Battlefield 3 Review
This isn't going to be a Battlefield 3 versus Modern Warfare 3 comparison kind of review. Everything from game's marketing blitz to the addition of new modes and features not present in prior games in the series shows that EA is heavily focused on positioning Battlefield 3 as a head-to-head competitor with the Call of Duty franchise's latest game, but I'm not as concerned with whether or not they succeeded in making a Call of Duty killer as I am about whether they made a good game.
Before I get into the review I need to point out a couple of things about the game that will be of concern to those of you without a hard drive on your Xbox 360 (or those who are getting tight on space). The game comes on two discs, one for single player and one for multiplayer, and you'll need to swap them around as you move from one mode to the other if you don't install the game. Even if that's not an issue you will still need to install the hi-def textures to the hard drive to enjoy the game in HD. The game boasts some pretty nice graphics, but to enjoy them you're going to have to sacrifice some hard drive space. This isn't a knock against the game as far as I'm concerned as a reviewer, but it's something that you should be aware of if you're faced with hard drive concerns.
Finally with that all out of the way I can get into the game itself. Like most modern shooters of this ilk, the single player and multiplayer game in Battlefield 3 are two different animals and need to be looked at separately. Let's start with the single player game because I have to tell you that if all you're looking for in Battlefield 3 is to play the single player campaign you should cut your losses now and move on. The single player game is a mess in more ways than one, and quite frankly not worth your time. It's not simply a matter of a goofy, overly-dramatic, and wholly unbelievable plot - such plots come with the territory these days to a public long since jaded towards routine patrols through hostile neighborhoods in Middle Eastern towns - it's that it doesn't present you with any memorable or exciting moments to distract you from the plot. It does try on occasion, but it doesn't ever quite succeed. I could easily put that all aside if the action was challenging and exciting, but it's not even close. The enemy AI is horrendous - I had enemies literally run right over my prone body, spawn and run straight into the pile of corpses I built with their earlier spawning comrades, and even stood next to enemies completely oblivious to my presence. I was even trapped in one area for a while until I realized that the game was waiting for me to kill one last enemy who I eventually found standing catatonic behind an obstacle before triggering the next event. I haven't seen something like that happen in a game in years and there's no excuse for it happening in a modern marquee shooter. And then there's the baffling decision to put dirt spots on the game camera. Seriously. They're even there in the cutscenes in which you're an outside observer. Combined with the overly bright light sources in the game they make you spend a lot of time wishing you could actually see what was going on in the game. No one in testing complained that it's annoying, distracting, and just plain looks stupid? Baffling. In short, the only real thing that I can say about the campaign that's positive is that it's mercifully short.
Before we move into multiplayer let's briefly look at the game's co-op mode since if you buy the game it will probably only briefly occupy your time. Six missions are available for co-op play (unlocked in pairs), all of which can only be played online. The missions are extensions to the single player campaign, and like campaign missions are heavily scripted. The difficulty is higher than what you'll find in the campaign, probably overcompensating for your increased firepower with two players and for the fact that the missions are scored for leaderboard rankings. Frustrating levels that play out the same each time through don't really make for a mode that you'll want to come back to time and again, especially since you can spend your time in the multiplayer mode instead.
Thankfully the multiplayer gameplay is superior to the other modes, but there are some design issues in Battlefield 3's multiplayer mode that manage to make this entry in the Battlefield canon a bit of a step backwards from Bad Company 2. But let's start at the beginning - Battlefield 3 has four classes to choose from: Assault, Engineer, Recon, and Support. You may note the lack of any kind of medic class, but Battlefield 3 assigns the typical medic duties to the Assault class. It's a great idea, because, well, let's face it; playing a healing class in a shooter isn't much fun.
The Engineer's prime specialization is vehicles - keeping their side's running and taking out the enemies'. This role has increased importance in Battlefield 3 due to the new way in which the game handles vehicle damage. Vehicles first become immobilized before they are destroyed, giving the crew a chance to fend off attackers before losing the vehicle completely. Engineers can get a disabled vehicle moving again, keeping it at the frontlines of the fight. This change is not a bad idea, but it has some consequences that come along with it. First of all, vehicles are not as plentiful in Battlefield 3 as they have been in prior games in the series. Perhaps the lower turnover rate on vehicles made the developers feel that they needed to scale back on the number available to keep things balanced. The turnover is further slowed by the fact that low levels of vehicle damage heal automatically if the vehicle stops receiving fire. This lower turnover rate also means that you generally have to wait a lot longer to grab your turn as a tank jockey. In previous Battlefield games if you hung back at the rear spawn area you could pretty much count on a vehicle spawning without much of a wait, but now that wait can be long enough that you won't want to sit on your hands waiting for a vehicle while you're missing a good chunk of the action. Of course your mileage could vary on a game by game basis - join a server full of lone wolf players racing armor to the frontline and your next tank will come up before too long.
