The Battlefield franchise moves beyond the free to play browser game and spinoffs with a full fledged sequel to Battlefield 2. EA has been pushing DICE’s game as a Modern Warfare 3-killer in an attempt to unseat the undisputed king of war themed first person shooters. Unique to this game is the inclusion of a single player campaign, a surprising turn considering that the Battlefield series has always been strictly multiplayer focused. Thankfully, the single player experience doesn’t feel tacked on, but I can’t help feel I’ve played this sort of game before. Multiplayer is this title’s biggest feature and it remains a strong and entertaining piece of gaming.
Battlefield 3 is comprised of two modes: campaign and multiplayer. The campaign follows the story of Sergeant Blackburn who is currently being interrogated by two government hounds. He is being questioned about his involvement in the hunt for a small cabal of terrorists located in Iran who have a plan for striking the United States. The levels serve as flashbacks to the instances in which Blackburn had been part of offensives to track down the terrorists and...wait a minute, this all seems really familiar. That’s right, its because Call of Duty: Black Ops did the exact same thing. However, none of the interrogators scream at you about numbers, so Battlefield 3 gets an extra point right there. As the story plays out, you’ll move to various parts around Europe and the Middle East, switching between different characters along the way, such as Navy pilot Hawkins and GRU operative Dima. The campaign features two vehicle sequences, one being an on-rails shooter over the skies of Iran and the other a full on tank engagement.
As a first person shooter, you’ll move to and from various objectives, shooting enemies with a small arsenal of weaponry. You can only carry two guns at a time, but you’re given more than enough ammo, so you’ll never worry about running out. If you do, ammo refill stations are never too far away and you can also pick weapons dropped by enemy combatants. For most of the time, you’ll be working with an AI squad that you have no control over and also seem to be pretty bad shots at times. When you’re alone, the biggest enemy you’ll have to contend with are quick time events and if you happen to miss one, its game over. Ugh.
The campaign begins strongly and wastes no time in getting you into the action, but after about an hour or so, it begins to get a little tired. It wasn’t long before I was thinking to myself, “This is just the same thing all over again isn’t it?” Once again, I’m hunting down larger than life terrorists who somehow have an incredibly easy time sneaking a nuke into the largest superpower in the world. Furthermore, one of the levels half way into the game ends almost the same way as it did in Modern Warfare 1. If EA was hoping that this would really stand out from the large crowd of modern war shooters, the single player campaign does not achieve this goal. Now if this were another Bad Company title (hint, hint EA) I’d feel differently, considering that series did a fantastic job of creating a war shooter with a unique angle.
Multiplayer, on the other hand, continues to be an incredibly entertaining experience. Now, to be honest, I’ve never played any of the Battlefield games, but my experience with Bad Company 2 allows me to fit right in because the game looks to be a modified version of it. You can choose between various gameplay modes, although it appears that Conquest is, once again, the most popular mode of play. If you’re not familiar with it, Conquest tasks both teams with securing a series of points on the map. Each team starts out with the same number of respawn “tickets” that are used when players are killed and brought back into the game. The ultimate objective is to force the other’s teams tickets to reach zero and by capturing all the points on the map, the tickets for the other team will decrease faster than most.
As with the Bad Company 2 multiplayer, you can choose between four soldier classes, each with their own distinct weapon types and gadgets. Engineers are effective in repairing vehicles and are equipped with the means of destroying tanks, while Medics offer health restoration and revival perks. Which class you choose to play depends on the type of role you prefer. For every kill, flag capture or any other special feat, you’ll earn experience points that feed into character progression and levelling up gives you access to better weapons and gadgets. Unlike Bad Company 2, the weapons you find in the single player campaign are not available to you in multiplayer.
Moving around the battlefield can be done on foot, but because many of the maps are really big, stepping into a vehicle is the best option. The map ultimately decides which vehicles are available, but you can get in the seat of a Humvee, tank, ATV, helicopter and fighter jet. Most of the vehicles have enough room to fit up to four other players, allowing you to coordinate your attacks. Flying a jet requires some degree of finesse, as I lasted a good fifteen seconds before hilariously crashing into a building.
Battlefield 3 is a fantastic looking game. You don’t get a sense of the detail too much in multiplayer because everything moves too quickly and if you stop to smell the roses, you’ll get shot in the head. In the single player campaign, you’ll move from a variety of different locations, such as an urban Iranian city as well as Tehran, Paris, a forest and a coastal villa. A lot of work went into creating the environmental textures and unlike Rage, there were no instances of texture loading or pop-in. This might have something to do with the fact that I’m given direct control over video settings, which allows me to make the necessary tweaks in order to get the game running smoothly.
There were a few graphical hitches here and there. Towards the beginning of the game, it looked like shadows were not rendering properly, resulting in a few serrated lines appearing in various angles on the walls. I noticed some strange geometrical shapes coming from the barrel of my gun whenever I looked down the scope, but this only happened a few times at the start of the campaign. The biggest graphics glitch I experienced occurred at the ending of the game. During the final climactic fight, the enemy character model didn’t render, making it appear as if I were fighting a ghost. Those problems aside, the game is beautiful to look at. It features some of the best lighting effects I’ve seen and the entire dogfighting sequence was jawdropping. Too bad I couldn’t fully control the jet, but oh well.
The character models and animations are as good as the scenery. Watching how the troops move, cover and breach entryways is a major case for motion capture, as these AI opponents move with a startlingly high level of realism. The modelling work for Blackburn and his interrogators during the cutscenes is exceptional and at first, I thought I had been watching real people.
Before I close this review, I’d like to mention EA’s Battlelog service, their answer to Activision’s Call of Duty Elite social service. Battlelog is a very strange animal. It is from this website that you’ll launch the game, whether it be campaign, co-op or multiplayer. I’m still trying to wrap my brain about that one, considering that I’m so used to starting a game session by double clicking the icon on my desktop. From the Battlelog, you can track your game stats and communicate with friends in a matter not unlike Facebook. Battlelog will display friend invites, in-game achievements as well as your own Wall posts. You’ll also manage multiplayer servers from the website, set favorites and even create your own platoon/clans. It’s all so very unique and from a business standpoint, I can’t see a better way to push a platform onto people so EA deserves some credit for that.
Battlefield 3 is a great game. The campaign comes off as dull and repetitive after a few hours, but multiplayer continues to be a thrill a minute. Multiplayer allows for some free thinking, giving you the option to branch away from your team in order to sneak up behind objectives and just generally do whatever you want. You don’t get that level of freedom in the campaign, as it is a strictly linear, by the numbers action game. It is by no means a bad experience, it is certainly fun, but I’m beginning to think that we’re close to seeing the end of singleplayer war campaigns because, frankly, there’s not much you can do differently at this point. I see myself going back often to multiplayer, not just for level progression, but because they are so chaotic, unpredictable and they last a good long while. I also like flying jets!
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.