Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Gone fishing...I mean, playing BF4

Things have gone suspiciously quiet again on Milgeek lately - but this time it's a positive quietness. In short, I've been playing lots (and lots) of Battlefield 4! Yes, I have decided - I do like BF4...

It's been a long time - in gaming hours - getting here but my fellow BIG clan gaming friends and I  have finally found a game that takes us back to the heady days when we played BF2 competitively. Battlefield 4, thus far, has been a bit of a traumatic experience and at times I doubted whether it was the game that would recapture those vintage gaming memories of yesteryear…But here I am glowing with the warming exhilaration of many evenings fragging with friends!

BF4 is what some might call a 'slow burner' in the way that it has taken time for those that have persevered with its troubled birth to discover it's underlying pleasures. More than once I thought this would never be the game that it's grandaddy was.

The 'Locker' map is what I feared after my bad BF3 experiences, but to be fair it is the only
CoD-ish map in the BF4 inventory. And even I find the change of pace entertaining.

Outside on the Locker map, wow! EA/DICE have really raised the bar and even on my
modest rig I do find myself stopping and just gaping at the scenery!

To be honest it was more than just dogged tenacity that got me through the past couple of weeks with BF4, a timely - but very necessary - upgrade to my gaming rig at least proved that many of my early problems and atrocious K/D ratio were not because I was getting too old for multiplayer FPS! With a new quad core motherboard and chip and the return of my Radeon graphics card I was able to play BF4 in 'medium' res instead of 'low' res - and there was an additional bonus of the disappearance of the network lag that had plagued me since the release of game (simply put, because my underpowered PC struggled to play the game even on the minimum settings I spent all my time playing in slo-mo and inevitably shooting targets where they had been rather than where I thought they were).

BF4 retains the condensed class types that it rolled out in BF3, BF2's medic can now be
accessed via the 'Assault' role and the old 'Spec Op' class can be made up from either the
Engineer or the Recon class depending on what you are up to. Missing from this line-up is
the fifth 'class' available in BF4 - the Commander, who may not be a player-character but
is a very active and important member of the team.

Anyhoo, my gaming rig renewed I am now able to join in the fun on something approaching a level playing field AND - more importantly - I am able to perform my role within the team more satisfactorily. My new PC specs are:

> AMD Bulldozer  FX-4130 3.8GHz Quad Core processor
> Gigabyte 78LMT-USB3 AM3+
> ATI Radeon 5850 HD

Mid-life Upgrade (…Or do I mean ‘crisis’)?

To be honest after our major power disaster – which cost up a whole new main electric board for the house – I thought my PC had gone completely. I have only ever had two major compy melt downs in my playing career, and this latest one was perhaps not so dramatic sounding (no big bang) but was very scary all the same. And all this despite appropriate – I thought - surge protection I hasten to add!

After struggling through the first couple of weeks with my ‘back-up PC’ – working on computer video and graphics, yes I do have a back-up computer – I decided ‘what the heck’ and asked a local firm to have a look at my blown rig. My town is somewhat bereft of high-end computer repair shops, the vast majority of ‘PC repair shops’ here are the general consumer type who specialize in low-level OS problems, fitting RAM and solving virus problems!

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because if you are serious about playing BF4 on the
PC then you will have to consider whether your rig is actually up to the job.  There's no
getting away from it, Battlefield 4 is a system hog - even on my upgraded PC I am
having to settle for everything set to 'low' res in order to complete.

What with my fears about the cost of repairing my machine – I was worried that several major parts were fried – and the fact I couldn't source a technician locally that had experience with high-performance gaming rigs I had been putting off making enquiries. But my BF4 traumas gave me the impetus I needed to seek out a local expert.

Core Concepts, of Scarborough, sounded like they offered a more in-depth service – including component replacement and stress testing – and I asked for a quote. In the end – as I suspected – the motherboard and central chip were both toast, but – on the up side – my graphics card was still intact! They gave me a price for the possible alternative replacements for these parts and I plumped for the ‘mid-range budget' solution.

Graphically there is a LOT going on particularly when it comes to some of the spectacular
explosions. From the incendiary grenade to the artillery barrage at times the cacophony of
bangs, blasts and resultant shock waves reduces you to a shuddering wreck! Perhaps more
importantly though it is another aspect of BF4's eye-candy that places demands on your PC!

