Five months after launch, DICE and EA are still struggling to get Battlefield 4 running smoothly, but that hasn't stopped them from releasing a steady stream of new maps. The latest expansion, Naval Strike, focuses explicitly on amphibious assaults featuring air, land, and sea vehicles.
Three of the four maps set in the South China Sea feature the same template design: an archipelago with a large island centerpiece surrounded by a smaller scattering of isles. Nansha Strike takes place during an angry storm. Operation Mortar has an elevated fortress overlooking several beach resorts. The best map of the bunch, Wave Breaker, houses a submarine base in a large mountain. This gives the map an interesting duality – you could either move between the majority of capture points inside the base, or maneuver the treacherous island to get between flags. The fourth map, Lost Islands, is the weakest of the bunch, featuring a series of tiny islands housing fishing villages, a capture point under a waterfall, and a downed jumbo jet in the center of the map.
DICE's major selling point for Naval Strike is Carrier Assault mode, which the developer envisions as a modern warfare adaptation of the popular Titan mode in Battlefield 2142. Essentially, players must capture control points on the map like conquest mode. When you capture a point, the nearby missile launcher starts firing at the opposing team's aircraft carrier. Once the barrage breaches the carrier, you can board it and blow up two M-com stations (which are apparently powerful enough to bring down a 100,000 ton vessel) to win the match. If no one is capable of destroying the M-coms, the first team to bring the carrier hull to zero percent wins.
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The concept behind Carrier Assault is solid, but its execution leaves much to be desired. Without a strong commander and squad leaders who fall in rank, it's hard to coordinate strategy. When your carrier's hull is breached, should you rush back to defend it, or would you help your team better by capturing a couple more control points to even the score? All you can do is guess the intentions of your fellow teammates. Carrier Assault also differs from Titan mode in two major ways. Rather than allowing you to move the aircraft carriers around the map, they stay stationary, and you no longer get to experience the thrilling escape of getting off the destroyed ship alive. Given the popularity of the escapes in Titanfall, you wonder why DICE decided to remove this from the mode.
The maps work well for conquest mode, but Battlefield's other signature mode, rush, is plagued by too many open spaces. Unless you have a ship aggressively clearing out the shorelines, landings can prove difficult if a team of snipers is positioned for defense. Your best bet is to pop smoke grenades upon getting ashore to cover your position.
Naval Strike introduces one new vehicle, the hovercraft, which can traverse both land and sea. The expansion also features five new weapons, two gadgets, and a handful of new knives. Getting these new weapons may prove tiresome thanks to the poor performance still plaguing the game. Sound effects are frequently absent when starting matches, and rubber banding was impossible to escape on every 64-player match I played.
As much as I like the Wave Breaker map, given the poor performance, quality of same-ness to many of the maps, and disappointing Carrier Assault mode, it's tough to recommend Naval Strike. The expansion pack is currently available to all premium members on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. It releases to the greater public on April 15.