Since the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the video game market has been flooded by droves of me-too copycats looking to topple Activision’s baby, and EA has played a significant part in doing so. Two Battlefield: Bad Company games and a Medal of Honor reboot threw their hats in the ring, but didn’t quite resonate with the mainstream the way CoD did (and still does).
This year, EA are putting all of their eggs in the Battlefield basket, releasing the first “true” sequel in the franchise in over six years. With a bleeding-edge graphics engine, aggressive marketing campaign, and a sizable chunk of the gaming population bored to tears by the prospect of another annual Call of Duty release, DICE and EA are sitting pretty.
But now that the game is out, can it usurp the current king of console shooters of its crown? There’s only one way to find out.
You might have read a few other reviews on Battlefield 3 by now, and most of them are quick to point out how terrible they think the campaign is … and they’re mostly right. The single-player is a shallow 4-5 hours, with a paper-thin terrorism plot that tries so hard to out-Call of Duty Call of Duty that it all rings hollow. There are multiple playable characters, but I couldn’t give less of a damn about any of them — the game’s emotional moments fall flat, and all I could do was roll my eyes. There are quick-time events, but there are far too many and they all manage to overstay their welcome. Shit is blowing up all around you, but, well, that was actually pretty cool for the most part. Still, I never cared about why anything was happening. If you’re looking to buy Battlefield 3 for the single-player, don’t. Please. I’m begging you.
There’s also a co-op mode, with missions based on the campaign for you and a buddy to run through. There are six of them in all, and none of them bring anything particularly exciting or special. Gears of War this is not.
Oh, but none of that is the game’s real draw, is it? No, it’s Battlefield 3’s multiplayer that’s the real attraction, and for good reason: It’s one of the finest console multiplayer experiences out there.
Multiplayer is broken down into three modes. You have your standard Team Deathmatch, where the two teams try to reach a kill limit before the other; Conquest, where there are several capture points on the map that are used to reduce the other team’s respawn tickets; and Rush, where one team defends a pair of M-COM stations while the other pushes forward. The attacking team hopes to destroy three pairs of stations, while the defending team hopes to reduce their tickets to zero before they can succeed. Team Deathmatch and Rush also have smaller squad-based versions if you prefer to play with less than the maximum 24 people.
TDM is nothing special, and I had the least fun with this mode by far. It doesn’t encourage team play nearly as much as the other two modes, and doesn’t distinguish itself much from TDM modes in other shooters. Both Rush and Conquest are a hell of a lot of fun, though. Since the attacking team has a limited amount of respawns to destroy the two M-COM stations, you can’t just charge into the objective all willy-nilly. Conquest ended up being my favorite mode, as just about everyone on the map can play a positive role on their team, no matter their skill level. I spent much of my time capturing and defending flags, and there’s a certain smug satisfaction that I got from outscoring someone with a 17/5 kill/death count with my humble 7/6.
There are four classes of infantry for you to choose from — Assault, Engineer, Support, and Recon. The Assault class has the ability to heal and revive teammates, the Engineer can repair vehicles and has access to RPGs and SAMs, Support can resupply ammo, and Recon has access to sniper rifles. They’re nothing you haven’t seen in any other shooter, but they work quite well here. They’re all very well balanced since they all get similar (yet distinct) weaponry, so no one ever has a reason to feel overmatched. Finding the class you’re most comfortable with takes no more than a couple of matches, and fulfilling your role is gratifying.
The game also makes a point of sprinkling its maps with vehicles, and the result is hit or miss. Jeeps and tanks are tremendously useful for getting around the map, while also boasting an obvious kick in firepower. The controls aren’t great, though, and can sometimes feel clunky. Jets and helicopters are where it really starts to fall apart, because the controls are so ridiculously bad and terribly explained. It was a fairly common sight to see these vehicles crash into the distance simply because the person piloting it couldn’t turn it around competently. In time people will learn, but the fact that you have to do it on the fly in the middle of battle leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
The inclusion of vehicles also makes it quite apparent that Battlefield 3 was designed with PCs in mind, with console gamers left to make due. The game is pared down from a maximum of 64 players to 24, and the game’s maps clearly reflect the larger number. Some of them are massive, even if they’re scaled down from the PC version. If there’s no vehicle around, your team has no control points and you’re not part of a squad, it’s going to take you an awful long time to get back into the action.
The console downgrade doesn’t end there, however. Battlefield 3’s Frostbite 2 engine is extremely impressive on a PC, but the transition to consoles is less than great. There are instances in the campaign where the game looks fantastic, and the destructible environments are a ton of fun. However, there’s still some considerable pop-in when you’re flying around in a jet and the game doesn’t quite reach the levels of graphical fidelity that we’ve seen in the best console games, which is a bit disappointing considering how good we’ve seen some shooters look on the PS3. Thankfully, the sound in the game is incredible, and makes up for the graphics just a little bit. If you’ve got a good pair of headphones or a home theater system, you’re in for a treat.
So where does that all leave us? We have a game that has to make some fairly significant compromises in order to make its way over to consoles, and with a seriously lackluster campaign and co-op element to boot. In all honesty, it would have been better if DICE had cut the single-player and charged $50 for a multiplayer-only experience, because that part of the game is so strong. With its fast-paced, over-the-top, yet strategic brand of warfare, it’s something that people would have been able to cope with.
Battlefield 3 certainly has its issues, and any mode that isn’t the multiplayer is a superfluous waste of time. Once you get around those things, it’s easy to fall in love with what is ultimately one of the premier multiplayer experiences of this generation.
FINAL GRADE: B+