October 26, 2011
If there’s one thing that DICE and EA have achieved in the build up to the release of their latest iteration in the Battlefield franchise, it’s that they’ve permanently ingrained that damn static noise firmly in my brain. You know, that constipated Transformer sound that they’ve used on all their trailers, TV ads and probably many a ringtone in Sweden. What it’s meant to be, I’ll never know, but the one thing I do know is that it’s a sound that will be with me forever. But is Battlefield 3 a game that will have the same effect, you ask? Fortunately, yes, and for all the reasons you’d expect.
For the first time in a proper Battlefield game (ie: not Bad Company), Battlefield 3 actually has a fully-fledged single-player campaign. And by fully-fledged, I mean about six hours of rather predictable but intense mid-to-long distance combat set-pieces. Taking the perspective of Sgt Blackburn and various other bit-part characters – including the Russian GRU agent, Dima – Battlefield 3’s story takes you all over Iran – and even to Paris and New York for a brief mission or two – as the Misfit squad look to foil a terrorist plot to destroy key locations around the world. Told via a series of flashback sequences that set the game’s finale up, you’ll take Blackburn and co. deep into the heart of Iran at various times of day to stop Solomon and the PLR from causing mass destruction on a global scale.
Unfortunately DICE’s lack of experience with single-player games really starts to show after a while with the over-reliance on Quick Time Events and over-usage of the on-rail sequences slipping through the cracks. Quite why DICE would have you as a gunner in a jet and not fly it when you can fly it in multiplayer, why they wouldn’t let you take the reins when you perform the HALO jump and why they don't allow you take control of half the vehicles you find lying around throughout the campaign is beyond comprehension. With the franchise’s multiplayer built on the foundations of sandbox combat, choice and freedom, it’s a bizarre move from the Swedish developer to not instil that magic into the game’s single-player campaign and one that rather detracts from the overall experience.
It must be said however that despite those few rather puzzling design choices, the single-player campaign is an enjoyable romp while it lasts. The campaign throws you into some diverse locations under vastly different conditions, and even has some fine acting from 24’s Glenn Grove Morshower and the rest of the cast to knit it all together.
An enjoyable romp, yes, but it’s not without its bugs and glitches, whether you’re talking the odd frame-rate issues here and there or that your squad mates might decide to walk through a wall, or the insane death physics that can occasionally crop up, or the incredibly awkward difficulty spikes… I swear at times they use never-ending respawn closets to throw enemies at you too, which is a move that was acceptable in the early noughties but not so much now. Luckily these are rare occurrences, but when you put it all together it does ruin the immersion a little.
DICE’s true shining light in terms of the single-player comes with the mood that they’ve captured along the way, absolutely nailing the vibe and atmosphere of a realistic military shooter. The sheer authenticity across the board is nothing short of impressive and DICE should be commended for making you feel like a cog in a much bigger machine and for their keen attention to detail. The fact that DICE places so much emphasis on cinematic moments rather than Hollywood-style set-pieces make the whole thing seem much more plausible as well. One thing is for certain, the Swedish developer is certainly growing stronger in this field as it gets more single-player experiences under its belt.
In terms of presentation, DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine is a bit of a mixed bag, and that’s without taking into account those aforementioned glitches. The fact I say this is because if you can actually install the 1.5 GB HD texture pack install, the game can look as good as any game out there, but without it, it looks like Battlefield 2 with a lick of paint… brown, sticky paint. When it shines though, it shines and it definitely demonstrates some of the best lighting and particle effects that console players will have laid their eyes upon. When you combine that with the stunning sound design that ranges from the typically meaty gun sounds and reverb that you get in enclosed environments to the sound distortion when players put on masks and what not, and the superbly written score, you almost become inclined to forgive what grievances you’ve come across along the way.
Once you’ve finished with the single-player campaign, players can opt to play through the two-player online co-op campaign – set in new environments and offering a paper thin story – whose six scenarios should keep you and a mate busy for a while – especially as you can unlock multiplayer weapons here and there are no checkpoints along the way, raising the stakes and making things trickier.
The truth is though - and we suspected as much - Battlefield 3’s strengths lie, as ever, in its multiplayer; specifically its Rush and Conquest modes. In a bid to tempt over the Call of Duty crowd, players can now get their hands dirty in a large scale Team Deathmatch mode, but truth be told, it only serves to take away what makes Battlefield 3’s online so addictive: freedom, vehicles, tactics and all-out warfare. Admittedly, I was sceptical about Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch (4 on 4 on 4 on 4) and Squad Rush (4 on 4 Rush) even being remotely fun and working at all, but they do serve a purpose for those looking for something a little less taxing and for some quick-instant action. Still, it’s all about Rush and Conquest.