As I said, this wasn’t really the upgrade I would have liked to have been doing, I imagined my computer’s mid-life upgrade would have been adding something a bit more substantial to it’s horsepower rather than just getting it back to a working condition. Having said that the step up from a 2.4Ghz duel-core processor to a 3.8Ghz quad core has enhanced my potential performance a bit – but I am still using my faithful old Radeon 5850 HD 1GB card so it’s swings and roundabouts. Really, about now I would have liked to have been putting in a graphics card of double or even treble this memory. Ah well.

Parcel Storm is the island hopping map and really gives the boat fans something to play with.
It is - in it's way - a classic BF map as it has plenty of scope for getting behind enemy lines.

If you are lucky enough to have a PC capable of getting the 'ultra' setting - as my teammate
Magnus can - then this is Parcel Storm from ground level. DICE have added a dynamic
weather system in this map that develops into a full tropical storm!

Proof is in the pudding...Treacle or Tart?

So, how does my repaired PC perform with the incredibly demanding Battlefield 4? Well, quite nicely really – I can get the graphics settings up to medium if I want now (though prefer to play with them set to low to squeeze out better frame rates). But most satisfying is the hit performance in one-on-one encounters – I am now shooting targets where they are, and not whether they were! The result of this is my abysmal K/D ratio has been somewhat stemmed and I am beginning to turn it around.

I am, I’m afraid to admit, not as fast as I used to be and am not capable of getting the scores I used to when playing with the ‘young guns’ – their reactions are just too fast for me now. But I am trying to equalize this out by being a bit more tactical and concentrating on working on my squad skills (even ‘practicing’ was muted by a fellow team mate)!

Left: As an Engineer I have settled on the combination of M2 Slam mines and SRAW anti-tank guided missile. I've always enjoyed my anti-vehicle role and BF4 has refined this role with some additional specialist gadgets. Chief among these is the M2 SLAM - it's a mine but can also be used as a 'sticky' charge, giving you the versatility that used to come with C4 in BF2/3.

The SRAW is not a 'fire and forget' missile and only locks onto target when a laser designator is employed to 'paint' you target. But it is a nice compromise between the 'dumb' RPG and the more 'high tech' Javelin AT weapons as it can be guided BUT still be used to 'noob tube' unsuspecting victims (particularly snipers who might be out of the range of your PDW or Carbine).

Battlefield 4 is a nice - but delicate - balance of 'run and gun' and tactical play. Yes, there are times you will need to have those 'twitcher' reactions when who shots first lives, but you can temper this sort of high-adrenaline and frenetic play by integrating yourself into a good squad and doing your job. A good squad leader is invaluable, particularly one that can recognise tactical openings to guide your team to opportune goals.

Alas, as always, those pesky snipers can turn the game into a chore on public servers (where it is not unusual to see whole squads made up of the Recon class), but a good commander can soon put pay to their shenanigans, or there is fun to be had as a chopper door-gunner raining down death on the roof-to assassins! The good news is that some of the better clan servers are already putting limits on the numbers of snipers so that we grunts can get on and do what we love doing.

The Engineer class has access to the PDW (submachine guns) and Carbine firearms. I prefer
the carbines as they give me some medium range capability. The Bushmaster ACW-R - perhaps
better known to gun nuts as the 'Masada' - is my favourite carbine due to it's 800rpm.

9mm pistols are 9mm pistols, but I find the 'M9' has a bit more wack and consistency. It's rate
of fire makes up for the lighter round, though I am looking forward to working my way up
to something with a bit more clout - like the good old .45 1911.

I am now enjoying BF4 for the challenge that the game and other players present and not hating it for the technical problems it came with. To be sure EA are trying to rectify the problems and I reckon that by the Christmas holidays the majority of glitches will have been sorted.

Left: The shotgun is still a great way to dominate those intense CQB encounters. Though, strangely, BF4 gives you one of the better boom stick right off the bat! The QBS-09 is semi-auto has a terrific damage score of '90' (out of 100) and is short and mobile. However, reloading is still painfully slow so have your pistol ready as back-up.

UPDATE: Yesterday the latest game patch rectified some more of the issues - and thank goodness that included the horrible 'blurring effect' that marred the graphics. The new maps included in the update also seem to be better coded and load a lot faster than the original maps, so I'm a happy chap.

There is no doubt that by this time next year I will have to be thinking seriously about a major upgrade of my computer – but in the current financial climate my ‘make do and mend’ solution (which still wasn’t exactly 'cheap') will have to do. Unlike my team-mates I cannot afford to simply go out and buy a brand new machine JUST to play BF4!

...It's not THAT good! :)

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