Battlefield 3 Review
Judging by the frequency and omnipresence of the Battlefield 3 advertising vehicle, you can be forgiven for thinking that either DICE has potentially the greatest military FPS on its hands, or instead, an absolute clunker in desperate need of hype.
The selective use of PC footage in trailers has delivered a false message to console owners, and as such, just might have pushed fan expectations into the stratosphere. Hopping into the Xbox 360 version of Battlefield 3’s campaign, it doesn’t take long for the resonance of the trailers to fade entirely.
Destruction in the campaign is largely is superfluous, the visuals are significantly less awe-inspiring then the PC counterpart, and the whole experience smacks of an attempt to best the Call of Duty franchise by following it so closely to the letter, that it feels misguided and weak by comparison.
In the campaign, DICE hasn’t stuck to doing what it does best, and speaking solely about the campaign for the time being, this leaves an incredibly sour taste in the mouth. Once again, it’s left to multiplayer to pick up the pieces and deliver true value. Lucky for DICE, Battlefield 3 is its best multiplayer offering yet.
Get used to the word ‘Follow’. In the campaign, you never lead, only follow.
While DICE has billed Battlefield 3 as an authentic warfare experience, seconds into the campaign you are controlling U.S. Marine Sergeant Blackburn as he climbs around a speeding New York subway train, shooting Russian terrorists and climbing around the roof via several uninspiring QTE sequences.
After this brief flash forward, Blackburn arrives in the white heat of Iraq, and from there, Battlefield 3’s campaign descends into one long bottlenecked shooter, devoid of the exploration and dynamic destruction elements that worked so well in the Bad Company series.
The plot itself follows the Call of Duty: Black Ops interrogation route, with Blackburn being forced to recall events lading up to the present day. Along the way, plans to detonate nuclear bombs in both Paris and New York are uncovered, spearheaded by Russian PLR agent Solomon. The action flits between Blackburn and other soldiers in the field, with most of the stand-out missions being attributed to Russian spec ops troop Dima.
It’s popcorn-blockbuster fare that plays out across countless, heavily scripted set pieces, uninspiring QTE sections and genuinely boring on-rails moments. Unlike Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – which saw players navigating open world areas completing objectives, Battlefield 3 is hand-holding at its most irritating.
It seems that DICE has inadvertently proven that Infinity Ward and Treyarch – love or hate the Call of Duty series – are masters of their craft.
Sure, games like Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops are brash, dumb corridor shooters, but they were a lot of fun too. But one of Battlefield 3’s sticking points is that all too many times, it seems as if the player can get ahead of the game.
This is one of the best missions in the otherwise middling campaign.
For example; enemies emerging from armoured cars can’t be shot until their animations have finished, enemies that are supposed to be killed by falling debris can’t be shot until said debris lands on them, most doors must be opened by your squad leader, poor signposting results in needless meandering, glitches cause soldiers to bleed in and out of walls and much, much more.
It often feels as if progressing through each of the 12 short missions is a simple matter of chasing HUD markers, and doing things when and only when the game decides you are allowed to. While this could be said of most games today, the difference is that most titles hide the trick well with a range of clever smoke and mirrors.
Instead, Battlefield 3 fails to mask the illusion, and frequently demands that you stand right in a specific spot before the NPCs carry on with their next task. What stands out even more are the painfully dull on-rails sections.
The much touted jet mission “Going Hunting” gives you very little in the way of control. While hurtling thousands of feet in the air is a sight to behold, all you are doing is pressing one button to fire missiles, and another to deploy flares when you’re told to. It’s amazing that something so technically accomplished can feel so bereft of life.
The jet mission should have been memorable. It’s just boring.
Gripes aside, there are still some stand-out moments in the campaign, including a frantic mission in Paris called ‘Comrades’, that sees Dima desperately hunting Solomon through the metropolitan streets and back alleys while repelling continuous enemy fire. Villa siege mission “Kaffarov” is another glittering jewel, following Dima and his crew as they lay waste to an enemy compound where danger lurks around every corner.
