With only a month before the new set of consoles hit the stage, it’s easy to forget that the opening salvo of the next generation will be limited in size. Whether they simply can’t afford it or want to wait for their chosen games to launch, most players are sticking with their tried and true 360s and PS3s. After all, most of the tentpole games like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Watch Dogs are still coming to the device they own, so what’s the rush?
Those of us who were around for the last generational gap are all too aware of what happens when a new set of consoles spring up. As the 360 and PS3 debuted, the PS2 and Xbox were submerged in careless, buggy ports from their newest siblings until the stragglers fled for greener pastures and the legacy devices gathered dust. After eight years, the old guard from the last switch held hope that the publishers learned their lesson and wouldn’t subjugate their players to the same coldhearted fleecing again. If the PS3 beta for Battlefield 4 is any indication, said hope was gravely misplaced.
Before diving into the accursed, lesser beta, I should give a brief summary of my experience with the PC version. Despite some poor optimization and an unfortunate tussle with Punkbuster, it felt like Battlefield 3 in a new outfit. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; aside from the campaign and a few multiplayer maps, Battlefield 3 never felt broken or stale, and reintroducing the beloved commander (one player barking orders from above) makes it easier to understand exactly what you need to do. Siege of Shanghai is the only map available, and I’m not exactly itching to play more, but it did a solid job at presenting an exciting game.
The same map from the PC beta is present on the PS3, and it’s a far cry from the expertly-choreographed session that stormed E3’s stage. Rather than make the effort to build a game that stands on par with its fellow current-generation neighbors, DICE has crafted one of the ugliest port jobs I’ve ever seen; making room for their silly collapsing skyscraper effect must have taken its toll on the fidelity expected from a full-priced shooter (the game chugs to an unplayable crawl whenever the tower falls, so the effort was made in vain), because every model, texture and effect resembles that of a developer on a shoestring budget. The poor transfer also affects an already dim color palette, turning it into an unappetizing sludge of blocky gray buildings that climb toward an equally gray sky. War may be a dreary practice, but Battlefield 4’s glorified vision of combat could do with a little splash of life.
Shanghai was clearly built for a full 64-player crew, yet the PS3 version chops that number in half without shrinking the field to accommodate the change. Instead of a warzone teeming with action, I felt like I was fighting in a metropolitan ghost town, or the most technically advanced paintball arena known to man. Entire blocks were left uninhabited, and save for a sniper or two on either team, the rooftops were barren. Those fortunate enough to own a beefy PC or a new $400 console will likely make ample use of this concrete playground, but most of the streets remain silent here.
I soon grew bored of being funneled onto the one and only street where combat actually took place, so I found the nearest skyscraper and rode an elevator to the top; just as expected, I was the only one there, leaving me ample room to just take in the ugly grey skyline as the others fought below. I peered down over the side and watched the camouflaged ants run single-file into the gaping maw of death, again and again. For one of the most anticipated games of the holiday, the lack of a full roster gave it the feeling of a niche Half-Life 1 mod in its twilight years. I spent a considerable chunk of the match on my spacious perch and my squad never noticed: they probably thought I was lost on some empty stretch of road leading nowhere.
Battlefield 3 certainly suffered from its reduced player count on home consoles, but at least DICE worked to mitigate the emptiness by pushing players toward maps that were specially curated for smaller groups. Despite lacking the gorgeous detail from the PC, its presentation also managed to stand toe-to-toe with the other AAA shooters on the market. It felt worthy to carry the torch its forebears, and for a console conversion of an unforgiving PC franchise, that was quite the achievement!
If the beta is indicative of the final quality, Battlefield 4 carries no such distinction. Nor is it fit for a set of consoles where so many superior shooters exist, from the AAA to the $15 downloadable title. It pains me that so many unsuspecting customers will likely pay full price for a half-assed effort.
After one miserable hour in an empty lot passing itself off as an emergent strike zone, I called it quits. Even if we could pretend like the superior PC build didn’t exist, this joke of a demonstration doesn’t hold a candle to the game that came before it on the same system! If the beta is any indication of the final product, their audacity to charge $60 for a gimped version knows no bounds. We’ll see where the chips fall when November rolls around, but before the verdicts arrive, I recommend avoiding this game at all costs. I only hope that this isn’t an omen; if any of the upcoming PS3/360 holiday ports are half as bad, an overwhelming number of gamers will be in for a disappointing Christmas.