This is one of the hardest reviews I have ever had to write. Moment to moment, match by match, I find myself second-guessing what a reviewer should focus on. Should one highlight the best parts of the game, point out every little flaw, or try and find some sort of middle ground? I could literally write ten pages about Battlefield 3 and still not be sure I said everything I wanted or how I want.
But I have given it my best shot, and hopefully that will be good enough for all of you...
Moments like these make the single-player worth trying.
Battlefield 3's campaign suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It can't seem to decide if it's taking the real war approach or trying to out-set-piece Call of Duty. There are definitely some cool moments, but the overall affair seems somewhat disjointed. The beginning in particular stands out, as the game hits the ground running, literally, with a very thrilling train sequence.
The plot is good enough to give substance to the action, but overall impressions seem pretty forgettable. Blah blah, something about Russians and weapons of mass destruction. Basically, if you've played the recent Call of Duty games, or really any other modern-day shooter, then you've seen this before.
The single player isn't bad by any means, though; it just fails to surpass any of the other military campaigns you've probably played. I liked it, but if you are buying this game for story, prepare to be disappointed. As it stands, the single-player is a nice way to get acquainted with Battlefield 3's gameplay and weaponry before jumping into multiplayer.
Speaking of gameplay, Battlefield has always been about bringing the reality-of-war feel to the player. Nothing much has changed from Bad Company 2, and many would probably say that is a good thing.The emphasis here is on tactical advancement and teamwork rather than run-and-gun firefights.
There is also a sense of weight to every movement, from bringing up the iron sights to sprinting from cover to cover. The realism does not go overboard, however. Battlefield 3 hits the sweet spot, somewhere between Call of Duty and Killzone. You are not a camera with a gun attached, nor are you a 300-pound juggernaut. It feels just right. Prone, returning to the Battlefield franchise after a long hiatus, is a great, incredibly fluid addition, too.
This is war, soldier! Keep your head down!
Shooting, likewise, is very well balanced. DICE made the smart decision of bringing the gunplay a little closer to Call of Duty, to appeal to a larger crowd, but Battlefield veterans need not fret. Such a move does not ruin the series you know and love. Rather, it makes the game more approachable to newcomers while still catering to the hardcore first and foremost.
Weapons are also very accurate, putting most of what happens at the pull of a trigger in the players hands. Long shots will require a bit of finesse because of bullet drop, and if you are using a suppressor, you will need to compensate further.
Many fans were outraged during the beta, though, as damage numbers were almost as unforgiving as Call of Duty. However, DICE obviously realized the mistake they made, and moved the settings closer to those found in Bad Company 2. A common trend, DICE eventually perfected the medium between their older installments and what the majority of current shooter fans expect.
Destruction, on the other hand, has been toned down from Bad Company 2. Players will not be tearing down entire buildings, but you can still chip away at your opponent's cover until they are completely exposed. If you locate enough firepower, you may still do some serious harm to most edifices, and a few can actually be demolished; just not to the same level as Bad Company 2. Some players may be disappointed by this fact, but personally, I like it. Removing the freedom to demolish anything with four walls makes the game more realistic compared to the cartoony mayhem of the Bad Company series.
Vehicles, a long-time staple of Battlefield, are here en masse, including the long-awaited return of jet warfare. There are a sizable number of transports to choose from, and each team has their own versions of otherwise identical buggies, tanks, and F-18 Superhornets. Vehicles can give a your team a serious edge if used properly, but they can also be destroyed quickly if the other team is well organized. As is the standard for Battlefield, it all comes down to teamwork and communication.
I should note that, for PC users, flying jets can be incredibly tough. Without any sort of tutorial to take you from rookie pilot to Red Baron status, my best recommendation is that you keep some sort of game controller handy when you switch to aircraft, as they are much easier to pilot with analog sticks.
However, there are plenty more ways to enjoy the game. The developers put a lot of work into BF3, and it shows. The combat feels perfectly balanced, from the weapons to the vehicles to the damage. If you are a die-hard Call of Duty fan, you may still be put off by Battlefield's gameplay. And that's okay! Some players simply prefer Call of Duty's more frantic pacing and style, but in terms of pure quality, Battlefield 3's gameplay is second to none.
Battlefield 3 is loaded to the brink with more unlockables and add-ons than any game I have ever played. There are four classes to choose from, each with a specific weapon focus and ability. Assault characters carry assault rifles and heal teammates. Engineers use SMGs and focus on repairing/destroying vehicles. Support members use heavy machine guns and dish out ammunition. Lastly, Scouts are long-range experts, specializing in sniper rifles and spotting targets for teammates.