Star of the online circuit Caspian Border appears in the form of campaign mission “Rock and a Hard Place”, and is by far the widest environment on offer, giving you a real sense of dread as you stare down impossible odds while Russian paratroopers rain down in their dozens overhead.
It’s absolutely insane, and is by far Battlefield 3’s premier campaign moment. Finally, obligatory stealth mission “Night Shift” does a good job of trying to topple Call of Duty 4’s “All Ghillied Up” mission, yet falls slightly wide of the mark by failing to match the tension and pace of Infinity Ward’s effort.
By the time the credits roll, you’ll likely come out of Battlefield 3’s campaign dazzled by the visuals and audio, yet drained by the mundane atmosphere of it all. It’s short, somewhat confusing and slightly alien if you’re a long-standing fan of the series.
It seems that all of the core ingredients in the Battlefield DNA are there – such as the vehicles, the sense of teamwork, the aesthetic finesse – yet it has all been watered down in the name of pacing, and even that fails to hit home.
DICE should have led a new wave of innovative shooters by example, rather than riding the coattails of others. As such, this is a missed opportunity.
Forget campaign, multiplayer is where Battlefield 3 really shines.
But really, the military shooters of today are essentially becoming multiplayer games, with the single player offering chucked in as padding. It’s a sad state of affairs given how mind-blowing Battlefield 3’s campaign could have been, but thankfully, DICE’s magic touch for creating a solid multiplayer experience hasn’t been lost in the mail.
Before we dive into the bottomless pit of content on offer, the only gripe that must be dealt with is that, while immensely enjoyable, Battlefield 3’s multiplayer isn’t genre-defining, nor is it a giant leap.
Instead, it’s the culmination of the series; the drawing together of everything that has made Battlefield’s multiplayer components enjoyable from day one rolled up into one package and honed to an impressive degree.
As always with Battlefield multiplayer, the stars of the show are objective-based modes Conquest and Rush, delivering hours of fun, progression, strategy and solid teamwork.
On the other hand however, the newly added team deathmatch mode should be given a wide berth, as the small, restricted locales feel alien to the series, and are made worse by having destruction and vehicles scaled right back.
To the positive points then, and in classic Battlefield style, each of the four soldier classes – Assault, Recon, Support and Engineer – come complete with an impressive array of unlockable weapons, attachments and gadgets.
As you rack up experience for kills, offering support to your comrades, and attacking or defending objectives, you will unlock new gear for your soldier.
This is by far the best map in the game.
Class customisation throws plenty of neat new mechanics into the mix. Perhaps the most ingenious addition is the laser targeting attachment, which also underlines how far DICE has gone to ensure that Battlefield 3 is perfectly balanced.
When being targeted by someone using a laser targeted rifle, your screen will flash red briefly, indicating the shooter has you in their sights. This gives you a brief second to move to the side, or hit the deck before they pull the trigger. This means that previously unexpected sniper headshots can now be countered if you’re quick enough.
Also, if you find that you’re always getting killed in mid-to-close range combat, simply stick a flashlight on your gun to dazzle incoming attackers and making yourself harder to hit. The obvious trade-off is that the light reveals your position.
These are just two examples of Battlefield 3’s balancing at work, as for every advantageous piece of gear in your load-out, there is likely a disadvantage that can be exploited by others.
You also go down much quicker in Battlefield 3, meaning that you must check your environment more than ever, spot enemies for the rest of your team where possible and never, ever run out into the open needlessly.
This ensures that when you die in Battlefield 3, it’s your own fault, not the game’s, and most certainly not the result of a glitch. Any decent FPS multiplayer offering worth its salt should never have the player walking away with a feeling of being cheated. Thankfully, to DICE’s credit that never happens here.
All hail Caspian Border!
