Before I get to the main portion of this post, how about some back story?
Last friday I got back from a trip to St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. A fantastic holiday with my wife to visit her brother.He lives on the beach on the ocean. Man, is that glorious!
While I was there, his roommate introduced me to Battlefield 3 on 360. I only played it a couple times but it was quite a bit of fun. This is a pretty big contrast to my experience with BFBC2 on PC when that first came out.By the time I had got into that game's multiplayer portion I was way behind the level curve and felt it immediately and profusely.The odds may have been stacked against my enjoying multiplayer.
I took my sweet time with BFBC2 singleplayer and vowed to complete that before getting into the multiplayer portion.By the time I did the PC community was full of players who had dedicated numerous weeks if not months to playing the game.A complete noob dropped into servers full of these players is destined to die and die often.I deleted the game after a few days of multiplayer sessions.
I have a couple places marked with spoiler tags.These areas discuss a particular narrative mechanism that some people may wish to learn of naturally.No part of this post reveals plot points.
Back to Battlefield 3.I had a lot of fun playing while in St Croix and decided to buy the game on 360.I haven't really done much multiplayer on 360 since Mass Effect 3 and felt like BF3 was a good place to satiate that appetite.So while I was still on holiday I had amazon ship me a copy of BF3 for 360. It arrived the day I returned home.
I've played multiplayer for about 10 hours since. I am rank 11 and a corporal 2 star at this point. Mostly in assault with a bit of engineer thrown in on maps where assault makes less sense. I've had a lot of fun.Tons.Being a noob was not nearly as painful on Xbox Live as it was on PC but it certainly was a challenge starting out. Currently I'm at a typical point in my multiplayer experience where I understand the game well enough to care how I perform.I t is at this phase where I can lose focus on having fun and focus too heavily on not dying. This causes frustration and starts to impede on my enjoyment.
To clear my mind I usually try to play singleplayer. With most games like this it works wonders. I usually bang out singleplayer pretty fast and then return to multiplayer reinvigorated. This break provides me with better insight into the game's mechanics but also it helps me keep in mind that I should be playing games to have fun. So when I come back to multiplayer I have a mind to enjoy myself in life and death. Have fun in success and in failure. With this game singleplayer is not doing it's job. I don't know that I've every said that I hate a singleplayer game but I'm getting perilously close with BF3 SP.
The thing that makes me refrain from declaring I hate this game is that the story seems genuinely interesting. I want to love this game for it's compelling narrative. The love stops there. The dislike starts when the game dynamics seem to be furiously trying to ensure I have as little fun as possible. The story is told in such a way that it represents an recounting of past events. I believe the decision to force the path of the story is the root cause for the game systems that have ruined this experience for me.
I keep telling my friends that I think DICE either did not hire or immediately fired whoever was in charge of making sure the singleplayer campaign was fun. Instead they hired someone to figure out how to frequently kill the player. Preferably in ways that require little input from the player and less indication that they might get killed by not doing something in a specific fashion.
The first couple missions were great. I enjoyed them and had fun.However I quickly noticed that there seemed to be a very powerful "negative feedback" system in place. Those who may remember the first roof area may recall being shot in the face because you didn't follow but instead ran for cover right away. If you were shot in the face you probably found yourself wondering "where the hell did that come from?"
So let me tell you why this game is a tough one to enjoy, despite the interesting story:
This game overuses "quicktime events". This is a situation where you lose full control of the character and instead must wait for button indicators to appear on the screen. Generally this is a fight sequence or a situation where the character is in physical danger. If you do not hit the right button in time the game is going to kill you. The button's have no real corresponding relation to movements you make in the game normally which makes these events seem incongruous. Usually B means interact with something but sometimes it means punch someone in the face? While A corresponds to your character jumping, sometimes it means "throw someone into a train". Right trigger means fire except when it means stab someone in the throat or kick them in the gut. Those seem pretty analogous to "Punch" and thus it makes little sense why the key is different.Unless of course you were trying to make something inherently inane more interesting.It reminds me of the electronic game I had as a kid called "Simon".The thing where you hit the colored buttons in the right order or you lose.That was the 80s.Why is this showing up in video games 30 years later?These wouldn't be so bad if the outcome wouldn't cause death and a reload.If the story must be told in a particular fashion why not just make a missed fight sequence go on a few punches longer or whatever?
So if those weren't in the game, I still would be complaining about it.Like no other game that I have played this game insists on a strict linear progression.Nearly every mission you're supposed to follow, take cover, chase or do something in a very specific path with specific timing.If you deviate from the path, flank the enemies when not instructed or generally think for yourself the game rewards you with nearly instant death.This can frequently happen if you do the right path except at the wrong time.This is another instance where the strict narrative approach is overbearing and detracts from enjoyment.
In my head I can see the discussion inside the game play developer meetings: "Well the guy is in the armed forces right?He doesn't have to think for himself, he has to follow orders.He should die if he doesn't listen".At least, I hope that is the underlying reason for the game mechanics we see at work.Either way this is part of the reason I say that the "FUN" guy got fired.
I also noticed too many instances bad AI and/or delicate fight scripting not working as intended.For example there was a mission in this office building atrium that underscored this repeatedly. Enemies spawn in unrealistic fashion and if one pays too much attention it becomes obnoxious.I would carefully inspect parts of the combat area to find them devoid of foes (check your corners and all).Then after crossing some invisible line, suddenly there were guys there.
As I fought my way to the ground floor of this atrium, friendlies had spawned behind enemies and would sit there and do nothing while the enemies shot only at me.Speaking of friendlies, I need to mention that it seems like 90% of their rounds are actually blanks.I rarely would see them kill enemies and frequently it was like my squad mates didn't exist to the AI.Is that great baddy AI and crappy friendly AI or just bad programming?Who knows but I noticed this very quickly and it pissed me off after awhile.
The final AI glitch in this area happened when I killed the last baddie but no objectives changed.It turns out a squad mate was back up on the second floor shooting at a corpse.Forever.I tried using my gun and then knife to re-corpsing the corpse with no change.I also tried stabbing, shooting and grenading my squad mate but "Friendly fire will not be tolerated".In keeping with the incongruous nature of this game, friendly fire was tolerated to a great extent and blatent indications to the contrary were not enforced.Finally a grenade next to the corpse unglitched the NPC shooting at him and then my objectives got updated.I believe this happened because it was the first enemy I killed in this area.Apparently I shot it earlier than I should have?Who knows.
Another big area of discontent for me is the artificial tension the scripting attempts to create.There was one part where some kind of small coupe vehicle with a suicide bomber takes about two dozen rounds from a 50cal machine gun to no avail.These same types of cars continue to take massive damage only to explode obviously after crossing a predetermined line.I am just now wrapping up a mission where the end involves the same 50cal ammunition have no impact on ground troops.I am clearly shooting them spot on and they keep running.Who comes up with this crap?It is bad game design and it isn't fun.Soldiers cannot stand 50cal short range bullet wounds.That shit blows limbs off.Just retelling this part of the game makes me shake my head.
The reasons to dislike the experience of Battlefield 3 are sadly many.I am going to finish this game if for no other reason than to give it every chance possible to redeem itself.At this point though, I'm going to go back to multiplayer relieved to be done with singleplayer.I should be feeling reinvigorated and well entertained instead I'm frustrated and counting the missions until I'm finally done.
I sincerely hope that no future Battlefield games take the design path that 3's singleplayer campaign has.Negatively enforced linear storytelling is at odds with the nature of a first person shooter and should be avoided when possible.