The Battlefield franchise has a history of setting the standard for squad-based multiplayer gameplay. With Battlefield 4, DICE has done it again, skillfully capturing what made its previous release such a success and building upon it. Though the additional game modes are a nice touch and the presentation aspects continue to astound, it’s the more subtle tweaks to gameplay that make Battlefield 4 the definitive squad-based multiplayer shooter today.

The multiplayer is so good, in fact, that it makes the already mediocre single-player campaign feel like a veritable waste of time. Battlefield 4 plays host to another linear story mode that manages to demonstrate the game’s fantastic shooting mechanics and visuals whilst navigating some horrendous writing. Watching a docked airplane only yards away from your character slide off of a devastated, sinking aircraft carrier will stun your senses. But for every impressive sequence, you also have a line from the groan-worthy script, and a reminder of the same-old predictable storyline.

Insert countless unnecessary swears

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Here we go again: good-guy Americans face off against bad guys from another country — this time it’s a one-two punch combo from China and Russia. Americans are framed for the murder of a progressive Chinese president, and the resulting Chinese revolution is backed by Russia. But the setting isn’t actually the bad part; it’s the execution.

You play the voiceless protagonist in a squad that includes a by-the-book hardass with little concern for human life alongside a morally conscious grunt who seeks to disobey his superiors. Insert countless unnecessary swears. “Ballsweat” is used as an interjection at one point. A character dies during the storyline and inexplicably reappears at the end. When asked what happened, this is his justification: “They had me fucked, then I got unfucked. Leave it at that.” To top it off, you’re given a last-second “moral” choice at the end, independent of any occurrences before it — because why not? Well, not one of them leads to much of an ending to speak of, anyway — that’s why not.

It isn’t just the writing that falls flat in the campaign. During stealthy sequences, allies will run directly in front of enemies and not alert them. I watched a helicopter fly directly underwater and back out again with no consequences. The campaign’s length is mostly padded by waves of enemies in shooting galleries. The few nice innovations — like the often-found Weapon Crate that holds all unlocked weapons — don’t do enough to distract.

One of the best-looking games I’ve ever seen

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Amongst all the issues, though, exist some incredible presentation values and air-tight controls. This is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever seen. When coupled with the top sound design in the business, it can be extremely immersive. Every gun handles uniquely with its own version of the tangible power that pervades them all. The best part: everything good about the single-player campaign also exists in the incredible multiplayer experience.

Playing a 32-on-32 Conquest Large match is a special thing. Working together with your squad to capture or defend an objective while other portions of your team address a different one creates a living battlefield — all while a dogfight takes place overhead and a tank rolls in to turn the tide. Destructible buildings crumble from explosive rounds decimating the foundations, transforming each map from a peaceful locale to a devastated warzone. But this is not new to Battlefield 4 — the previous title’s release in 2011 delivered these experiences in spades.

Instead of attempting an overhaul, Battlefield 4 takes what made the former title so great and builds on it. More so than the previous game, each map is unique from the next. Carefully navigating the rooftops in Flood Zone feels legitimately different than traversing the long, open roads of Dawnbreaker, or the close-quarters combat of the interior portions of Operation Locker. In addition, each of the ten maps scales to support all game modes, including the new Obliteration and Defuse modes which offer even more variation to the already diverse gameplay.

“Levolution” truly impacts strategy

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The new “levolution” feature allows each map to evolve during combat, truly impacting strategy. Breaking the levee in Flood Zone causes the water level to rise almost a full story, rendering land vehicles useless. But even a small adjustment like closing prison doors in Operation Locker has a tangible effect on gameplay, causing each team to reevalute their approach. The changes each map goes through are certainly far more than aesthetic — though they’re often quite impressive to watch as well.

Large-scale warfare is what Battlefield has always done well. What impresses me the most in Battlefield 4 is the improvement in the quality of the tight-quarters combat. Each map scales very well to handle the small-team modes like Domination and Defuse, ushering in a new standard of fast paced, run-and-gun gameplay to the franchise. It’s more viable than ever to transition between sprawling, 64-player battles and quick-draw matches between teams of five without feeling like you’re missing out.

There are also some subtle improvements to the interface in this iteration. The spawn screen includes a camera showing the point-of-view of your squadmate, helping you decide whether or not to hop in that area of the map. The browser-based Battlelog system is easier to navigate, and allows you to customize your loadout while waiting for the level to load in the background after joining a server. Even Commander mode makes a return from Battlefield 2142, allowing a player to oversee the entire map and distribute commands — though the impact of this mode is dependent entirely on how willing your teammates are to follow orders.

The experience is not without a few hiccups

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There’s a lot to like, but the experience is not without a few hiccups. Random spawning in game modes that support it is not always perfect — I once spawned in the blast radius of an existing grenade. Many users are experiencing problems with server crashes, and video driver issues caused many launch day woes. Some of these issues have already been patched and hope remains that developer attention will iron out the remaining ones. However, judging from the densely populated servers worldwide, it seems that only a small minority are being affected by them anymore.