it feels more like a glorified beta release than a fully polished product.
Personally, I love Battlefield. It took me a quick pick-up game at a LAN to get over Call of Duty, but it took several releases and a number of years to get to where I am with Battlefield. It brings back the adrenaline rush I hadn’t felt since my earlier years, feeling my heart pump as I take out vehicles with some C4 and mop up any stragglers while racking up points. Those “Battlefield moments” are what we live for, seamlessly blending vehicles and infantry in a chaotic theatre of war. The scope of Battlefield is incredible, and there are few titles like it.
Getting the concepts consistently right can’t be an easy task. Battlefield 4 was ambitious, built on the new Frostbite 3 engine and introducing ridiculous features such as “networked water” so every player sees the same wave motion. (Honestly, what the fuck.)
I empathise with the development team, struggling to meet the demands and expectations of executives, shareholders, and the gaming masses. I cringed at the news of the stream of bugs and glitches after it was released, and the slew of patches that followed. I gave a wry smile at the announcement that DICE would halt development on all its other projects until Battlefield 4 was properly bedded down. I was surprised, and yet not surprised, when I saw the lawsuits being pulled out.
The experience is much better than where it was, but there are still frustrating elements. Despite seemingly low latency on local servers, I still struggle with being shot around corners and being clipped by models hidden in the terrain. The rubber banding is not so prevalent, but firing at enemies point blank without a single hit marker is maddening. The latest glitch I’m experiencing is the broken kill cam, which occasionally highlights a player in another part of the map. (Amusingly, it’s earned me a couple of hacking accusations, so I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or something else.)
People trying to analyse the problem are dissecting it down to the finest details, and I can’t help but think, “If the problems were so easy to fix in the first place, why didn’t they just do so?” People say that it’s because they “already got our money” and they were strongarmed by EA, forcing them to release on a certain date and simply “patch the issues as they come”. I can believe that EA may have had a hand in their drop-dead date, but I’m less convinced that the problem can be fixed by simply “adjusting the server tick rate”. I guess I prefer to see companies like DICE being filled with employees that genuinely want to do a decent job, and who are at the whim of the speculative, merciless public.
For all its annoyances, Battlefield 4 is still a great game. I find myself playing only when I’m in the right frame of mind, because it takes a lot out of me. The immersion and different levels of play are great, but like the sound of a tap steadily dripping, it can grind on me.
When I was in a game, someone expressed their frustration in chat. “This game is so broken, and yet so many people are playing it. What the fuck is wrong with us? Fuck you, EA.”
I know it’s bad, I know that it isn’t all quite there. But I’ll keep on coming back, eager for my adrenaline shot, because the damned thing is just fun to play.