Battlefield 3 Review
An enthralling, dynamic multiplayer experience with the visual and audio package to match
Battlefield 3 is a satisfying, brutal multiplayer shooter developed by DICE. It brings back some great features from Battlefield 2 and draws heavy inspiration from Bad Company 2. Rendered on the astounding Frostbite 2 engine, it wages war with 64 players on large maps. Bonus material, like the solid campaign and co-op missions, add some meat for those ticking boxes at home.
Few games genuinely make you feel like you are part of a grand battle and BF3 puts you there every second. You might be storming a beach with your squad, covered in plumes of smoke, to emerge disorientated in the blinding sun. Shadows of jets pass overhead as an enemy tank turns its turret in your direction. Then you realise that you are playing the greatest multiplayer experience of the year.
Now is probably not a good time to mention my fear of flying
Battlefield 3 sticks true to the franchise’s formula we have seen over the years. Large teams made up of smaller squads vie for control of checkpoints or attack m-com stations. Vehicles raise the threat level and bring the flight or fight response into action. Weapon and vehicle unlocks along with medals and ribbons reward committed players. Four character classes promote teamwork by supplying health, ammo, repairing vehicles or providing long range support. In the moments when everything goes to plan, there are few multiplayer games that match the intensity. Maps are important for any multiplayer game and thankfully BF3 has great variety.
The pacing changes when moving from the infantry focused alleyways in Grand Bazaar to the wide open desert of Operation Firestorm. Even each checkpoint will feel different with the dense forest strongly contrasting with the explosive gas station in Caspian Border. There are plenty of opportunities to set up defensive positions in buildings, although the walls can be destroyed by rockets. The largest maps are no match for some of the BF2 monsters but they are bigger than anything you saw in BC2. All the maps support all the modes, so you can pick and choose what mode and map you enjoy the most. Not all the maps make a successful transition to their unintended modes.
Some maps are clearly designed for one mode. Operation Metro and Damavand Peak do not make the transition to Conquest well. The first is a train station underneath Paris and the second is a huge tunnel cut through a mountain. They are too linear and constricted with poor flag placements creating chokepoints where neither side can penetrate. Instead of the entire range of flags being in a state of flux it’s usually just one centre flag with limited opportunity to flank. Once a team sets up a defensive position the attackers might as well give up. On the upside these maps work well in their native modes, creating a steady push toward the objectives.
Grand Bazaar is an enjoyable infantry focused map with plenty of narrow alleys
Some Rush maps are hard to penetrate. Attackers starting from an aircraft carrier are greatly disadvantaged. As they make the journey via boat or helicopter they become easy targets for defenders. It’s a shame that you rarely see some of the excitement in the later M-com stations unless the teams are unbalanced. Other maps fair better in Rush, allowing you to flank across the open desert as you hear bullets fly past your ear. The level choice is good and you can tailor your experience. All the maps feature some destruction even if it is less pronounced than BC2.
Destruction is important even if it has toned back from Bad Company 2. You can destroy walls that infantry hide behind and open shortcuts. Buildings collapse but you won’t see three storey homes crash to the ground. Cars and gas storage containers explode in the streets and trees fall in the woods exposing hidden players. Many lights can be shot out and visual cover protects for a short while. Some walls crumble in alleyways to provide extra cover or camping spots for the shameless. After playing for more than a dozen hours you will realise that there is more than enough destruction throughout the maps.
Changes to gameplay make subtle but vital alterations to how you play. Players can choose to opt out of a medic revive if they would rather spawn somewhere else. Revived players take a long time to get back on their feet and any medic worth his salt must take up a frontal defensive position or clear the area. Prone is back from BF2 and it is well balanced due to the transition speed and movement on the ground. Suppressive fire blurs enemy vision and keeps their health from recharging if they are hiding behind an object. Conquest flags are clustered together on larger maps so infantry can move between capture points quickly without needing a vehicle.
Be vewy vewy quiet, I'm hunting tanks
Vehicles can now be disabled after taking significant damage. When vehicles are disabled they struggle to move and emit flames, a death warrant for those in the air. They will slowly drain health and eventually kill the occupants in a vicious explosion. Drivers can get out and repair, try to do as much damage as the clock ticks down or run away. Vehicles must be repaired by Engineers before they become mobile again. This makes for some interesting encounters around flaming tanks and jeeps.
Jets are back for multiplayer and they aren’t powerful beasts like they were in BF2. They tend to stick to themselves, fighting other jets or helicopters. They are helpful against ground vehicles, being able to make fast passes with machine gun fire or rockets. Jet use against infantry is extremely limited because there is no bomb that kills soldiers trying to capture a flag. It’s disappointing that you actually need to do some damage with a jet before you can unlock the essential flares. In the rare situations when you get to dogfight in the air it can be a heart racing experience.
There are a few gui and network issues that may be ironed out within a few weeks. Some servers and can cause lag known as ‘rubberbanding’, where you move 10 steps forward and the server warps you back 5 steps. Spawns can be atrociously bad, placing you just ahead of a camper or directly behind a savvy attacker. The ineffective commo rose doesn’t send a chat message to your team and the mini map is a confusing mess no matter what zoom level. The chat box is rudimentary and you can no longer click on the map to select a spawn point. These basic problems are almost unforgivable. Thankfully the visual and audio presentation is almost flawless.