Players can level up their overall soldier by gaining experience in-game, but you also level the various classes simply by using them. Ranking up unlocks special talents, class-specific firearms, or unique weapons that can be equipped by any class. In addition, each weapon features multiple attachments, three of which can be applied depending on the add-on. Finally, players unlock vehicle abilities. Yeah, there's a lot here, and it's going to take quite some time to see everything.
Silent but deadly.
Experience is earned by performing certain tasks. Kills will net you points, but not as many as capturing an objective or healing a teammate. A new feature, called "suppressing fire" nets players points for shooting at an enemy while another gets the kill. This is a great mechanism, because it embraces the real-world strategy of laying heavy fire down on the enemy's position to force them to stay down.
Battlefield 3 ships with nine maps, each with it's own personality and focus. Larger maps, such as Operation Firestorm and Caspian Border, are heavy on vehicles, with wide areas of open space in between localized firefights. Smaller maps like Operation Metro are more infantry focused, including a fair amount of CQC. The rest of the maps fill the space between, but still manage to bring their own special aspect to the game. My personal favorite is a base jump at the beginning of any match on Damavand Peak. DICE absolutely nailed the maps here, with the sheer number of buildings, level of detail, and opportunities for various strategies.
On the mode side of things, Conquest is the Battlefield standard, where players work to try and capture points around the map while killing as many enemies as possible. Each team starts with the same number of respawns (tickets) that decrease whenever an ally dies. However, for every flag a team owns, the number of enemy respawns lost per kill is increased. With the highly touted 64-player matches, Conquest is the ultimate realization of video game war.
Rush also makes its first appearance in a core Battlefield since Bad Company. In Rush, one team tries to destroy two checkpoints, while the other defends. The attackers receive a limited number of spawns that increases with the destruction of each hostile checkpoint, and the defenders are forced back to their next base. As a team moves on, more vehicles become available, too. In matches of 24-48 players, Rush is probably the best game mode on the list, because it guarantees a heavy team focus.
Some maps are larger than first impressions deem.
Unfortunately, I do not know who thought of using a web browser to launch all of the game's functions, but they should tested. I can think of no conceivable reason why I should have to use a web browser to play Battlefield 3's campaign. I'll admit, though, Battlelog does a good job of tracking stats and keeping them all in one place.
Server browsing is similarly well designed, allowing players to choose match settings based on the number of players, game mode, and map. However, I have experienced innumerable issues connecting to games, getting kicked from servers, and so forth. Many times a match will appear to have several open slots, then claim to be full, even though refreshing the page shows there are still open slots.
Other problems occur when in a party with friends. For one, the game does not automatically import friends from Origin. You have to manually add them. Often, the comm center will show that I have no friends online, even though they are, and I won't be able to connect to them. More disappointing, trying to connect to a game with your party is nearly impossible, so I have settled for having my friend choose a game, waiting, joining him after he is in, and hoping we can find an open squad to play in. Overall, I am very upset that EA decided to take this route. It's bad enough they decided to forgo the always-reliable Steam for their PC platform of choice, but the horrendous Battlelog and several community-noted crashes hold Battlefield 3 back from its full potential.
However, Battlefield 3 still looks the part. As the best looking release on the market, Battlefield 3 on Ultra is the ultimate treat for a gamer. Even when set to Medium, it still looks better than pretty much any console game and all but the best PC titles. The attention to detail is unbelievable, especially in the game's weapons and character modeling. Foliage and terrain look frighteningly good, and buildings are near-photorealistic. But it's the lighting and particle effects that really make this package shine. Explosions will send a mountain of dust and debris into the air, and will take several moments to settle, obscuring any light behind it.
Of course, the sound is amazing, too. The writing and script are ho-hum, and the soundtrack is almost as forgettable as the story, but damn it if DICE did not spend months recording and mixing the various gun and vehicle sound effects to outdo its competitors in the authenticity department.
Battlefield 3 on High settings. Imagine what Ultra looks like.
By now, though you've probably heard about DICE's decision to include a 1.5GB texture pack on the Xbox 360, leaving those without the space with last-gen graphics. I actually like the decision to do this, though most do not. The fact is, DICE simply ran out of space on the disc for all the content in the game, yet they still wanted to provide fans with a current generation experience. Even with the controversy regarding the texture pack, Battlefield 3 is the best looking and sounding game you are going to play nowadays. Even better, the action holds up in any situation, including 64 players charging around in tanks and jets.
So what score does one give Battlefield 3? The game itself, or at least the meat of it (the multiplayer), is nearly flawless. However, there are several major problems that cannot be ignored. Does it matter how good a game is if it's nearly impossible to join a match? But campaign and server issues aside, let me make this clear: Battlefield 3 is the best multiplayer experience on any platform. And it looks damn good, too.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 25, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2 (Cooperative), 2-64 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3