I should also mention at this point that the aircraft, particularly the helicopters, are pretty difficult to fly. There's nothing intuitive or easy about keeping a helicopter in the air, let alone using it properly and effectively, and there's no way to learn accept by snagging one of your team's choppers when it spawns and then promptly crashing it. A few dozen times. And then just as you're getting the hang of controlled, level flight some idiot with an RPG ruins your triumph. Why there isn't an offline flight trainer is beyond me. In fact, I'd rather that they have included a series of flight training missions in the game rather than wasting time and energy on the single player campaign.
Support is the heavy weapons class and players who choose this class will find that they have a new role in Battlefield 3. Battlefield 3 implements suppression, which manifests itself in the game as a blurring of the screen for players coming under fire, and also means that players can coordinate to try and flank enemy players. And when it comes to laying down suppressing fire, the Support class does it best. The bad that comes with the good is that weapon spread and kick seem larger in Battlefield 3, I suppose because no one can enjoy a new suppression system if the players are shooting each with a high degree of accuracy.
Recon is the sniper class, and in Battlefield 3 snipers have an added edge in that they can lie prone. The counter-balance to this seems to be scope drift, which is more pronounced in Battlefield 3 than in most games. Still, snipers have an advantage in the game due to the large maps and long sight lines and a competent sniper player has a distinct advantage.
You should probably pick a class that you want to stick with pretty early in your multiplayer career because it will take you a while to build up the experience you'll need to unlock the extra equipment and weapons attachments that you'll need to be competitive. Luckily you can earn some experience through capturing control points or providing assistance to teammates because as a new player you'll be at a decided disadvantage to players who've leveled up and both customized and tricked out their weapons and kits. It would be nice if there were noob servers to help new players get into the game without going through the grind of being killed in 90% of their encounters with higher level players. As it stands, you'll need to put in a couple of hours before you start unlocking some of the lower tier attachments and significantly more than that to get the higher end gear.
While touching on attachments I have to mention that Battlefield 3 introduces one of the most poorly thought out attachments I've seen in a multiplayer game. There's now a flashlight that can be attached to your gun that blinds anyone that looks right at it. It's like a continuous flashbang beamed forth from the muzzle of your weapon, is ridiculously overpowered, and you'll quickly wish it wasn't part of the game.
Anyway, once you do put your time into the game you'll be pleased with the eventual proliferation of options at your disposal. The integration with the Battlelog site is also pretty impressive and allows you to peruse a pretty exhaustive list of statistics that break down your gameplay performance. Even a history of the games that you've played is maintained, so you can see who your enemies and allies were and how well you ranked in the match. You can also use Battlelog to analyze which weapons you've been most accurate with, which vehicles you've scored the most kills using, and which upgrades you're within striking distance of obtaining. There's also a Battlefeed that basically works like Facebook status updates of your accomplishments, and like Facebook your friends can comment on your feed. It's a little surprising that the game did a pretty good job with the whole Battlelog interface and integration, but neglected to add an option to leave a server and return to the server browser between matches. Your only options are to quit the game completely and return to the guide or wait for the next match to start and quit at that point, the latter of which is rather unfair to the other players in the match.
Battlefield 3 on the Xbox 360 supports twelve players per side, but it feels like a number of the maps were designed with the PC version's larger battles in mind. The game's deathmatch modes aren't much fun because of this - you spend too much time just trying to find the other players. Battlefield 3 shines brightest in the conquest and rush modes because these modes pull the players to the contested areas on the map. Conquest mode has the two teams competing for control of three strategic points on the map. The more points your team controls, the faster the other team's respawn tickets drain, and the match ends when one team no longer has any tickets remaining. The rush mode has one team on defense and one on offense. The offensive team must plant explosives to take out the defenders' M-COM station. If they succeed, the defenders fall back to their next station. The game continues until either the defenders' last station is destroyed or the attacking team runs out of respawn tickets.
Battlefield 3 is best when it sticks to what has always worked for the series. Playing conquest mode as vehicles battle it out on the ground while aircraft fly overhead and buildings come crashing down around you can make for some intense and thoroughly enjoyable gaming moments. Too bad so much of the rest of the game is subpar.
Final Rating: 77%. Battlefield 3 is still good at what Battlefield has always done best, but the rest of the package is more disappointing than anything else.