Reviewed: November 1, 2011
Released: October 25, 2011
Two games enter…one emerges. There can be only one after all, right? That’s what diehard fans of the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises would have you think. Despite what loyal Battlefield fans will say, their beloved franchise has always lived in the shadow of Activision’s military FPS, but EA is hoping to change that this year with Battlefield 3, featuring some of the best multiplayer action out there, a story-driven solo campaign, and their new Battlelog service that is going to tackle Modern Warfare’s ELITE service head-on. |
Personally, I play these games for the multiplayer experience, both co-op and competitive, and while I tend to favor the smaller squad-based games like Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six, I don’t mind waging war on a larger scale from time to time. I don’t really care about vehicles other than as a means to get where I am going, so all the planes, choppers, and tanks don’t appeal to me in the slightest, but I recognize their use and importance in a game such as this, as well as the loyal following of players who enjoy them.
First up, let’s get the campaign stuff out of the way seeing as how most people really aren’t getting Battlefield 3 for the story missions, nor are they likely to even play them unless their Internet connection goes down. The story takes place as a series of flashbacks narrated by Sergeant James Blackburn who is being aggressively questioned after terrorists detonate one of two stolen suitcase nukes. The campaign takes you to several atypical warzones including cities, forests, mountains, and even the desert. You’ll get to drive a tank, ride in the rear of a Navy fighter jet, and even do a Halo jump. It’s all the expected elements in all the expected places, and as a whole, entirely unoriginal and not even that interesting.
The campaign is extremely linear, holding your hand through nearly every moment of every level. While some levels have the illusion of “go anywhere” as soon as you stray too far from the intended path you are given a countdown timer warning to get back on track or fail the mission. Your team AI is also extremely scripted right down to the point where if you are taking cover in “their scripted position” they will come up and push you out into enemy fire. Most of the story seemed to have me either chasing a location waypoint or following one of my guys. Even worse was when my men would advance and I would be summoned to join them but not all of the enemies had been killed. I would get knifed in the back as I passed a soldier who I thought was on my team because all my comrades were standing around him like he was one of us. You really have to watch for those blue diamonds to see who is friend and foe, but even so, you can expect lots of friendly fire warnings, as your team will consistently step in front of your gun or rush forward to where you just lobbed a grenade.
The game goes from moderately challenging on Normal to “We regret to inform you…” impossible on Hard. We’re talking one-shot kills with no warning. You’re walking along one minute and twitching your last breath the next, and then you’re set back to some checkpoint that is never as close as it should be, often forcing you to replay difficult combat encounters that were hard enough the first time. The story is packed with action set pieces, but most of the time I felt I was on rails, being led around by my squad from waypoint to waypoint. Even the infrequent QTE’s are lame, requiring you to press B or RT once or twice to execute a 20-second series of attacks. The lack of any hidden Intel or reason to explore eliminates any reason to think. Of all the missions in this relatively short campaign, the only ones I truly enjoyed where the fighter plane and the sniper overwatch mission in the city. You can finish the entire campaign on Normal in 6-8 hours and co-op content will add another 3-4 to that.
Battlefield 3 makes use of the new Frostbite 2 engine that blew my mind on the PC and even managed to impress me on the 360, although I still think Crysis 2 looks better. For the ultimate 360 experience I recommend you install the 1.5 GB texture pack that will enhance your textures and lighting effects. With the HD pack installed, the game looks surprisingly close to the PC, whereas without it, the game looks like Battlefield 2. There are still problems like poor anti-aliasing that creates jaggies on buildings and thin objects like telephone wires. The framerate will take hits from time to time and there is some annoying pop-up as textures update as you get closer – this is mostly in the outdoor levels with trees and rocks.
My biggest beef with the graphics is all the shit on the screen. I understand the use of lens flare and special filters for cutscenes to add extra realism or even the scratched-up canopy on the fighter, but when my character is NOT wearing goggles or a face shield I should not have to be looking through all these glaring splotches on the screen. There is no real-world logical sense. My eyeballs are not that dirty and if they are, give me some Visine I can squirt into them with a button press. I actually died more than a dozen times due to not being able to see because of light effects creating unnatural glare on the screen. It's so annoying I'm deducating a full point from the graphics score.
The audio package is outstanding with powerful explosions and ultra-realistic weapons fire. I’ve fired (or been shot at with) most of these weapons in real life and I can tell you firsthand, this is how they sound. They’ve even taken into account firing them inside versus outdoors with reverb and such. There is a lot of ambient radio chatter that tried to follow real-world military protocol and even a bit of camaraderie with the squad in their idle chatter; some border lining on insubordination. I'm not sure if it was an audio issue or not, but the game did lock up my 360 on four separate occasions, creating a high-pitched whine until I reset the power. It was usually during some explosive event, so it could have been a mixer overload or something.
The fact that the single-player game is on its own disc in the “back of the box” is a clear indication that EA is targeting multiplayer gamers as their core audience, and while the serious gamers will flock to the PC and its epic 64-player matches, the Xbox manages to do just fine with its 24-player cap, large assortment of game modes, incredible maps, and surprisingly deep career mode with XP and enough unlockables to keep you playing until…Modern Warfare 3? Okay – that was mean. Seriously – there is a lot do to here, especially if you enjoy your battles on a much grander scale than Call of Duty has ever been able to achieve. Call of Duty is about the fight – Battlefield 3 is about the war!
The maps are huge and breathtakingly detailed in their complexity and attention to detail, both in architecture and textures for sprawling landscapes and deadly city maps that are perfectly scaled for up to 24 soldiers. These are the same maps as the PC but have been tweaked so they now work with fewer players. Battlefield 3 gives you the freedom to choose your type of soldier based on your playing preference and then rank them up accordingly with a robust assortment of perks and weapon unlocks.
The matchmaking system is surprisingly adept at finding the type of game you want to play and matching you up with players close to your own skills. Regardless of your choice of Soldier, Engineer, Assault, and Recon, the game is full of checks and balances to keep things fair, and the collection of rewards and unlockables is second only to Modern Warfare. But even more important, Battlefield 3 rewards team play, so you can rank up just as easily in a support role as you can as the guy pulling the trigger.
I can’t say who will win the war of BF3 vs MW3, but EA’s shooter is off to a good (and early) start. Whether it can keep, let alone maintain that level of interest when Activision unleashes their sleeping giant next week, only time will tell. There is plenty to enjoy in Battlefield 3; most of it being on the multiplayer disc. The campaign was completely disposable and most gamers can probably skip unless they are questing for achievements – there are some fun mission-specific challenges to earn those. But for gamers looking for a solid multiplayer offering with a heavy focus on cooperative team play, look no further than the expansive gameplay that Battlefield 3 has to offer.