Review: Battlefield 3
Here we are, folks: after months of waiting and watching trailers, Battlefield 3 has finally dropped, bringing DICE’s no-hold-barred attempt to kick Call of Duty square in its Modern Warnads to a head.
I haven’t really attempted to keep my excitement for the game a secret and I’m sure many of you have read the reviews on other sites and played the game, but now we get to have the official GamerSushi verdict. Having tucked into all three of Battlefield’s modes, I’m going to review them in a similar manner to Eddy’s Modern Warfare 2 review from two years ago, tackling the campaign and co-op first and hitting the multiplayer last. I’ll average the two scores as best I can, and that will be the final grade for Battlefield 3. All clear? Move out, solider!
Single Player and Co-op Campaigns
Single player campaigns are kind of a new feature to Battlefield games, the first one appearing with the original Bad Company back in 2008. Since DICE has only had two real attempts at single player, I’m kind of tempted to cut them some slack on Battlefield 3′s campaign, but it’s going to be hard to do that.
Battlefield 3′s single player mode is a game that tries so hard to be like Call of Duty but makes quite a few mistakes while doing so. The game is akin to a roller coaster in that if you strap yourself in and don’t try to lift the bars, you’ll have an entertaining, if hollow, time. If you try to make the roller coaster do something it’s not supposed to do, however, what you have is a big flaming wreck.
It’s not quite the “disaster” that some have made it out to be, as there are a few reasons to give it a fair shake. The game is visually striking, as you might expect, and without the added stress of managing a multiplayer game behind it, Frostbite 2 can deliver some incredible sights. The game is so detailed that you can see the wear and tear on your gun and each piece of debris actually has stuff you can read on it, like the little scraps of paper that have the box art on them.
The sound design is also mind-blowing, and in my opinion, better than the visual aspect. If you played Bad Company 2, you know how good that game can sound and Battlefield 3 surpasses it in every respect. All the guns and beefy and satisfying as hell to shoot and the sounds of war create a beautiful cacophany in your ears. I’m annoyed by RPGs in every game, but BF3 is the first to make me actually duck when I hear them coming, the slow whoosh building up into a deafening crack as the grenade slams into an obstacle is at once ominous and satisfying. I’m also a big fan of the soundtrack which, in a departure from the orchestral arrangements of games past, is all tense electronic music, more ambient stuff than anything really specific. Still, it helps add to certain moments in the game and it’s a nice soundtrack to listen to outside of the campaign.
The game also controls pretty well, so no real complaints with any UI stuff in the single player. Where I do take issue with it is the confusing story and the tendency the game has to fall apart when you try and get a peek behind a curtain. The game has no problem killing you without warning if you venture beyond whatever invisible boundary has been set by the developers and the friendly AI will leave you wanting. More often than not huge firefights will end with your three squadmates blazing away at an enemy sitting out in the open waiting for you to come up and finish them off. Battlefield 3 really gives the impression that there’s not much going on outside of what you’re supposed to see and the game pulls a lot of really cheap tricks to keep your camera oriented straight ahead. The enemy AI also has a tendency to focus on you, and only you, from miles away, so sometimes you’ll be stuck behind cover shooting at distant heads for a while before you can advance. It discourages exploration and deviancy, and not in clever ways either. It’s a paint by numbers shooter in a lot of ways, which is kind of disappointing.
It’s not totally without value however, mostly because of the A/V treat it represents and its small selection of cool vehicle missions. The tank based “Thunder Run” level is everything you thought it would be from the E3 demo and the jet-centric “Going Hunting” is all kinds of awesome with its liberal use of the classic Battlefield theme every time you do something noteworthy. Even some of the infantry missions have their notable elements, but be aware that you’re playing a movie, albeit a movie that makes very little sense.
Battlefield 3 also has six co-op missions that you can do with a friend and they suffer from a lot of the same problems that the single-player does. They’re a little bland (with the exception of the helicopter level which is fun in addition to being a great training tool for online combat) and if you’re competent with shooters they’ll be over before you know it. You can replay them to grind out points to unlock guns in multiplayer, but after a certain point that just feels like work. The missions also don’t checkpoint, so if you die at the tail end of one, you have to start it all over again, something that caused me more than a few headaches.
