Battlefield 3 Review
Battlefield 3 had a lot a live up to. Not only was it following the footsteps of the wildly successful Battlefield 2, the game that showed us that modern warfare could work, but the constant slew of marketing campaigns; along with the never ending battle between that OTHER franchise has built a hype that is beyond belief. Is Battlefield 3 the messiah that so many people, EA included, prophesied it to be? Far from it. What it does offer though is a riveting multiplayer aspect, one that has something for everyone and will keep people glued to their consoles or PC's for months to come.
Considering such a huge difference between the console and PC versions we'll be blunt - this review is based purely on the PC version. While the player count and graphical fidelity may differ on the console versions of the game, the gameplay and elements of the game are largely the same.
What Battlefield 3 Got Right
Engrossing multiplayer suite - The Battlefield series has always been about multiplayer at its core, and Battlefield 3 only continues that tradition, providing the deepest online experience yet. Six game modes are present including all your favourites such as Conquest and Rush, but featuring a nice addition with Team Deathmatch. Battlefield loyalists may feel that DICE are trying to dumb down the game, but the new mode definitely offers a new way to play, particularly in the close-quarters maps such as Operation Metro` and Grand Bazaar. On the other side of the scope you have humongous battlefields that truly push the limits of the Conquest and Rush game modes such as Caspian Border and Kharg Island. This provides a nice middle-ground, maps that are large and expansive and feel like all out warfare, while others offer a great approach to open areas and choke points that can almost feel claustrophobic. There is something for everyone on offer, and most gamers will find deep satisfaction in the maps alone.
The great gameplay and map design is only part of the reason why Battlefield 3's multiplayer suite is so engrossing. It's the deep sense of accomplishment gained when unlocking that new item. The weapons and unlock system implemented in Battlefield 3 is deep, engaging and ultimately a driving force to continue playing online. It seems almost every action you perform in the game will have some kind of effect to your score, and the constant barrage of "+50" points that come with healing a team mate or providing suppressive fire help to define a culture of teamwork. Teamwork is the best way to win at Battlefield 3, and when a multiplayer suite as engrossing as this one is on offer, you'll want to be part of that team.
Constant rewards - Battlefield 3 wants you to be proud of your achievements, and it does a great job of constantly rewarding the player. Every kill feels like a little victory as you see that +100 come onto the screen, and you know that you are just that little bit closer to unlocking that red dot sight for your rifle. There is always something else to strive for, and with a number of weapons available, and two factions to unlock items for, that is a lot of satisfaction to be had.
Graphical prowess - Right now you would be hard pressed to find another game that looks as good as Battlefield 3 does. Running on the brand new Frostbite 2 engine, everything from character models to vehicles move with graceful fluidity. The lighting effects are simply outstanding, pushing the boundaries of what out graphical outputs can handle. The level of destruction, while not as severe as the over-the-top Bad Company series, also creates a sense of wonder. Traversing these large and expansive environments with 63 other players going hard at it, firefights in the distance, billowing smoke and dust blowing in the wind is simply sublime. Battlefield 3 looks great, and is surprisingly well optimised; I've tested the game on three systems and all have handled it rather well at High or Medium settings. The console versions look great too, especially with the HD textures installed on the Xbox 360 version.
Amazing audio - While the graphical prowess of Battlefield 3 may become an industry leader, there is no doubt about it that the audio is the best in gaming. Playing this through a beefy sound system will make your living room sound like a warzone, and when wearing a good set of headphones you will hear every detail. The commanding boom of a tank shell in the distance is frighteningly realistic, and the nuance of rain falling on a tin roof is equally as captivating. Each weapon, vehicle, environment and weather effect sounds as real as a Hollywood movie, and definitely drags you into the experience. If there was one game worth upgrading your sound system for, Battlefield 3 would be it.
Slick interfaces - It may not sound like much, but the simplicity of the menu system, whether it be for game options of customising your kit, provides a very slick experience. The HUD is minimalistic and adds an almost futuristic aspect to the game. The sparse use of a light blue hue instantly makes it recognisable and stand out from the crowd of other first-person shooters. It may not sound like much, but a slick presentation goes a long way to making a game playable, and memorable.
Stat tracking - Battlelog adds to that feeling of being constantly rewarded, allowing you to track your stats online through an intuitive interface. The free service allows you to track all your stats, unlocks and compare them with your friends. In addition to the awesome ability to see what classes you are most effective with, you can also create Platoons - clans for your friends to join and go into battle. It makes the Battlefield 3 experience a social one, where you can meet, compete and share your experiences. Time will tell if it prolongs the life of Battlefield 3, but it certainly looks to be a solid experience thus far.
What Battlefield 3 Got Wrong
Boring single-player - The prospect of having a serious Battlefield single-player component was an exciting one, unfortunately in reality it is anything but. The short attempt at an action packed campaign contains a boring and contrived experience, one that has a few moments of brilliance surrounded by a series of forgettable moments. Enemies rush in droves as you simply find cover, fend them off and wait for the next scripted sequence of action packed hoohah. The story lacks substance, urgency and feels like a weak conduit in which DICE can justify all the blood shed. There are moments that are decent, but none that are truly great nor a reason to buy the game.
Co-Op is lacking - Battlefield 3 contains six missions that can be played by you and a friend, which should have been an interesting adventure. Instead we are treated with the same gameplay patterns found in the single-player campaign, only this time you have a friend to listen to you groan about them. The missions all surround events that take place during the single-player campaign, and while they seem a little more tolerable in single instalments, ultimately they provide the same, boring experience that the single-player offering serves up.
Lack of identity - Why does the single-player and co-op campaigns feel so boring and bare? Battlefield 3 lacks an identity; action packed gameplay with no real purpose or outcome. There is no drive, no passion and no excitement to be found, unlike the multiplayer component that offers both those qualities in spades. Battlefield 3 is a great looking game on the outside, but as a single-player experience it is lacking a soul on the inside, a purpose, a mission.
The Final Verdict
It's hard to review a game like Battlefield 3; if it had been offered with the multiplayer only component I would have easily given it a 10 out of 10. It provides a deep and engrossing experience that is addictive, fun and ahead of the pack in every way possible. However we didn't just get the multiplayer, we got served up a single-player campaign that is boring and contrived, and a co-op campaign that offers a similar experience. It lacks purpose and identity, and offers nothing more than a great looking, scripted experience. If you're looking for a multiplayer game that provides online warfare with unparalleled depth and scope, Battlefield 3 will meet all of your expectations, and then some. However if you want an engaging single-player experience, this is simply not your game of the year.
By Stephen Heller
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Battlefield 3 excels as a multiplayer shooter, but doesn't offer much in the realm of single-player gaming.