GDC 2013: EA and DICE unveil the very, very pretty ‘Battlefield 4’

Battlefield 4Over the last few years, EA has taken advantage of the scarcity of major AAA game reveals at GDC and used the event to unveil one of its biggest games of the year. Last year was Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Battlefield 3 was the year before, Medal of Honor the year before that. Call it a theme.

This year EA didn’t fail to disappoint. Earlier tonight it took the stage in San Francisco, alongside developer DICE, to unveil Battlefield 4.

The game looks much as you would expect the sequel in this series to look – i.e. it looks insanely gorgeous. Battlefield 3 pushed the graphical potential of the current gen to its limits, and with the next gen systems looming DICE has the chance to leave jaws on the floor. So far we’ve only seen PC though, which looks amazing regardless of what the console generations are doing – assuming your system is running the top hardware available. 

Battlefield_4As with Battlefield 3 when it was unveiled, there is going to be a great deal of talk regarding the graphics running on the brand new Frostbite 3 engine. It is hard to imagine a better looking game, shy of true photo realism. There will, of course, be games in the future that inevitably make that statement seem naïve, but Battlefield 4 will likely carry the mantle of best looking game for a while at least – much like Crysis did a few years ago. 

The facial animations are impressive, but there is still room to improve there. Where it really hits you how good this game looks is in the environmental details. Walls have missing flakes of paint and floors are covered in tiny pieces of rubble; graffiti is written on textured surfaces showing elemental pitting; doors are a touch uneven, having been warped by time and the elements. Lighting is a major factor as well, and rays of light can catch and blind you. It is incredible. When the biggest complaint you can level at a game’s environmental interaction is that the footsteps of your AI companions in mud don’t leave an impression, we have reached a point in graphical prowess where the improvements can only come by inches from now on.

Particle physics have been refined as well. Smoke moves realistically, and explosions cause authentic looking fireballs. Being a DICE game, there are plenty of destructible environments, and that has been improved as well. 

The game will once again have a heavy emphasis on the multiplayer, of course, but the campaign will offer the best look at the technical potential of the game leading up to its release, as there will be plenty of set-pieces designed to leave your jaw hanging. The demo shown tonight confirms that, as you go from escaping a city to fighting in a construction to riding a building down as it falls to pieces. That all leads to a fairly grotesque choice, as one of your teammate’s leg is pinned under piece of rubble and you and your knife are left to make a difficult decision.

Tonight the emphasis was entirely on the single player. Expect more on the multiplayer aspect in the coming months, probably at E3. 

Battlefield 4 - Fishing in Baku screen 5The single player offering in Battlefield 3 was a bit of a mess, to be generous. It looked great, but the gameplay and story were deeply flawed, not to mention the suspect AI. That wasn’t all that surprising for a series famed for its multiplayer, but hopefully this outing will address that and balance the two sides of the game. Friendly AI will now be able to receive basic commands, so hopefully DICE will spend the months leading up to release polishing this aspect of the game. 

No mention was made of a release date, but rumors (as well as pictures of a promo poster) peg the window as “Fall 2013.” That isn’t surprising given EA’s history with this series and the Medal of Honor franchise, and the timing once again reflects EA’s desire to steal a piece of Call of Duty’s pie. Activision’s annual shooter will almost certainly release sometime around early November, and if EA continues its pattern it will put out its competitor just a bit earlier, meaning an October release is likely.

Sales results aside, the rivalry between the games is mostly an invention of publishers. Despite both being military first-person shooters with an emphasis on multiplayer (like many, many other games), the similarities really do end there. Battlefield’s multiplayer looks and plays significantly differently than Call of Duty, which means both games attract a different set of fans, with relatively minimal crossover. That won’t stop the comparisons from coming though, and it is almost impossible to imagine that fans, press, and even the publishers won’t feed the rivalry.

Putting that aside though, Battlefield 4 does not look like a Call of Duty killer. It looks like its own game: beautiful and fluid, with plenty of destructible environments. PC fans may not notice a huge jump in technology, but console fans playing on the next-gen will be blown away.

Don’t just take our word for it though. Check out the complete demo below for a look a the amazingly pretty Battlefield 4