Battlefield 3 Review
EA’s own campaign of shock and awe, featuring our good friends hype and hyperbole, appeared to shoot itself in the foot in recent months. From a thundering giant of a marketing campaign in which the publisher barely set a foot wrong, it suddenly… well, it went a bit wrong.
All of a sudden Battlefield 3 wasn’t the golden darling of all gaming we had been led to believe it was. So what is it instead? Oh, just vying for the position as best online shooter on the console, that’s all. Just don’t mention the single-player.
Played online with a good bunch of people, Battlefield 3 is an exercise in one of those things that makes you forget all the stupid little foibles and quibbles that were running rampant before its release.
Yes, it doesn’t look as good as the PC version and requires an install just shy of 2GB before you can play (as well as the initial 200MB+ patch). Yes, it doesn’t have 500-player each side matches, or whatever it is we’re supposed to crave.
Yes, the maps are a bit smaller than those on the gaming rigs that aren’t made with five-year-old technology. But when you’re playing, it really doesn’t matter: DICE does good online shooty bangs. DICE does really good online shooty bangs.
On loading up Battlefield 3 we’d recommend you jump straight into the online portion, naturally, as that is the main (arguably only) draw here. Pick your kit, your weapons, add-ons and perks and get blasting.
Well, pick them once you’ve levelled up a bit, as initial choice is a bit limited. But a steady flow of unlocks, bonuses, ribbons and medals means while you might not get a new gun after every round, you are likely to get some kind of award. A trophy that says ‘saddest’, maybe.
Remember: if your team-mate shoots at you as your drive off, he wants a lift. Stop for them.
It’s this constant feeling of making progress that will keep you playing BF3 and keep you coming back for the age-old ‘just one more’ game. Then, of course, there’s Battlelog, where you can keep track of your stats alongside those of other players across the world – it’s not mandatory you join in, but it is a nice – and free, it should be pointed out – extra.
But like useless, cretinous morons we’ve jumped straight into what will keep you playing Battlefield 3 for a long period of time, rather than what will draw you in in the first place.
Is it the balanced, nuanced battles that have a real ebb and flow to them? Yes. Is it the vaguely intelligent playing style required, meaning simple run-’n’-gunning won’t bring too much success? Yes. Is it the bloody idiot snipers who just camp up on a hillside for entire matches? No, not so much.
But you can still rain down tank-flavoured fury on them, just like in Bad Company 2, and this time you can throw in some air-based fury from the numerous jets available in multiplayer.
It’s a simple formula that rewards players as much for working together as it does for experimentation and generally making up tactics on the fly.
Fancy being a spotter? Get on the side of a chopper for a ride and tap select on every enemy you see – watch the points rack up. In fact, we reckon you’ll still be able to win rounds by following the path of the pacifist – handing out health and healing team-mates rather than shooty-banging people in the face. It’s things like that that make Battlefield 3 a true online great.
But wait! It’s not all good. No, there is a single-player portion to Battlefield 3. It’s not offensively bad, but we are talking worse than Bad Company 2’s single-player. Worse than Black Ops’. Worse than Homefront’s. Worse than Medal Of Honor’s. Though not worse than Brink’s, but that’s hardly saying anything.
Operation Firestorm is reminiscent of Gulf Of Oman. If you know what that means, we love you.
No, what we have here is a mode barely worth bothering with – the five or so hours it will take you to finish it won’t be spent having fun, except for one or two of the levels, and it will feel like a massive waste of time.
Representing war in such an anal, attention to detail-obsessed fashion hurts the experience by making it bland, empty and boring. Firefights – which should be huge, exciting, pitched battles, devolve into popping in and out of cover to try to whittle down enemy numbers. Slowly. Slowly. Pop pop pop. Rat a tat tat. Snore.
But it isn’t just dull – we reviewed Battlefield 3 from retail code, as in what you buy in the shops, with the sizeable day one patch installed. And it was noticeably glitchy. From the (at least) four crashes requiring a system restart, through the many, many clipping issues that saw enemy and ally soldiers simply running through massive obstacles. And walls.
