The greatest war represented on video game consoles this generation is not set in World War 2, modern times, or even the future - it’s the war between the Call of Duty franchise and everyone else. EA has tried once before to settle the score, taking CoD head on with their Medal of Honor franchise with little effect. The latest attack has come in the form of Battlefield 3, a franchise who’s roots are in the PC but found new life with the Bad Company series on consoles. Battlefield 3 spans both PC and console and is definitely EA’s answer to Call of Duty, but does the focus on this war cost Battlefield 3 what has defined the series?
It’s hard to talk about Battlefield 3 and not start at the game’s single player component. It’s the marketed component, it’s the bayonet on the weapon, and it’s the most talked about piece. The campaign drops you into the role of Sgt. Blackburn, among other military soldiers, in a fight against the PLA, a middle eastern terrorist force. The story plays out in a series of interrogation scenes that flash back from a larger event that is being uncovered. Sounds very familiar, no?
Sadly the missions in Battlefield 3 are nothing like they were in the Bad Company games, expansive huge missions that feel much bigger. The missions in BF3 are devoid of much personality and attempt a much more serious tone. That’s not to say there aren’t some really awesome moments in BF3. There are plenty of explosive set pieces; one in particular that stands out is the storming of a city at night with a group of soldiers. The lighting and sound instantly pulls you into the moment, and the blackness of night contrasted against the flashing of muzzle fire makes for a beautiful yet menacing display.
Battlefield 3’s graphics are definitely the game’s standout feature thanks to DICE’s new FrostBite 2 engine. Lighting and texture work are absolutely astounding, especially on the PC. While the consoles look great comparatively to other console games, comparing it to the PC is no contest. All the modes including multiplayer, co-op, and single player show off the engine’s graphical capabilities.
The problem I have with the single player is that it’s simply uninspired, or perhaps, too inspired by Modern Warfare. There’s not a single moment in it that would make you say - “yes, I’m playing a Battlefield game.” It’s a completely handheld experience from start to finish with a very linear path. Perhaps the best example of this is the first “flight” mission. If you expect you’d be controlling a jet fighter against enemy jet fighters…you’d be wrong. Instead you fly as a co-pilot and simply “look at targets” to lock on and fire. I thought Battlefield was about vehicles?
You buy a Battlefield game for it’s competitive multiplayer and this is most definitely where it’s at for Battlefield 3. The game features nine maps that scale in size depending on the game mode you play. On the PC the max player count is 64 while on console it’s 24. The first time you enter a full 64 player battle it’s simply awe inspiring; jets and planes battle overhead, the rumble of tanks fill your ears, and explosions kick up dirt everywhere. You can see for what seems like miles on a map like Caspian Border, once again, showing off the game’s graphical prowess. Other maps, like Grand Bazaar, while still large in scale, have you winding through the streets in a more infantry based style of combat. There’s a good variety in the combat situations throughout all the maps keeping things fresh and fun.
Battlefield multiplayer was built on the game’s conquest mode, that is, capturing flags and holding them to score points - but making an appearance in Battlefield 3 is a variation of Bad Company’s “Gold Rush” mode simply called “Rush.” In this you have two teams, one attacking and one defending. The attacking team must destroy two targets to progress the map forward while the defenders are obviously trying to stop it. The slick thing about this mode is it turns the maps into a multi-tiered affair, after each objective is destroyed another section of the map opens. Perhaps this is most evident in Operation Metro, a map that we saw on display heavily in the beta. In it you’ll go from outdoor battles to indoor skirmishes, back again to fighting in the streets of Paris.
The class system has been reduced to four from five - Assault, Engineer, Support and Recon. Each serves their own purpose on the battlefield and each has their own upgrades, unlocks, and team abilities that you’ll earn the more you play with that class. Battlefield 3’s multiplayer is deep, addictive and downright fun. You’re going to be here a long...long time, especially when you factor in Battlelog.
Battlelog is EA’s online website that’s a bit like Facebook and a bit like Halo’s stat tracking. You can track your unlock progress, see your accuracy at a glance, look at the results of past matches, and build platoons with friends. On the PC, Battlelog actually serves as the launching point for the main game - including creating parties with full voice chat. It’s a bit jarring at first, launching a PC game from a website, but it really does work. Every mode is supported via this method including the game’s cooperative mode.
Finally we come to Battlefield 3’s co-op gameplay which consists of six missions where you’ll take on enemy forces with one other friend online. At first, I was incredibly disappointed - not only was the mission I played overly difficult, it was also boring. The first mission is a simple survival style holdout based on a small section of the single player game. But after completing it (on Easy), and learning the ropes, it was easier to replay and then things started to open up.
There are some gems here for co-op play. A helicopter mission where Player One is the pilot and the other is the gunner. A sniper mission where players need to time their shots and support a swat team set to rescue an HVA from an embassy. An escape mission where both players try to get out of a building after acquiring some data while being assaulted by SWAT teams. Each had their own intense co-op moments.
The missions themselves do a good job of promoting co-op play, whether it’s simply providing cover for a friend while advancing through the city streets or having one player mark enemies while the other takes them out. Players can also revive each other when they go down, though the process usually takes a bit longer than you’d like. Luckily a downed player can crawl backwards towards their friend or into cover for revival. If a player bleeds out though, it’s mission over for both.
With only six missions to play and each one taking around 10-15 minutes, you’ll be done with the co-op mode in no time. The game does put the carrot on the stick for you though, offering three difficulty levels and a scoring system to encourage replays. What’s more? Nine unique weapon unlocks for the game’s versus mode which will take significant replays through co-op to earn. Progress is also blocked for players that haven’t completed the earlier required missions, so both players basically need to progress through together.
Battlefield 3 has given itself a bit of a conundrum. I can easily see the campaign being popular for most gamers, it uses a formula that sells and people have been eating that up. That said, a lot of us have moved past that and have gotten bored with it. Luckily, Battlefield 3’s competitive multiplayer is still the meat and potatoes here, and I think DICE knows it (it is Disc One on the 360). The maps are well laid out, the game modes are replayble, and there’s plenty of content to unlock. While co-op is a bit of a mixed bag, it’s a nice addition and distraction to play with a friend despite it’s short nature. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more cooperative modes coming as DLC in the future - hopefully we won’t be too busy on Battelog to notice.
The bottom line is this - if you buy Battlefield for multiplayer, it’s completely worth it. If you buy it for either of the other included modes, the game falls short. As a complete $60 package though Battlefield 3 any FPS fan will enjoy.
This review is based on the PC and Xbox 360 version of the game.