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Reviews

Battlefield 4 Xbox 360

Out in the 'fields, we fought for our meals

A battalion of troops charge past our prone left shoulder, an M1 Abraham rumbles ominously past our right. A Z-11 chopper (foolishly) engages the superior AH-1Z Viper above our heads. We're too busy cowering amongst the rubble to pay much heed; that lurking AC-130 Gunship has all-but levelled the building we were holed up in. Oh dear, what's that creeping over the horizon... a ruddy typhoon? War is hell. Battlefield 4, on the other hand, is almost everything we'd hoped it would be.

"Levolution" plays a significant role in all of this. It's the ultimate manifestation of the Frostbite 3 engine's flair for destruction; not only can you reduce most smaller buildings to their component wodges of mortar with enough sustained shelling, you can even topple the Godzilla-sized ones (like a skyscraper, hotel or dam) with a bit of old-fashioned ingenuity. This ability to all but 'kill' concrete ramps the theatre-of-war-immersion up to unprecedented levels: the particle-obsessed engine spits out huge quantities of dust and debris.

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As regards customisation, we've never seen so many different loadouts, attachments, and vehicle options in any previous release. The scope is staggering and, frankly, a bit disconcerting - if this is your first BF experience, you'll perish lots before you begin to pick up the gist of things. Taking the time to revel in - and explore - the terrific, ginormous maps is paramount. Standouts abound, but if pressed we'd plump for the following foursome: soggy Chinese tenement Flood Zone; classically U-shaped map Lancang Dam; Rogue Transmission, with its enormous satellite dish; and Paracel Storm, in which it's possible to park a destroyer atop an island. It's hardly a stretch to suggest that BF4 boasts the greatest array of multiplayer arenas the series has seen. If you're as crack-addicted to Conquest as we are, they represent staggering value for your dosh.

Old faves aside, there are a handful of new incendiary devices-heavy game modes. Obliteration is a large-scale Capture the Flag-alike, in which teams battle to assume command of bombs and detonate them at specific locations. Defuse, conversely, is a lot more intimate, almost reminiscent of COD in its twitch-shooty, die-a-million-deaths style, waged on far more claustrophobic maps than is BF4's norm. It's a fairly obvious attempt by DICE to delve into Infinity Ward/Treyarch territory, but not a particularly convincing or enjoyable one. This aside, Battlefield 4's multiplayer feels reassuringly similar to that of its immediate predecessor - there are the same four classes, though they've been tweaked on the basis of Battlefield 3 fan feedback.

The campaign, meanwhile, is a disappointingly mixed bag. It's brief, explosive, muddled and faffs around with concepts of morality in war to no real avail. Set primarily in China, before taking off for a spot of COD-esque globe-trotting, the game eschews realism in favour of faux-Bond 'saving the world' schlock, and all but insults the player with its ham-fisted storytelling. Maybe it's just us, but we think Battlefield has the means to pull off a truly compelling, Blackhawk Down-esque story about conflict. This, although a fun romp, isn't it - we'd be queuing round the block to give irritating, whinging, faux-moralising supporting doinks like 'Irish' a slap.

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There are, however, some impressive set pieces, like the fierce tropical storm that steals the show during a city shootout, an improbable slice of dam-busting and a creepy underwater excursion to a downed aircraft carrier. Some of the sound design that booms out during these showdowns is absolutely best-in-class: it's a phenomenal achievement when a war game conjures a genuine fear for your (albeit virtual) life simply by way of your ears. Overall, though a better swipe at single-player than BF3, Battlefield 4's single player won't be rocking anybody's 'best of forever' lists any time soon.

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