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Another unfinished (and badly broken) game
on November 2, 2013
When details about the upcoming BF4 leaked out (e.g. the famous collapsing skyscraper) I was afraid that EA was putting more effort into gee-whiz visual effects rather than worrying about making the game run properly. If you've played Battlefield 3 you know it's a great game with some serious flaws, things that weren't fixed even after a long series of patches and updates--I was afraid BF4 would turn out the same. Well, my fears are realized.
BF4 is full of eye candy, lots of cool things happen, and it has tons of *potential*. Unfortunately the game is packed with bugs and glitches, and it crashes so often that it is extremely frustrating just trying to play. Crashes, crashes and more crashes, and different kinds of crashes depending on the game's mood or the time of day or something. Freezes, black screens, white screens, "Battlefield 4 has stopped responding" error messages from Windows, "Your game has disconnected" messages, "Your connection to the server timed out" (after five minutes?) messages, and so on and so forth--it's a festival of crashes. And it doesn't seem to matter if you have a wheezy old computer or a brand new hot rod with top notch hardware, it doesn't matter how good your computer is, the game will lag, stutter, freeze and crash again and again.
Aside from the fact that the game crashes constantly, there are elements of the design that I really dislike. Perhaps to compete with Call of Duty (which Battlefield players consider a game for kids and refer to as Computerized Online Daycare), the game developers have made BF4 downright cartoonish in many ways. Tanks race across the landscape like sports cars (and without making a sound until they've killed you, then you hear them), and infantry can run and leap like leopards even after you've shot them. Yes, you can shoot an enemy until he is almost completely dead, with only a couple of points of life left, and he can still spin around and kill you and run off laughing.
Jets can still fly in ways they cannot in the real world, just as in BF3. Helicopters can collide with trees and buildings and somehow survive (unless I'm flying them in which case they immediately explode). Armored vehicles can absorb insane amounts of damage without being destroyed, but then become stuck on a tree stump or rock. An annoying feature in BF3 was bullets seeming to follow you around corners, this was due to the shooter and his target not being in sync on the server, they both saw slightly different things. This seems to be even worse in BF4, and it is very annoying to often get shot by someone who should not even be able to see you according to what appears on your screen (but not his).
Sure, they got some things right. They restored squad chat so it is easier for players to talk to each other using gaming headsets, and they made it easier to join teammates already in the game. Commander Mode (something else missing from BF3) has also returned, and there are cool new weapons and some interesting new maps. But none of that matters if you cannot play the game because of horrible lag or because the game crashes over and over.
I assume many of these issues will be addressed in coming weeks (BF4 is less than a week old as I write this) and many of the bugs will be fixed. But the huge question Battlefield players are asking is why weren't these problems fixed before the game was released? Why does EA insist on putting an unfinished product on the market and then scrambling to correct scads of glitches that could and should have been corrected before it was offered to the public? Is it just the highly profitable Christmas sales season that prompted them to release a product that was not ready?
If you want to know if I think you should buy Battlefield 4 right now, the answer is no. Wait awhile, let them correct enough of the problems that the game is at least playable. In a few months this might be a terrific game. But as it sits today, BF4 is a disaster.
BF4 has been out three months and there has been some improvement although many serious issues remain after several patches from EA. The game doesn't crash nearly as often (but it still crashes). Lag and stuttering have been reduced too although not eliminated. The audio no longer suddenly disappears on certain maps. However many core problems remain, e.g. what you see and what your opponent sees not being in sync, leading to many outraged comments by players about being "shot around corners". Of course EA (and this game's developer, DICE) couldn't fix a sandwich without breaking the whole kitchen, and every patch has fixed some things while breaking others. There was a bug where players you had clearly shot still showed 100% health when they spun around and killed you. Now, they instead show 0% health, making it look as if you were just killed by a dead player (leading to much yelling and screaming in the game's text chat). There has been so much angry commentary from disappointed Battlefield players that it got the attention of the mainstream media leading to EA's stock price taking a hit. EA has also ordered DICE to suspend work on expansion packs for BF4 and get all their programmers working on fixing bugs, but there are so many bugs, and I wonder if some of them really cannot be fixed because the basic structure of the game contains hopeless flaws. EA has actually been issuing refunds to some purchasers of BF4 provided they hadn't played many hours (many of them could not play at all).
So, while BF4 has been partially repaired it is still a coin toss if you will find it an enjoyable game or an experience more irritating then entertaining. I know several people with new fire-breathing gaming computers who have just as much trouble running BF4 as those of us using less powerful machines. So be warned; while BF4 is terrific when it is working and shows huge potential, it is still a buggy and annoying product needing a lot of work. If you haven't bought it yet you are probably better off waiting awhile to see how far the repair work gets (and how much EA drops the price) because Battlefield 4 still has some serious problems.
ONE YEAR LATER
There have been several big fixes applied to BF4 over the past year, and they have successfully repaired many of the bugs which plagued this game at release. However, in true DICE/EA fashion each patch has brought new problems, fixing some things but breaking others. I was getting few crashes lately but an Origin update last week resulted in a wave of new "Battlefield 4 has stopped responding" messages as well as black-screen crashes such as I had not seen in ages. Before anyone else says I need a better computer, this past summer I had a hotrod gaming computer built--Cooler Master, Asus, EVGA, Corsair -- all good stuff capable of running BF4 without breaking a sweat. Yes, some issues disappeared with all this computing horsepower available. But many problems continued because they are built into the game, e.g. the clunky "netcode" which means your shots might register on your opponent, or they might not. Enemies still appear to pop out of thin air seemingly shooting at you before you can even see them, grenades still occasionally vanish even though you watched them fly through the air and hit the ground at your opponent's feet, tanks still slide silently up behind you without making a sound and so on and so forth. One positive development is the Fair Fight anti-cheat service which seems to be making using hacks riskier than before, although of course many folks still try. Yet even here EA's policies have a negative effect, and they're giving out one-week suspensions as warnings rather than permanently banning players identified as hack users.
BF4 remains an impressive game with gorgeous graphics and some interesting game play but also a host of really irritating flaws and poor design decisions. This game could have been so much better, but it was released long before it was ready and EA has been scrambling ever since to apply patch after patch trying to make it work. It's certainly better than it was at first, but it's still got significant problems. I regularly play with quite a few serious gamers and all of them swear they will not pre-order any further titles in the Battlefield series--they will wait and buy any new versions only when they have been proven to work. DICE/EA has really alienated much of the Battlefield player community with BF4.