They always run
Visuals are one of the areas that Battlefield 3 truly excels. It probably is the best looking game to date. The main improvement is the execution of lighting with radiosity, smoke shadows and natural highlights. Effects are also amazing with fire and explosions filling the world with even more destruction. Vehicle carcasses remain on the battlefield as the graveyard builds. Player animations have been greatly improved and it’s amazing how much authenticity this adds. If you knife somebody from behind your character will physically turn them over, stab them in the throat and rip off their dog tags. Extremely satisfying when you are the attacker and humiliating when you are the victim.
The audio engine also plays a big part in the feel of battle. Hearing bullets crack in your ear is enough warning to get down behind cover. Being momentarily deafened by a tank shell as it booms on the wall behind you will leave you at a disadvantage. It’s electrifying to hear a rocket descend down an alley as it barely misses your shoulder and smashes into the neon sign behind you. Even players emit offensive calls for help or screams of exasperation as they are suppressed by enemy fire. It’s hard to forget the audio and visual impact of a Jet crashing a few steps in front of you.
Multiplayer is a truly dynamic, engrossing experience that may have you screaming in pain or laughing in astonishment. Each match plays out differently and every squad requires different tactics. You might be using a tank to cover a highway checkpoint while an engineer repairs you. You could place a spawn beacon at the top of a crane and snipe the enemies hiding in the rocky outcrops below. A shotgun, with a blinding tactical light, is a fine choice through the streets of France in Team Deathmatch. There is great sense of being a part of a conflict much bigger than just the next encounter and each weapon feels comfortable. You may want to try the single player first as it introduces some aspects you will see online.
Not sure why we can't take the stairs
The single player campaign could be best described as an emulation of the pacing and style that has been a hallmark of the Call of Duty franchise. Even some of the smaller situations play out just like you’ve seen before. The campaign is also akin to the new Medal of Honor, decent but with presentation issues. It doesn’t matter though, the slick weapon handling and the decent pacing means it is better than the one seen in BC2. It doesn’t fall back on destruction as a crutch either. Apart from some set sequences the campaign has no more destruction than that other series.
During the campaign you step in the shoes of US Marine Staff Sergeant Henry Blackburn and Dimitri Mayakovskya from Russian Intelligence. You’ll be involved in a sniper mission at night, become a jet gunner, drive a tank, hide from a jet and have a fire fight in offices. The characters aren’t iconic so the story remains grounded and forgettable. All the action is over in less than five hours and due to the linear nature there isn’t much reason to revisit it. On normal difficulty it can be rather tough if you aren’t the type of player who likes to stay behind cover. Even the musical execution relies on the replaying the BF3 theme when the action concludes. The campaign falters mostly because of the problems that don’t fit with the script.
Numerous AI glitches, invisible walls and even some inconsistencies ruin the otherwise enjoyable campaign. Squad members will ignore enemies standing within an arm’s reach. Dead bodies sometimes disappear after only a few seconds. If you drive over enemies in a tank they will move through it like it wasn’t even there. An evacuation helicopter is blocked by an invisible wall if you try to board ahead of your buddy. The screen is also frequently occupied by a ridiculous ‘dirty lens’ effect as though somebody has sneezed over goggles you don’t even wear. The single player and co-op sections are subtle tutorials for the action you will see in multiplayer.
I didn't sneeze over the interrogation camera
The co-op is a collection of six unique two player missions. Three missions are set during the poorly light night time, often making good use of the infrared scope. They last around 10-15 minutes and play out with enemies spawning in designated spots at specific times. You will cover a squad rescuing hostages, fly a helicopter and clear an underground metro. There is limited replay value because the structure is fairly predictable. More enemies spawn when you are detected during stealth sections and there are slight changes to enemy placement. Failure to complete the Quick Time Events in the last mission forces a restart. Still it can be fun to synchronize the perfect sniper shots across a canal in France. Unlocking weapons for multiplayer is the incentive, but you’ll need to complete over 30 missions to unlock everything.
In comparison to the Bot matches in BF2 or the campaign in BC2 the single player and co-op in BF3 is a huge improvement. These two sections are easy to criticize and therefore the entire game can be discredited rather unjustly. These elements are more like the extras for a movie. They become relevant only if you plan on avoiding the multiplayer, otherwise they are merely pretty distractions or subtle tutorials. Multiplayer is the core experience and it dominates everything else like a knife to the throat.
Origin, required for the PC version, is EA’s version of Steam with a storefront and in-game chat overlay. Origin’s minor issues are no worse than Steam had during its infancy. The biggest change gamers will actually experience is with Battlelog. It moves the menus and server lists to a web browser and integrates stats, friends, platoons and a feed. Battlelog is slick and functional with fast server browsing and up to the minute stat tracking. It displays a match summary with scores, squads and best players. You can comment on matches or friends stats and participate in the integrated forums. Rapid updates can be made to Battlelog without touching the core game.
Co-op sniping was a highlight of the two player missions
Battlefield 3 is probably a couple of patches away from gameplay perfection. In a few months it might be the experience it should have been at launch. Right now it’s hard to get the ultimate experience every match. The rush to beat out the third modern warfare game is ultimately the reason why it stumbles when it should be soaring. Those that have preordered will be getting BF2 maps later in the year which should improve overall map quality. If the game is more stable, balanced and feature rich by then it’s unlikely that anything will best its multiplayer this year. You don’t have to decide whether to buy BF3 or not, just choose how you want to play it.