It's always somewhat difficult deciding on how to review such heavily multiplayer-centric games. There's no shortage of single-player affairs on the market that feature a tacked-on multiplayer component, seemingly put together at the final hour in order to tick one of the many boxes that developers - or rather, publishers - deem necessary to satiate the apparent demands of modern gamers and critics alike.
The difference with these kinds of titles, though, is that the meat of everyone's experience - despite any subjectivity - is identical in terms of content. With online shooters, your experience and enjoyment of the game hinges on multiple and largely indeterminable factors. That's not to say it's impossible to review multiplayer games, per se, but when you're paying £40 for a package, part of which "nobody cares about," then you've got somewhat of a reviewer's dilemma on your hands.
Let's start with the bad news, though. If you're part of the 1% of people - and they are out there - who buy Battlefield for its single-player campaign, you'll want to give this one a miss; it's a bland, uninspired romp that takes you setpiece-to-setpiece in extraordinarily tedious fashion. Luckily, it's only five hours long.
Unlikeable characters squirm their way through cringeworthy dialog in order to tell a story not worth telling, all the while an air of unfaltering, boorish machismo permeates their every interaction. The script isn't quite as bad as in, say, Call of Duty: Ghosts, but at least that could be considered impressive.
"Your leg looks like popped sausage," exclaims one tactless soldier to his supposed friend as he suffers a potentially life-threatening loss of limbs. This is, as you'd expect, mindless, popcorn-munching stuff. Nothing has changed since 2011's personally disappointing Battlefield 3 in that regard, then, but there are a few areas in which BF4 looks to mix things up.
Arguably the most fundamental single-player change comes in the way of its inventory management. Weapon crates are dotted throughout the levels, affording you the privilege of swapping out weapons multiple times during a mission, provided you've already found them earlier in the campaign. This allows you to mix up your tactics and approach, even if the game rarely requires you to do so. Still, it's a neat addition which stops the gunplay from becoming one-note.
Another noteworthy change to the single-player format is the new score system. Like in multiplayer, taking down enemies now rewards you with points in the campaign mode - you'll even get an on-screen prompt each time you make a kill. At the end of the level, you'll be awarded a final score which you can then compare with your buddies' scores in a friends' leaderboard. It's kind of like Call of Duty 4's Arcade Mode, except you can't turn it off.
There are also Gold, Silver and Bronze mission assignments which are unique to each level and reward you with a special weapon if achieved. Honestly, though, these simply feel like an artificial means of providing a sense of progression; they're almost always awarded for completing primary objectives, or actions that you'd otherwise do. They don't encourage you to diverge from 'the plan'.
All in all, then, the campaign is a bit of a dud, and can be summarised very succinctly by the plea of one hilariously self-referential (read: depressingly accurate) NPC: “come on, can we please stop getting shot at?”
Even when you think DICE is going to mix things up a bit, it's usually a case of wishful thinking. For example, there's a mission early on in the game where you're told not to fire your weapons "unless absolutely necessary." Except it almost instantly becomes necessary, not because of any unresolvable situation around you, but because the game literally won't allow you to progress using any tactic other than 'shootbang the hell out of everything'.
Luckily, considering the amount of shooting you'll be doing, the gunplay largely delivers. Control is tight and responsive, even if it is helped by an unholy amount of aim assist. A massive part of why the firefights feel so satisfying lies in DICE's sound design wizardry; Battlefield 4 sounds incredible, and it's by far the most technically impressive aspect of the current-gen version.
Sadly, but somewhat expectedly, other facets of the audiovisual package don't translate quite as well from the next-gen versions. There's a multitude of aliasing, screen-tearing and texture streaming issues present on Xbox 360, while the series' standard 30fps framerate is starting to grate more and more. Rivers tend to look more like thick, viscous jelly than actual water, and there's just an overall sense of compromise on display. The gorgeous pre-rendered cutscenes only left me yearning for next-gen.
New features like contextual lean don't work as well as they should, or as well as they do in BF4's contemporaries. Triggering the lean is easy enough, but the angle is actually reset every time you try to adjust your position, leaving you staring at the brick wall in front of you. It starts to become rather irritating over time. There's also a strange bug which will occasionally cause your ADS aim to jerk around if you're close to cover.
There are even a few issues which seem to be specific to the game's online mode. During our time with Battlefield 4, our console completely locked up multiple times. There were even instances of floating debris, and of players falling through solid constructs. Quite a glitchy game, then.
Luckily, when it works, it's rather fun indeed. If you played Battlefield 3 at all, you'll be right at home here as the fundamentals are very similar. You'll still be picking from the same classes, shooting soldiers, and piloting jeeps, quads and jets over huge, expansive maps. You'll be leveling up and unlocking new weapons, gadgets and attachments to personalise and hone your own approach to warfare. This is, above all, a refinement of the previous installment, rather than any kind of drastic re-imagining of the series. If that's all you were hoping for, then Battlefield 4 will undoubtedly delight.
One of the biggest changes on show isn't even a change, strictly speaking. Commander Mode, last seen in Battlefield 2142, makes its return after a lengthy hiatus. By adopting a bird's-eye view of the warzone, players can orchestrate the action from above by issuing orders, revealing enemies, and providing aerial support. There's even a companion app for iOS devices, so you can dictate the chaos via a second screen.
Fully destructible environments have always been the ace in the hole for the Battlefield series, and they return in a big way for Battlefield 4. After Battlefield 3's slightly toned-down approach, DICE's latest effort reinstates the full-scale demolition of Bad Company 2 - arguably the series' finest hour. All of this is topped off by Levolution - huge, triggerable events which change the very look and dynamic of the map.
By now, you've probably seen the rather impressive video of the skyscraper collapsing in Siege of Shanghai. Each map features its own similar moment, though they rarely match the scope on show here. Still, for all the ridicule over its silly name, Levolution brings a very much welcome level of dynamism to the maps.
Speaking of maps, Battlefield 4 features genuinely some of the best that the series has to offer. Unfortunately, one can't help but feel they're being wasted on Xbox 360. The player count for the current-gen version is capped at 24, as opposed to 64 on Xbox One, leaving the bigger maps feeling rather barren, at times unbearably so.
Battlefield 4 on Xbox 360 is a fitting advert for the very real need for a new generation of consoles; developers' ambitions are being restricted by, at this point, frankly antiquated hardware. Visually, it's an eyesore, with overblown lighting effects illuminating the game's plentiful issues with aliasing, screen-tearing and low-resolution textures.
Expansive, well-designed multiplayer maps are held back by a 24-player limit, while a myriad of glitches and bugs mar the online experience further. The single-player campaign takes you setpiece-to-setpiece, corridor-to-corridor, its attempts to ape Call of Duty only serve to provide an uninspired bore of unimaginable tedium.
But for all of its shortcomings and blatant compromise, Battlefield 4 on Xbox 360 still retains those raw, fundamental workings of the online Battlefield experience, albeit at 30fps. If you can look past its rough, unpolished exterior, there's a great, unpredictable multiplayer package to be found, but only for those who aren't looking to jump into next-gen just yet.