DICE has always pushed that whole “Battlefield moments” notion with its multiplayer and Battlefield 3 is no different. In fact, it creates even more of them. Whether you’re launching an amphibious attack on the defenders in Rush on Kharg Island; locking horns in the middle of Caspian Border or Operation Firestorm in all-out vehicular war; or BASE jumping down onto the objectives in Damavand Peak, everyone of the nine maps is built with creating these epic moments in mind and DICE has truly outdone themselves in this respect. There does seem to be more micro-destruction throughout all the modes – especially online – but as a result, it seems like there is less macro-destruction, which is rather disappointing. The fact that all nine maps work across all five game modes though is just another big fat plus on BF 3's multiplayer checklist. That, and the fact DICE has included a server browser as well is a huge bonus, allowing you to filter out pretty much anything you want in a match.
In terms of upgrades over Bad Company 2 from a structural standpoint, Battlefield 3 features some adjusted classes in a bid to streamline things a bit. So, gone is the Medic class with the Assault class now kitted out with med kits and defibrillators – well, after you unlock them – and there’s all manner of new gadgets too, including flashlights for guns, mortar emplacements to unlock, a Micro Air Vehicle and an EOD repair bot – you’ll have to unlock most, if not all of those though. That again means that the levelling up system tends to favour veterans of the game over newbies, which is great if you’re a vet, but sucks if you’re not. I mean you even have to unlock the holograph sights and what not, so if you hate the old-skool iron-sights you’re going to have to suck it up until you get the ACOG sight and more. In a bid to promote better and more coherent team play, DICE has taken it upon itself to reward players with points for successful suppressive fire and for assists as well, something that has done the game the world of good. Levelling up is much slower than ever before too, but rewards are constantly throw your way via class upgrades, which are earned by scoring points in one of the game’s four classes.
It’s the combination of superb map design, the destruction engine, sheer chaos, vehicular combat, those epic “Battlefield moments,” customisability and more, that combine to make Battlefield 3’s multiplayer more intuitive and in-depth than ever before and one of the best online arenas in many a year. Throw in the online stat tracking Battlelog service and you can gush about your “score per minute” to all your friends for months to come. It’s just a shame that EA and DICE’s launch server issues seem to be yet another problem for another Battlefield game; a problem that is constantly plaguing the launch of their Battlefield games – in fact, consider this one the fifth in a row. Learn from your mistakes much? Obviously not.
The achievements even show a new level of creativity and understanding from DICE, demonstrating its constant improvement with those in-game rewards from one game to the next. Including a bunch of mission specific objectives for all the single-player and co-op missions is a clever move that can keep both aspects that tad more interesting, and even though there are a bunch of online achievements, they’ll come through natural progression and shouldn’t change the state of gameplay too much – unlike that Demolition Man achievement in Bad Company 2. That said, with the level 45 achievement, getting the full 1,000Gs is going to take you a hell of a long time, especially considering it’s considerably slower to level up this time around!
With Battlefield 3, DICE has not only taken its already impressive online multiplayer formula and made it even better, but with a solid single-player and co-op component too, the developer has built a far more robust package. You won’t be playing Battlefield 3 for anything but the multiplayer though, which - no word of a lie - is one of the best multiplayer arenas ever crafted. I mean, where else can you BASE jump off a cliff to blow up an objective, load up a squad of soldiers in an Amphibious Assault Vehicle and prepare an assault or perform bombing runs with a friend in an F/A 18E Super Hornet, all against hordes of like-minded people? The answer is 'nowhere'. In short: buy Battlefield 3 now and lose yourself in one of the most wonderful multiplayer arenas ever created. You won’t regret it, soldier.
The sound design is nothing short of stellar, with everything from the sound effects and the score being right on the money. The attention to detail here is truly impressive.
Without the HD texture pack installed you may as well stick forks in your eyes as the effect will be very similar. With it installed though it’s up there with the best of them. A tad glitchy in places though, which hold it back somewhat.
One of the best shooters to control on the market, it’s as simple as that.
Despite the single-player being rather short and the co-op being more of a fleeting distraction, Battlefield 3 does boast one of, if not the, best online multiplayer arena we’ve seen in recent years. A true classic online experience. Still, it’s not without its glitches and bugs, despite the 167 MB day one patch.
Diversity, balance and creativity, what more can you ask for? How about not having to stick a ridiculous amount of time online to get all 1,000 points!
To put it bluntly, Battlefield 3 has one of the best online multiplayer components out there, blending some of the most interesting maps and intense combat moments with one another to create the best full-scale war simulator out there, and it's one that promotes tactical gameplay. Stunning stuff… And the campaign and co-op ain’t bad either.