Underneath all of these new tweaks, the fundamental mechanics are near identical to those last seen in Battlefield: Bad Company 2. This is both a blessing and a curse, as Battlefield 3’s multiplayer doesn’t feel new, but more of an extension of previous efforts.
Battlefield 3 does make headway with map design however, and the stand out locale by far is Damavand Peak, a snow-capped mountain range littered with facilities just waiting to be leveled under heavy ordinance.
One minute you’re storming over a hill to a warehouse below, the next you’re base-jumping off the crest, and it all ends with a tense showdown in a tight, dark maintenance tunnel.
The action peaks and troughs so rapidly that you are always kept on your toes for the duration of each map. Other notable maps include the sprawling fields of Caspian Border, the land, air and sea encounters of Kharg Island, the tank-infested deserts of Operation Firestorm and the claustrophobic urban combat of Seine Crossing.
Unlike the campaign, the destruction and tone in multiplayer is colossal, as buildings contort and collapse around you, fighter jets scream overhead and the thunderous roar of tanks bears down on cowering foot- soldiers. Meanwhile the crackling sound of gunfire echoes all around and never lets up for a moment.
Concessions have been made in the console versions however, as each of these sprawling maps has been designed for 64-players on PC, instead of the maximum of 24 on consoles. As such, quiet breaks in the action often disrupt the flow, and leave you running to the next pocket of the fight elsewhere, but it’s a minor complaint.
Vehicles remain immensely fun. Just be prepared to nose dive a few planes before you get the hang of them.
Even after trawling through the unlockable gear, earning every multiplayer ribbon and maxing out your soldier’s level cap, you still have co-op to contend with. While short-lived, this selection of six missions provides several tense and teamwork-orientated encounters that are well worth trying out.
Exfiltration is a tense snatch and grab mission, as you infiltrate a well-guarded apartment block to rescue defected PLR member El-Zakir. It starts off as a tense stealth mission that demands both players sweep rooms effectively and avoid cameras at all costs. It suddenly erupts into a manic dash to escape the city in an expert display of pacing.
On the other hand, Hit and Run is a non-stop barrage of gunplay, as you and your comrade attempt to extract sensitive information from a skyscraper penthouse, and battle your way down to the basement car park below.
As enemies rappel in through the windows, and unleash hell on your position, you need to spot enemies, heal your friend when incapacitated, look out for ambushes and try to beat your best time for leaderboard supremacy. It’s loud, it’s mental and it’s insanely good fun too.
Similar to Modern Warfare 3’s Spec Ops, Battlefield 3’s co-op mode throws meta-game instances at you, such as taking to the skies in choppers while raining gunfire down on a mountain village, or holding back continuous waves of enemies while you wait for extraction. It’s essentially what the campaign should have been.
War. What is it good for? Only multiplayer it seems.
While many players will likely buy Battlefield 3 predominantly for its multiplayer component, the game must be viewed as a complete package, and athough the slapdash campaign doesn’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of online play, it is nonetheless, a weak, disappointing effort.
In attempting to ape Call of Duty, DICE has taken a few steps backwards, rather than making the leap forward as promised by the initial PC trailers.
The polygon-counting, frame rate-obsessed gamer might well decree it to be the greatest shooter campaign around, but without gameplay to back up the aesthetic quality, you’re left with very little to salvage.
Then again, Battlefield has always been a multiplayer-led franchise, and although this offering performs its duties with style, grace and technical prowess, it is still not the massive jump in terms of control and features. In the end, you will still get potentially hundreds of fun, memorable hours online for your buck, and that’s perfectly fine as well.
Battlefield 3 is a technical benchmark for the multiplayer shooter, but from a gameplay perspective, the developer has simply created what feels like a ‘best-of’ selection of series features and delivered them in a dazzling, visually arresting package.
It’s an approach that won’t wash by the time Battlefield 4 inevitably rolls around, but for now, the multiplayer offering continues to be as enjoyable as ever.