From the satisfaction of a long-distance headshot to the unstoppable power of a well-placed anti-tank rocket, there’s a thrill to playing Battlefield 4 alone. But only multiplayer can inspire the sense that you’re playing a part in some bullet-ridden orchestra, moving across its maps with teammates in perfect harmony. There’s a swaying rhythm as the focus shifts to different checkpoints while gunfire’s melody builds toward a deafening crescendo – a jet screaming overhead. The moments where teams form a dialogue and begin communicating to take the upper hand are more powerful than any scripted event.
You don’t notice you’re part of these instances until you’re in the middle of one, and committed to the fact. There’s a sense of scale here unlike any other – I’ve never felt more in awe of war than during a heated conflict in the crossroad intersection of Dawnbreaker, watching a multitude of jeeps and tanks hunker down at each side of the bridge while helicopters swooped in to deliver new players to the battlefield. There’s usually an abrupt end to battles like this; when the focus of the skirmish shifts elsewhere, players use focal havoc points as the perfect distractions to sneak off and capture unguarded conquest spots. This goes on for what seems like forever.
What’s really impressive is how choreographed it often feels, though it’s entirely spontaneous. The fact that battles can turn into theatre this dramatic is a wonder considering there are so many individual minds whirring independently in each lobby. In Rogue Transmission, a desperate final push to overrun the satellite dish resembles a set piece from a Ford-Coppola movie, a mass of human soldiers cascading towards their target. A multi-helicopter assault on the main building in Hainan Resort results in major casualties, but we managed to take the base. It was worth the sacrifice.
Battlefield 4’s rocky, near-broken beginnings are soon forgotten once you explore maps like Paracel Storm. The muddled archipelago doesn’t make the best of first impressions, and asks the player to adapt their mindset before battle feels natural. As someone that’s only ever really ventured online for quick matches of Halo or Call of Duty, trekking across huge amounts of land in Battlefield 4 feels odd to begin with, and almost tiresome. Paracel Storm is made even trickier with the abundance of water all around – when one team spawns out on a hulking aircraft carrier, and even the best snipers have trouble spotting targets that far out. The rickety wooden bridges that connect each island don’t help things either, and are usually destroyed within minutes of a game starting. To the boats!
Adaptation is everything, and this is where Battlefield 4 stands apart from other multiplayer shooters. Diversify your approach and you begin developing that orchestrated sense of companionship. In Conquest, there’s no quick result or easy win to any game. Each kill is savoured because the odds always feel stacked against you as an individual, so playing tactically as a squad of four gets instant results. There’s no sense of camaraderie quite averting a squad mate’s assassination.
That’s why Battlefield 4’s single player campaign feels so inessential. When these magical instances of pure theatre play out among 64 players across land, sea and air, playing alone, in scripted battles and against artificially alive opponents, feels redundant. If Battlefield 4’s multiplayer arenas are an orchestra constantly building up to a glorious cacophony, then playing on your own is little more than singing to yourself in the shower.