It’s kind of surprising that Battlefield 3 falls flat in the single player aspect because Bad Company one and two had such personality to them and were pretty fun to boot. You’re no longer part of a squad of lovable misfits, you’re a stock military guy surrounded by other military guys, waxing poetic about this war, man, in dialogue that obviously sounded good to some writer somewhere. The game does try to pull the wool over your eyes at a few points, but the lack of connection with the characters makes these moments only mildly involving. Battlefield 3′s single player experience and co-op won’t rock you to the core, but it’s a decently amusing way to pass a few hours.
It’s kind of hard to judge this aspect of Battlefield 3 becuase while it is 2/3 of the product you bought, the amount of game you’re going to get out of it is much smaller than that compared to how many hours multiplayer can give you. Because of that, I’m giving this part of BF3 a…
Here’s where Battlefield 3 gets its legs and its praise, and rightly so, because the multiplayer in Battlefield 3 is probably going to be the most fun you’ll have with an online shooter this year. In a world where the average multiplayer game will have tight little infantry-based arenas, Battlefield thrives on large maps with jets and helicopters overhead while troops and armor mix it up on the ground. It has its own unique feel, leading to occasions where something so out of the ordinary and genre-defining happens this event has its own title: “Battlefield Moments”.
You’ll be having plenty of those as you engage in online warfare with BF3 and you’ll probably be doing so for months to come. As I played the PC version of the game, I’ll be focusing on that, so when I say things like “64-player matches” you’ll know I haven’t taken crazy pills.
Battlefield 3′s launch was actually pretty smooth for a DICE game as I haven’t really had trouble getting into matches and the unfortunate tendency for the game to “rubber-band” on certain maps has been fixed, so almost every match has been a pleasant experience in that regard. Before I tuck into the multiplayer totally, this is good point to discuss Battlelog, the web-based interface for the game.
Instead of having everything inside of the game, DICE decided to break out the server browser into something that can be loaded up on a web page and then accessed from there. While there are a lot of glitches with Battlelog right now (joining with friends is a little difficult as the party system is temperamental) it’s actually a quick way of finding games and joining them. My one major complaint with Battlelog, and the UI of the game, is that adjusting things like key bindings, video settings and load-outs still cannot be done from a separate screen inside the game. All of these things need to be done in an active multiplayer match, so you’d better be either super speedy with your settings or join on a fairly empty server to muck around with stuff.
Thankfully, DICE saw the wisdom of adding a squad search function back into the game and joining as a party in the same squad works pretty much as intended. There are a few occasions where I got separated from my friends, but it’s simple to get back in with them. Forming a platoon with buddies is a neat aspect and creating your own logo can be amusing, but there’s not much else there besides having an easy way to compare stats.
The multiplayer in Battlefield 3 comes in five flavors: Rush, Conquest, Team Deathmatch, Team Rush and Squad Deathmatch. Rush is an objective-based game type where the attacking team has to blow up M-COM stations in the defenders bases. If the defenders fail to protect their stations, then the map opens up into a new area, provided the attackers can accomplish this before their re-spawns run out. Conquest is a capture-and-hold type of game where both teams battle over a set of flags and have a certain amount of re-spawn tickets which will drain faster if you don’t hold more territories. The other modes are fairly self-explanatory and most of your time will be spent in Rush or Conquest anyways.
Right now my mode of choice is Conquest because it’s easier to win with a random team as opposed to a Rush map, and a lot of the Conquest versions of the arenas give me the same type of feeling I used to get from Strike at Karkand back in the day. With a few exceptions (mostly Operation Metro which is a bad map no matter how you slice it) all of the maps are really well designed and have their own unique choke-points and hotspots where the action concentrates.
When the lead starts flying in BF3, things can get hairy real quick, especially with the superlative sound design amplifying everything. Firefights are white-knuckle affairs and the way your avatar handles give it a nice, weighty feel while at the same time possessing a grace of movement that Mirror’s Edge had.
