October 30, 2011
Now this, you're in the kitchen watching the pizza you bought from the super market slowly bake in the oven, you know you're going to enjoy every bite of it, but the wait is as boring and dull as, well, watching pizza bake in the oven for 45 minutes. You'll still eat it if only for the sake of filling that rumbling acid sack of yours and not so much because it's the best pizza you'll ever have, in fact it's probably quite stale.
That's Battlefield 3 in a nutshell. Developer DICE have developed something that, unsurprisingly, delivers ridiculous amounts of diversity, flexibility and depth in regards to the multiplayer. It's what they're good at and it really shows. On the other hand, there's the single player campaign which is like watching a really bad episode from the sixth season of 24, with a plot line that takes itself so seriously it might make you feel regret for being born into this world.
Perhaps that's a bit harsh, but when DICE publicly puts it out there that atmosphere is a key element in the game's story and drawing comparisons with the critically acclaimed The Hurt Locker, you'd think there would be a little less focus on Hollywood drama and more on making a point. It's a story we've all seen before. There are Russians, Iranians and, of course, Americans. Imagination can fill in the rest.
However, that's not entirely why the single player campaign feels so disappointing. It feels more movie than game, with players only ever trudging along for the ride with their hands held tight by the many interrogations and good-cop-bad-cop routines played out in cutscenes – which are beautifully rendered I might add, but does little to add to the experience. The single player campaigns from the Bad Company spinoffs were far more engaging if only because they had a cast of characters that were fun and a story that was more humorous than dead serious.
Gameplay in the single player campaign feels like the standard fare from any multitude of shooter titles on the market. It's a linear rush through open warzones (ironic, isn't it?) and urban firefights, with players taking on the roles of either Americans or Russians, either side supposedly attempting to stop something really bad from happening. It's a good introduction to infantry play, shooting feels tight and there are some moments that are truly epic and worthy of awe, despite the overall disappointing nature of the campaign.
With that said, the campaign seems to take all that Battlefield is known for and flushes them down the proverbial toilet. There's very little destruction, that jet sequence is completely on-rails, although the same can be said for the entire campaign by any stretch of the word, and little care can be given for a story that most shooter fans have already seen too many times. DICE's attempts at stealing the limelight from a certain other shooter out in two weeks is certainly appreciated, but when scripted linearity, one too many corridors, blinding bokeh effects and a couple of quicktime events meet methodical gunplay and teamwork, gamers are then left with a rather slow and tenseless experience.
There is a lengthy co-operative campaign featuring six levels, however it mostly mirrors the single-player mode, albeit with far less forgiving waves of A.I. enemies. It's certainly a fun challenge to attempt with a friend or at least someone you can communicate with, otherwise it's a suicide run. Hopefully DICE will introduce more co-op campaigns through downloadable content.
The multiplayer is where DICE have done well. It's the polar opposite of the campaign. All the depth, team-play and massive scale that have come to be associated with the franchise are present. The one hurdle that players will have to put pass them is the fact that the game has to be launched through a browser thanks to Battlelog, the new social hub that ties the multiplayer community together. Players can track stats, friends and even squad up prior to hopping into a game. Unfortunately, while all the stat tracking and battle reports are incredibly helpful, it means opening up a browser which then opens up Origin, followed by the actual boot up of Battlefield 3. Luckily, console gamers don't have to worry about this accessibility design deficiency.
Players can choose from four classes to specialize in, or get gung-ho and play them all. A bit of shuffling has been done in regards to the classes, with Assault now packing the medpacks and defibs while the Support class gets to lug around the extra ammo. Unlocking equipment, weapons and other gear is dependant on what you use the most, allowing for a relatively flexible and balanced system that rewards players for playing the way they like as opposed to rewarding players who unlock more powerful weapons at higher levels.
Players can expect little to no lag on the many dedicated servers available and can choose from a number of game-types, including the traditional Conquest mode and its variants where players struggle to control the most amount of flags before Tickets run out. Rush mode from the Bad Company games where defenders fight against attackers attempting to blow up M-COM Stations return alongside the self-explanatory Team Deathmatch, so there's a game-type for just about any player here. The return of jets turns the battlefield into an immense warzone as firefights break out not just among infantry, but armour and air, giving the experience an overall feeling of a massive war - especially with 64-player games on the PC version.
DICE have made a number of tweaks to the multiplayer as well, including the new Suppression system that blurs the vision of enemy troops under suppressive fire. Weapon add-ons like the brighter-than-the-sun Tactical Flashlight and Laser Aiming Devices aid in suppressing enemy troops as well. Players can spawn on any squad-mate and the inclusion of a mobile spawner adds another layer of dynamism to the game. Destruction is far more pronounced in the multiplayer than the campaign as whole buildings can collapse if enough munitions land on top of it. Snipers can be spotted from miles away by the glint of their scope. Players can spot out enemy troops and vehicles, earning secondary points for assisting the team, or provide suppressive fire for their squad, letting the rest push forward and apply pressure to the enemy.
There are nine diverse maps, all of which are relatively large in scale, with the smallest being Operation Metro, all of which can be played with any game-type. Some may prefer the more organic and open level designs of Caspian Border or Operation Firestorm where vehicle movement is quite important, while others may enjoy the tighter firefights of the more urban maps like Grand Bazaar where flanking is key, either way, there is plenty of variety for just about anyone. Unfortunately, it's too bad there isn't a way to learn how to pilot the available aircrafts without actually crashing constantly upon take-off in a live game. Considering only a handful of players know how to do it, it would've been nice to have the campaign show you how it's done as opposed to an on-rails dogfight. On the bright side, there is joystick support, at least for the PC release.
Despite the faults in story and gameplay, particularly in the campaign, Battlefield 3 is easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing shooters of this generation, both visually and audibly. The game looks astounding in Ultra and arguably better than the competition even on Low. The texture pack included in the console versions does add depth and detail to the initial muddy look. Weapons pack a lot of punch and each one can be identified by sound alone. From environmental destruction to weather effects, dust particles and especially the phenomenal lighting, Frostbite 2.0 delivers on all fronts.
When all is said and done, Battlefield 3 is a game that impresses and disappoints at the same time. The multiplayer, while not entirely groundbreaking, is fine-tuned to be diverse, flexible and balanced. The campaign, however, is a mundane operation through corridors and waves of idiotic enemy A.I., featuring a plot that's been bludgeoned to death with the butt of an AK-47. It's a beautiful game for sure, but it's difficult to praise it when beauty takes precedence over game, at least in the campaign. The multiplayer looks and plays beautifully and that's what Battlefield is all about in the first place.
Battlefield 3 was reviewed on the PC. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.