At about this time last year, Electronic Arts took its first real stab at the ever-increasing Call of Duty market with the revitalization of Medal of Honor. The plan was solid: make a shooter that incorporated elements from Modern Warfare and E.A.’s long-running Battlefield franchise. In execution, however, Medal of Honor was less than spectacular. Game mechanics from Battlefield, such as environmental destruction and class-based multiplayer were dumbed down, and elements taken from Modern Warfare felt shoehorned in. So now, one year older and (presumably) wiser, Electronic Arts is firing the opening salvo against Activision with Battlefield 3. Does the newest installment in the Battlefield franchise live up to the massive hype that surrounds it, or should it be court marshaled for treason?
There’s no doubt that developer D.I.C.E. (Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment) knows what side their bread is buttered on. Multiplayer is clearly the main attraction here, and rightly so, if you asked series veterans.
True, Battlefield has never been known for a rich and engaging single player experience, but after surprisingly enjoyable campaigns in the Bad Company series, it’s discouraging to see D.I.C.E. take a step backward. Particularly when it’s so evident that more time and effort was put into emulating Modern Warfare’s set pieces, than catering to Battlefield’s strengths.
Battlefield 3’s story feels like that of a direct-to-DVD action movie. Lackluster characterisation, incoherent narrative and unnecessary plot twists that can be seen from a mile away make the scant five or six hour-long campaign a mercifully brief endeavor. There are flashes of brilliance mixed in, such as a roller coaster-esque fighter jet sequence, and chasing a suicide bomber through the streets of Paris.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the campaign’s inability to familiarize players with the ins and outs of Battlefield’s multiplayer. Crucial game mechanics like being a combat medic or flying a helicopter fall by the wayside in single player, leaving users to learn through failure in multiplayer.
Such is the way of things in hardcore PC gaming, but for those unaccustomed to the hazing process of more tactically-minded games like Battlefield, the barrier of entry may prove too great. That said, for those willing to put their pride aside and adjust to the more team-oriented gameplay of Battlefield, the multiplayer is an absolute joy.
Make no mistake, this is not Call of Duty. High kill-to-death ratios don’t mean squat, and lone wolves are seen as a liability to the overall success of a team. There’s nothing stopping you from playing how you want to, but you won’t be getting the most out of Battlefield by confining yourself to the so-so team deathmatch mode.
The true fun in Battlefield is embracing the roles of the class system. Running through a hail of gunfire to heal a downed squadmate, repairing a tank as it lays waste to everything in its path, laying down suppressive fire so teammates can safely capture an objective, these are the moments that make Battlefield great.
They’re also crucial to success in Battlefield 3, and the developers have done everything they can to encourage selfless play. Experience is rewarded for acts ranging from healing allies to keeping opponents’ heads down. It’s entirely possible to play an entire round without pulling the trigger, and still contribute. With tons of awards and class-specific incentives, in addition to an overarching carrot-on-a-stick system, Battlefield has no shortage of reasons to keep you fighting the good fight.
The multiplayer isn’t perfect, however. Glitches, latency, connection drops and audio cut-outs are too frequent to ignore, and the classes and vehicles could with for a little more balancing.
The cooperative mode is decent enough, though it feels tacked on for an extra bullet point on the back of the box. Limited to only two players, coop has you playing through various scenarios, either inspired by, or directly taken from Modern Warfare 2’s Spec Ops mode.
First debuting in 2008, D.I.C.E.’s Frostbite engine set the standard for sound design and dynamic destruction in games. With Battlefield 3 comes Frostbite 2, and while environmental destruction may be toned down, Battlefield’s audio is absolutely stellar.
Weapon reports are phenomenal, with every shot sending an authoritative boom through the subwoofer, and bullets hissing and cracking with each near miss. Soldiers scream and curse, jets whoosh overhead and the low rumble of an incoming tank is unmistakable. Combined together, it all creates a chaotic and believable atmosphere of war. Add in Frostbite’s fantastic graphics, and you have the most convincing reproduction of an actual battlefield available, short of joining the Army.
For as good as the multiplayer portion is, Battlefield 3 ultimately suffers from trying to be what it’s not. The unnecessary Modern Warfare mimicking only serves to spoil Battlefield’s established strengths. However, it is a testament to those strengths that Battlefield 3 still stands as one of the best games of 2011, despite its flaws. It may not be the game of the century, nor a Call of Duty killer, but D.I.C.E. can be proud of the latest entry in its Battlefield franchise.