Vaulting over cover as enemies fire on you only to fall prone as a tank roars up and blows away your attackers is quite the experience, and this sort of thing is happening in small pockets all over the place. While your squad is taking the gas station, a helicopter is providing supporting fire for another group engaged in a duel with an armored column. There are so many things going on in Battlefield 3 and the game handles it all smoothly and with style. The gorgeous look of the single player has been carried over into the multiplayer and it all looks so good that you won’t even notice the toned down environmental destruction.
I don’t want to overlook the animations either, because the work that DICE did here is fantastic. Every soldier is rendered with pixel-perfect accuracy and the models look great whether they’re standing, shooting or running and jumping. This game doesn’t make you feel like a gun with legs and a camera, you get the impression that you’re actually controlling a person. This coupled with the sound effects makes it incredibly immersive, much more so than the single player because there aren’t constant reminders that you’re playing a series of scripted events. The game is pure chaos here, and it revels in it.
There has been a couple changes to the game-play from Bad Company besides the aforementioned increase in agility and the classes have been restructured again. Engineer and Sniper are mostly the same except for a couple of neat remote-controlled toys, but Assault and Support have had the biggest changes. The Assault class is now responsible for reviving and healing teammates and the Support soldiers handle the big guns and the resupplying of ordnance. Putting medics on the front line makes it easier for your team to keep up a continuous attack as your health will constantly be topped up instead of having to retreat to heal. The problem with Support handling the ammo, though, is that you’ll often find yourself running short of bullets if your teammates aren’t on top of the resupply. Once you get the extra ammo perk this become a less frequent annoyance, but balancing the role of the class between providing heavy fire and topping people up is a tricky one indeed.
Perhaps the biggest alteration to the gameplay in Battlefield 3 is the inclusion of a suppression mechanic where bullets and explosions hitting near your position will cause your vision to blur and your sound to become fuzzier and less distinct. Each gun has a different amount of suppression associated with it as pistols will do very little to your vision while rockets and tank shells will cause you to dive prone and wait for your sight to return. Suppression is really well done and you can get a point bonus if you help your teammates flank a position and kill the enemy by laying down fire on them. It changes up the whole dynamic as you have to move carefully at times and you can’t just charge enemies with your shotgun out.
Unfortunately, Battlefield 3′s multiplayer isn’t perfect because in the transition to the new engine, DICE dropped a few things that were in Bad Company 2 and you’ll sorely miss them when the game gets going. There are a whole host of rookie UI mistakes like the flags not being labeled above your mini-map (even the mini-map itself needs quite a bit of work) and if your teammate dies before you can spawn on him or an area is taken, you’ll auto-spawn back at base. Like previous games, you can choose different weapons, attachments and perks, even different camouflage patterns for your guy, but between rounds the game will forget which skin you chose or it will randomly change pistols meaning you have to take that extra second to make sure everything is set up to your preference. This wouldn’t be as big of a gripe if you could edit it from Battlelog, but since you can’t, this means that every round requires a few moments of prep before you can get to the action.
At other times the interface will just stop responding to mouse commands entirely meaning that you have to use your arrow keys to navigate the options, or you won’t be able to join squads for whatever reason. When the game decides to work, everything’s fine, but sometimes things will just randomly stop functioning. All of this will get ironed out in the patches, but right now a lot of Battlefield 3 feels like its flying on a wing and a prayer.
When you’re in the thick of the action, Battlefield 3 looks great, plays great and feels great, but DICE’s decision to re-do a lot of things that worked before and replace them with systems that barely function is very puzzling. If it weren’t for some questionable design decisions and some dodgy server issues, BF3 would have earned the top grade. Still, it comes very close with a…
Battlefield 3 is very tough to judge because when everything is working together the game just feels so good, but when one thing goes wrong the entire experience shakes itself loose in front of your eyes. While I have no idea how the industry works on the inside, my best guess is that DICE was under a lot of pressure, both internally and from EA, to hit before Modern Warfare 3 and in doing so they had to cut a few things and hope to patch them in later.
This sort of mentality really harms the end user because people can tell when they’re playing an unfinished product and it colors their impressions. With a few more months of polish, BF3 could have really killed, but as it stands now what we’ve got is a very fun, if extremely flawed, game.
So, what do you guys think about Battlefield 3? What are your thoughts on my grades for the individual sections? What score would you give them?
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