At a Glance: Battlefield 3 makes a great first impression with its excellent visual and audio design but doesn’t break any new ground with its rather bland campaign. Its multiplayer, on the other hand, is (mostly) fantastic and hugely rewarding.
War games set in the vaguely foreseeable future are a dime a dozen these days. It’s hard to even go to a store and not trip over one or two of them. So, in this market, it takes a lot for a game using such a hackneyed premise to be able to stand out amongst its numerous peers. Battlefield 3 is EA and DICE’s latest in the “modern, near-future war shooter” genre and it tries to stand out from the crowd by updating the popular Battlefield 2 multiplayer formula for the current shooter market and creating a campaign that’s more or less Call of Duty with better graphics.
The campaign is presented as a series of flashbacks that occur during a CIA interrogation where Sgt. Henry Blackburn and friends try to stop a plot to detonate nukes in urban areas and spark World War 3 in the name of ‘Merica. In other words, standard videogame stuff. No new ground is broken here, nothing on display here hasn’t been done (arguably better in some cases) in other games, particularly Call of Duty.
And that’s the problem here. I can’t shake the feeling that DICE was trying to out “Call of Duty”, well, Call of Duty. Ever since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and its scene where an American soldier is caught up in a nuclear explosion and can crawl around for a bit in the resulting radioactive wasteland before he keels over, other developers have been going for these kinds of “cinematic” moments. DICE is no exception. While Battlefield 3 doesn’t go to the same extreme, there are definitely a few moments where I get that familiar Call of Duty vibe, and I don’t think it works here.
It’s not that Battlefield 3’s campaign is “bad”, it’s just…”samey”. It’s fun to go around shooting up dozens of AI soldiers (even if they are annoyingly stupid sometimes) but, again, this is nothing that hasn’t been done before. The set-pieces are good and the missions are decent enough but I felt a strong sense of déjà vu. Another thing that irked me about the campaign was the fact that DICE pulled some punches on what could’ve been the coolest moments. One mission begins on an aircraft carrier and teases you with the promise of flying a jet into a tense aerial battle only to yank the carpet out from under you and shoehorn you into a tightly scripted on-rails affair. Lame.
Okay, enough about the campaign, the multiplayer is what most people are buying this game for. What can I say? It’s great. On well-designed maps such as Caspian Border, Kharg Island and Operation Firestorm, Battlefield 3 is one of the best all-around multiplayer games of this generation, and one that rewards teamwork and working with a tightly (or not) coordinated squad of friends can be buckets of fun.
But, of course there’s a “but”, the map selection really lets this game down at times. On the PC, the player cap is around 64 players and, on some maps (Seine Crossing…), the action is just chaotic, and not in a good way. Other maps, like Operation Métro in Conquest mode (the preferred BF3 multiplayer mode) are just awful. The ranking and unlock system takes much too long for players to get to the good stuff and only players who dedicate exorbitant amounts of time to the game will have the best equipment.
And then there’s “Battlelog”, EA’s browser-based game manager, from which you’ll launch everything from the campaign to the multiplayer. I. Hate. Battlelog. In theory, it’s a good idea that perhaps more games should implement. In theory. Problem is, it doesn’t work as well as it should. Getting together with a party, at least for me, was a hassle. The server browser doesn’t filter servers as well as it should and occasionally leaves out some servers you’re looking for. Call me a Luddite, call me an obstacle to progress, I don’t care. I’d much rather manage these things within the game itself.
Visually, the game is stunning and no other game I’ve played can match it on the graphical front. From urban Iranian landscapes before and after a catastrophic earthquake, to office buildings and Parisian plazas, Battlefield 3’s visuals rarely let up. There are a few technical issues such as texture pop-in and textures disappearing entirely if you get more than a few feet from them but otherwise, if you have a system capable of running it, Battlefield 3 shouldn’t disappoint.
DICE has succeeded in creating one of the most realistic and immersive soundscapes in all of gaming. Weapons sound realistic, weapon discharges, both right next to your face and across the virtual battlefield, sound like you’d expect them to. Explosions are appropriately head-rattling and the soundtrack is also quite nice.
“Mixed feelings” is the best way to sum up how I feel about Battlefield 3. The campaign, while not “bad” and did a decent job of keeping me entertained, felt bland. When it was over, it was just over. It wasn’t memorable or noteworthy aside from being very pretty. Maybe I’m getting bored of the “stop generic Middle Eastern terrorists and/or “the Russians” from fucking shit up” formula but I think it’s more due to the fact that DICE plays it too safe and doesn’t try to go beyond the Call of Duty (had to mention it at least one more time). The multiplayer is fantastic despite a few slip-ups and fairly accessible to the layman and while it’s not as “noob-friendly” as other military shooters (you know the one), it’s arguably far superior. If you’re in it for the campaign, eh, you can skip this one but the multiplayer shouldn’t be missed.
- Superb visual and audio design
- Great multiplayer that encourages and rewards teamwork
- Healthy stream of unlocks in multiplayer to keep you coming back
- Campaign plays it too safe
- Map design is inconsistent