Players fill the boots of Staff Sergeant Henry Blackburn. As the story plays out via flashbacks, our hero’s credibility is called into question during an interrogation by the CIA. A nuclear attack on New York threatens thousands of innocents, and it’s up to a classic good-cop, bad-cop duo to discern the warhead’s whereabouts based on Blackburn’s testimony. He claims Solomon - the leader of the People's Liberation and Resistance and a CIA correspondent - is the villain pulling the strings. The entire concept breathes an air of familiarity. For all of EA’s jabs at Activision, Battlefield 3 does not shy away from copying its biggest rival. The interrogation aspect alone draws notable comparisons to Alex Mason’s ordeal in Call of Duty: Black Ops.
The campaign does an excellent job at holding the player’s hand, to my dismay. Nearly every sequence requires waiting on or catching up to your squad mates. Even the segments in which I found myself alone I could not escape the developers’ domineering shadow. Environments that span several city blocks allow for one linear, direct route. In the second mission, Uprising, I happened upon what looked like an option to choose my own path: Cut through an enemy vehicle garage or proceed down the street ahead. I opted for the latter. Lo and behold, an invisible wall halted my progress with a large, blatant warning telling me to return to the battlefield. I found myself in the same circumstance during a later mission, Thunder Run. Just before the on foot section, I attempted to maneuver right of the guardrails to rendezvous with my allies but was instantly escorted back onto the highway for risking deviation. The remaining vehicle segments are no different. Except for the tank missions, the player is never within the driver’s seat.
Blackburn is just another wordless grunt on the battlefield.
Several additional mechanics feel stripped from the Modern Warfare formula. Blackburn is the world’s luckiest (or unluckiest?) Marine as every grenade, RPG, or vehicle explosion knocks him on his ass, but Sergeant Henry is not the only soldier serving on the frontlines. Players also inhabit the roles of a jet co-pilot, Russian GRU operative, and tank operator. Despite these warriors’ varying military backgrounds, they all share a common situation. None of these soldiers can accomplish an objective without the help of a Quick Time Event – Battlefield 3 is plagued with them. Every action from breaching a door, to climbing a wall, to fighting off a melee attacker requires a contextual button press. While these design choices are not foreign to many other military shooters, they are a frequent staple of Battlefield’s biggest competitor. Glitches were all too common during my experience as well. Not once, but three times enemies Commando’d through a wall just to stick a knife in my chest while my invincible teammates merged with their surroundings.
Of course Battlefield 3 is not completely devoid of enjoyment. The gunplay is exceptional. The weapons kick with accurate recoil and drop enemy forces like cannon fodder. Fending off multiple ambushes or racing down hills amid machine gun fire are the more memorable moments. The surprise melee encounters are well choreographed too. Battling an attacker in close quarters with an AI partner as I try to stick a blade in his gut is intense. One particular QTE is reminiscent of the knife fight in Saving Private Ryan, where Stanley Mellish fights off “Steamboat Willie.”
In three seconds, that sniper is going to have a very bad day.
But for all the effort that went into making Battlefield 3’s campaign the most heart pounding, set piece experience possible, the radical Frostbite 2 engine is the only distinguishing factor from Modern Warfare. That’s not to say Battlefield 3 looks bad; on the contrary. Volumetric lighting, dynamic building destruction, meticulous character models, and lifelike facial animations combine to form a visual tour de force. My lone complaint is the lack of unrestricted structure demolition. During the single-player, the landscapes deform with each bullet fired and grenade thrown, but players cannot blast a straight path through walls to the end of the level, for obvious reasons. Many of the larger explosions are scripted too. It almost feels like a step in the wrong direction. In my hours with Bad Company 2, I gained infinite enjoyment from trolling the AI as I stormed a house, planted C4 on every wall, ran outside, and detonated the charges to watch the roof collapse on my doomed enemies.
Despite my personal gripes, Battlefield 3 is the best looking first-person shooter on modern consoles. I could try and uproot opinions by nominating Battlefield 3 as the best looking console game period, but other titles like Uncharted 3, Gears of War 3, and the soon-to-release Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hold firm. My jaw dropped to the floor where it remained for the rest of my playthrough. The texture pack is no option on the Xbox 360 though, absolutely not. While the weapons still look fairly detailed, the low resolution textures are appalling. Tires lose their round dimensions, signs turn into oil paintings, and the remaining environments compare to Battlefield 2. Let me just say without the HD install, Battlefield 3 is the best looking PlayStation 2 game I have ever seen.
The audio, on the other hand, perfectly conveys the chaotic nature of a realistic battlefield. An upgrade to surround sound comes highly recommended. Jet afterburners ring in my ears, bullets whizzing by my head make my neck hair stand on end, and missiles impact their targets with an explosive thud. I watched a teammate drop from a sniper round before I actually heard the shot. The hectic screams of your fellow Marines and minute-by-minute orders of your commanding officer send a message that the situation has gone full FUBAR. The voice actors truly sell their performances. Combine all these effects with a heavy bass soundtrack and Battlefield 3 becomes a superlative auditory masterpiece.
I dare you to tell me Battlefield 3 looks bad.
Battlefield 3’s campaign is far from perfect. While DICE has produced what I believe to be the best looking first-person shooter, no other facets outshine the competition. Explosive set pieces? Seen it. Linear corridor shooting? Seen it. Regenerating health system? Seen it. Quick Time Events? Seen it. War with the Russians? Yeah... The good news is the AI is fully competent, the gameplay is solid, and the audio is unequaled. Battlefield fans will undoubtedly find more enjoyment with the excellent multiplayer, but buyers looking for an epic single-player only experience should lower their expectations.
FINAL SCORE: 3/5