Review: Battlefield 3
Review copy provided by the publisher
Let’s not waste any time screwing around here. Battlefield 3 is one of the most anticipated games of the year and at the same time one of the most hyped up. Building a reputation early on in it’s development for having incredible graphics and following up on the highly successful Bad Company 2, DICE and EA certainly had a lot of expectations to live up to.
Let’s not pretend what you’re here for…Battlefield 3 is all about the multiplayer. There’s no doubting that, and that is without a doubt where most players will spend most if not outright all of their time. However, the game does boast a full single player campaign and I would be remiss to not discuss it. The story is told in a series of flashbacks with the main character you play as for the majority of the game being interrogated. Something big is going on, and you were a large part of it.
This actually serves as a nice framing device and lets the action jump around as needed without having to worry about explaining why you were just in France but are now in America. I won’t go into too much detail on what the story actually entails but let’s just say it’s not going to be surprising you a whole lot. Terrorists are in action, you’re going to stop them, crazy stuff happens and lots of dudes get shot. It’s all told in a pretty decent matter though it is very straight forward.
The story is decent, though nothing to write home about, but that’s OK because it does a wonderful job of serving its true purpose which is to get you from one set piece to the next. If you’ve been following the game through development you already know that these scenarios are all huge and awe-inspiring, with the first level culminating in a freaking building falling around your character during an earthquake. Go big or go home is the motto here.
If there’s one thing the core Battlefield games have a reputation for, it’s a smooth mix of vehicular and infantry combat, and that returns in full spades even in the single player campaign though with mixed results. The first vehicle you’ll fly during the campaign is a jet, and while this sounds incredibly awesome it was honestly a little bit of a let down. Things start off awesomely enough and while the stellar presentation is persistent, the gameplay during this segment is a little bit of a letdown since it’s basically a shooting gallery. You just play the role of the gunner, which leaves you just pointing and clicking A from time to time.
One of the things I feel the campaign handled very well was the situation of respawning enemies. They’re used fairly sparingly, and only in points where it would make sense for reinforcements to arrive. While you’re defending the front of a bank, the streets will constantly swarm with enemies as you wait and survive the required amount of time. But clearing out an office building, after you kill everyone there that’s it.
This is a tricky thing to handle and a lot of games seem to have trouble finding the right balance between endless respawns triggered and stopped by invisible tripwires and a set number, but I think Battlefield 3 did a very admirable job of this.
The game also features a co-op mode which is less of a campaign and more of a set of different stand-alone missions available for you and a partner to tackle. All of the same strengths and weaknesses of the single player campaign are present in this mode and while it works wonderfully well in its own right and is a great addition, there’s not a whole lot to talk about.
One particular level has earned itself a decent reputation as “that level” in the game already, which involves piloting a helicopter. Well, it does for one of you: the other will be manning the guns. You’d better hope your pilot was paying attention, or else you’re going to be staring at that loading screen a lot. Lets just say that owning a mic is pretty much a requirement for a successful co-op experience.
Lets not kid ourselves though…while Battlefield 3 made an admirable effort at a single player campaign that’s full of huge epic moments, intense firefights and a story that while not the most original thing ever is told in an interesting manner and well put together, that’s not what everybody is here for. No…Battlefield 3 is very much about the multiplayer, and every shortcoming the game has in its single player outing is made up for in spades online.
Things start out familiar enough if you’ve played any first person shooter in the past couple of years with customize-able load-outs, though they’re limited to different classes so you only get four different choices at any given time. Thankfully you can tweak and edit these at any time during the game, so if you decide that at one point of a map you want to use your Mortar but then find yourself spending all your time inside, you can change that for the Claymore at any given time. Don’t like that new scope you just unlocked? Take it off the next time you die. A small thing but a wonderfully welcome change that could stand to be used more often.
The biggest difference from Battlefield 3 to any other shooter on the market right now will become apparent the moment you first take a step on a map and realize just how huge they all are.
The amount of choice present online is going to be overwhelming at first to everybody but the most experienced of Battlefield veterans. I have to admit when I first played the beta I just stood there staring around for a second. A jeep, a tank, and a helicopter all sitting there, with the nearest objective 500m out and the furthest what seems to be a full days walk away? Things will be shaky at first, but once you start getting into the groove you won’t be able to turn the game off.