It is, not to put too fine a point on it, crap. A triple-A release from one of the biggest publishers in the world, finished code, a patch applied and we had people gathering around to see what would go wrong next, rather than what exciting set piece we would see next.
Then there’s the handholding, which manages to be both overbearing and not quite focused enough at the same time. Somehow. On one hand you have constant indicators on screen – ‘MOVE’, ‘FOLLOW’, ‘FRIENDLY FIRE SOMETHING SOMETHING’ – so you’re never unsure as to what your ultimate objective is.
The problem is the bit in-between. Where, for example, other shooters will corral the player – skillfully or otherwise – into and through encounters and situations, BF3 still has an element of freedom to it.
Get to that objective, but you can go around that car if you want, instead of straight up the road. Sounds like nothing, but when we made a decision to approach said objective from an angle the game both allowed, yet didn’t recognise, it led to a fair bit of bemusement.
The issues with ‘sniper shotguns’ have been reduced. A little.
If you want us to approach something from a definite angle, we need to be forced to approach from that angle. The skill is in making that linearity fun, or giving an illusion of freedom. Allowing a small amount of freedom that actually breaks things somewhat just comes across as sloppy.
And those constant bloody QTE hand-to-hand battles are terrible. Genuinely, actually terrible. They serve no purpose, are devastatingly easy and don’t even look or sound good. Pointless.
But we’ve wasted enough words whining about the worst part of the game. Just know this: Battlefield 3 is not a game to buy if you’re avoiding the online section – and be advised that a £7.99 online pass is required for those of you buying second-hand. Just a couple of points to bear in mind.
Once you’re past the brief distraction of single-player, you can go back to multiplayer. Here it becomes instantly apparent that DICE does actually know what the hell it’s doing.
Here it becomes instantly apparent that Battlefield 3 isn’t actually pointless. Here it becomes apparent that Bad Company 2 has been usurped as best online game on PS3 (and let’s not forget MW3, which has an equal hand in relegating Bad Company 2 to yesterday’s news).
While it’s true that team deathmatch is a bit of a waste, there’s no denying the rest of the modes on offer in BF3 are absolutely brilliant. It’s the returning champions of Rush and Conquest that take the most plaudits simply by being so well designed and refined, but it would be silly not to give the entire basic setup of the online game mad props, yo. As the kids say.
Battlefield is a game that rewards team play more than other titles do. You can be a lone run-’n’-gun maestro if you want, but players wishing for that kind of atmosphere really would be better off sticking with the likes of Call Of Duty.
Working together is really the only way to succeed online.
No, here it’s all about working together and driving about in your APC as if it’s the family runabout. The family runabout of death, that is. Battlefield 3 instantly creates those moments you want to run and tell all your gaming friends about (you could tell the non-gaming ones, but they wouldn’t understand) – the times when, without a word of communication, you found your squad laying down suppressing fire for another group on your team.
The times when you’re actually successful in a strafing run with the A-10, taking out a tank and allowing your ground troops to proceed. Or the times when you have a whirlybird full of team-mates and you ditch out without warning, leaving them scrambling to regain control of the uppity flying machine.
Battlefield 3 online is home to some of the finest emergent gaming moments available anywhere – and it’s for that reason it becomes something special. Yes, it even manages to transcend our regular Manshooter 9000 cynicism by just being so much of a hoot.
Is it a cop out to admonish a game for poor single-player but still give it a high mark overall? In light of the quality on show in Battlefield 3’s multiplayer, we’d say no. But then we would, as we wrote these words.
But however you frame it, the simple fact of the matter is you should not be looking at this as a worthwhile single player game, but as something it should have remained from day one – a pure multiplayer experience.
It is in that area that DICE shines, and it is in that area that Battlefield 3 can come with a wholehearted recommendation. Just, seriously – don’t talk about the single-player. We mentioned it once, but we think we got away with it.