The game constantly rewards you with your persistence, and not just in the form of leveling up and progressive unlocks but in the form of actual experience. As I said, you’ll probably do terrible your first few games and feel like you didn’t contribute to the round that much but as you keep at it you’ll find yourself moving better with a squad (even if you don’t have your mic on, or they theirs), flanking and defending positions better, and you’ll stop crashing that helicopter into a mountain after the first few times.
You will totally crash a helicopter into a mountain though, and far more likely a jet into the ground.
The fact that you actually feel like you’re doing better with each match you play actually encourages you to return more often and keep playing for reasons other than unlocking the next gun.
Everything about the online portion of the game is absolutely solid, and it’s honestly a little bizarre to sit down and write about this and realize I can’t think of one thing I feel is broken in that regard. Some maps you’ll dominate, securing victory in what seems to be record time while other times you’ll be on the opposing end of that and this is always a direct result of how you played yourself and how your team did. Even when playing with total strangers and no communication it’s pretty easy to get some good teamwork going (most of the time) which is astonishing.
The game is of course full of vehicles to drive, and to that rate full of players who will just sit around and wait for whatever their vehicle of choice is to respawn. This can be annoying, but there’s honestly nothing that can be done about this and the blame for this annoyance lies solely on the players, rather than the game.
The four different roles available to you as a player are Medic, Engineer, Support and Recon. One of the strongest points for this game online is that the differences between these classes are actually very broad, and building a good assortment is key to victory. One sniper can turn the tide of a battle, but having five of them leaves you exposed to tanks and at a risk of running out of ammo. Too many engineers and the battlefield will be a vehicle graveyard, but you’ll be getting sniped yourself left and right and again running out of ammo.
You’ll quickly find the role you like the best and find yourself hoping you can keep playing that one without being forced to switch to ensure your team has a good variety, but even playing as a class you don’t particularly like is never too much of an affair. Thanks to an assortment of unlockable weapons that are universal to all classes you can ditch the weapon you don’t like for something at least somewhat familiar (for instance my sniper rifle is currently swapped out for a shotgun and sometimes an SMG, as I suck at sniping in this game and don’t enjoy it).
Ultimately the strongest part of the online component is what the single player side of the game struggles to control: freedom. No matter which class you choose or which game mode you decide to play, there’s always a choice in what you can do and how to approach your objective. A helicopter harassing your team all match? Shoot it with your gun, shoot rockets or anti-air missiles at it, jump in a tank or APC and shoot at it, or even grab the jet and hunt it down. The enemy team has the M-COM in that last building locked down? Shoot apart the walls and create a new way in.
This brings us to the most obvious part of the review for the game; the graphics, which could be summed up in a single word: gorgeous. Let’s try another one: jaw-dropping. That one was two words, but I think you get my point. While the Xbox 360 version obviously doesn’t live up to the awe-inducing monolith that is the PC version’s graphics, they’re nothing to scoff at and I will stand behind this next sentence 100%: Battlefield 3 is one of if not the single best looking game on the Xbox 360.
Now, I’ve been praising the game almost the entire time up to this point but let it be known right away that Battlefield 3 is not perfect. All versions of the game were plagued with various issues at launch relating to their servers, and constant maintenance is still going on to try and fix these errors. I haven’t personally experienced any glitches online but I have heard people talk about being put under the map, having their sound disappear and having issues with voice communication among other things.
Another issue that I have seen firsthand is getting a large party into the same squad when joining a game online. Launch night we were unable to even all get in the same room due to various issues, but even after that was fixed getting all of your team onto the same squad is a hassle. It’s actually gotten to the point where if you get in a room and can finally all get on the same squad, you don’t leave that room EVER.
Battlefield 3 had a lot of hype to live up to, both concerning the graphics and the game in general from newcomers to the series and fans from the beginning. I think a lot of complaints people will have against the game will be results in not living up to said hype, and unfortunately that’s a by-product of being so highly anticipated. However if you take a long honest look at this game I think you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.
No matter which version you pick up you’re looking at an incredibly deep, rich online experience with a fairly solid (though familiarly short) single player campaign and a set of co-op missions to go along with it. I think this one will keep everybody busy for quite a long time, and will satisfy the appetites of fans and onlookers alike.
The game’s not perfect, but it shouldn’t be expected to be. At the end of the day, it’s incredibly fun and absolutely solid. I don’t think a single beat was missed, and every time a round ends I find myself promising I’ll just play one more game and before too long I find myself wondering how it got to be 7AM.