Possibly the best shooter of the year.
Electronic Arts have been bragging and boasting that Battlefield 3 would be the Call of Duty killer for some time now. They even have quotes from people who played the game, saying it's better than Modern Warfare 3. We'll find out if that's true in November. However, at least for now, Electronic Arts might be right. Because Battlefield 3 does so many things well, it might be shooter of the year.
Let's start with the single player. Since this is a sequel in the core Battlefield series, DICE could have made this mode an after thought and focused solely on the multi-player, which is the series claim to fame. However, they decided to take the fight to Infinity Ward, by trying to give gamers an epic 5-6 hour campaign they wouldn't forget.
The campaign starts by putting you right into the action. You're shooting your way through a subway car, trying to stop a compact nuclear bomb from going off in New York City. After the opening, the story develops through a series of flashbacks. You find yourself in control of Staff Sgt Blackman of the 1st Recon Marines. Blackman was the man you were playing in the opening sequence. He's the only one who knows whats happening in New York and how to stop it. Unfortunately, he's stuck being interrogated by government agents. It's through these interrogation cut-scenes that each mission in the campaign is set up.
During the campaign, you also take control of a couple of other soldiers to help expand the story. Electronic Arts, tries to out do Call of Duty by giving you one scripted moment after another. They even tried to improve upon the QTE events that began with Call of Duty 3. This means, you have many parts where a enemy tries to get the drop on you, and you have to push the right button at the right time to fight him off. Many of these scripted moments are very well done and entertaining. For instance, the epic feel of being on an aircraft carrier and getting into a fighter jet. Unfortunately, many scenes are too scripted. I've found that if you don't do the right thing at the right time, the mission ends, even if you really didn't do anything to fail it. There is also a limit to how far you can travel during these campaign segments. If you wonder off to far from the battle area, a distorted message comes up, giving you five seconds to turn around. These flaws can take players out of the whole experience during a mission.
Fortunately, the Battlefield series doesn't live or die off it's single player. It's the multi-player that made the series one of the best in the genre. Battlefield 3 has the most true to life simulation of war you could ask for in a online shooter. It's not a fast paced, twitchy experience like with Call of Duty, and many other shooters trying to be Call of Duty. In Battlefield, you have to think like a real soldier to survive. That's knowing how to use the environments to your advantage. Knowing when to shoot, because you'll give away your position, among many other things.
The multi-player has two main modes, rush mode and conquest mode. Rush mode has you attacking or defending points on the map. If the points are compromised, then the large maps open up extending the game. After a number of rush points, the game ends. Of course, good defending can hold the attackers to one segment of the map. Conquest mode is about taking over and controlling points on a large map. You have to take control of all points to win. On the PC version, you can have up to 64 players at one time on a map, making for some epic battles. These maps are filled with vehicles, adding to the war like experience. The maps are so large, that smaller numbers make this mode feel bare, something console players will have to experience, because of the limits of their hardware. Many series fans, consider conquest mode the real meat of the multi-player, so these large maps will be heavily played for years to come. There are some extra modes added in with the main modes. Death-match and team death-match have been added for some alternative choices. Like previous Battlefield games, you have different soldier classes to chose from... these range from assault to engineer. Each class has their own weapon sets, with more to unlock as you gain levels for each of them. Your weapons and gear are fully customizable and the right combination can really give you the edge on each map. The game also has the option of a two player co-op during the campaign mode. The one possible draw back, is the new way in which you can play multi-player. Instead of going through a in-game system, you have to sign on to a website called Origin, then download and use it's software. These two methods are the only way you play the game's online modes. However, on the plus side... the amount of options you have before setting up maps, and the feedback you get from the website in terms of progress is impressive. You can even form clans and plan out strategies before going in-game.
One of the biggest marketing points for Battlefield 3 was the potential for displaying groundbreaking graphics, thanks to the updated Frostbite 2.0 engine. They say it's the little details that matter and it's certainly true with Battlefield 3. The series was already known for it's destructible environments, now it will be known for it's awesome environmental effects. The single player provides a quick preview, with set piece after set piece. Realism is what DICE is aiming for and they achieve it with realistic lighting, so real you can be blinded by it, and use it to blind your enemies. Realistic weather... one mission in the game has you fighting in the most accurately rendered rain yet. You even see the water effects from the rain, going down the side of the walls and leaving rain puddles. The clouds in the sky along with the sun are rendered realistically. It's a very beautiful game, and with the right hardware can look unbelievable on the PC. The scaling is so well done, that console gamers and people with less beefy PC's will also get some great eye candy. No question, Battlefield 3 has the best graphics available in a game right now.
The series is also known for it's groundbreaking realistic sound, and this game is no different. When building crumble they sound realistic. When bullets fly past you, they have a chilling sound. Every firearm in the game sound like the real thing. Every explosion sounds authentic. The vehicles sound realistic. If you wondered what a real battlefield sounds like, this game is the closet you will get. Those with decent surround sound setups, will really think they're in the middle of a battlefield (pun intended). The soundtrack is the typical action movie like fare we've come to expect in these type of games. It's nothing memorable, but it gets the job done.
Overall, Battlefield 3 is the shooter fans were promised. It has the best and most realistic multi-player available. That along with a decent single player make this game a strong candidate for shooter of the year. We still have to see what Modern Warfare 3 does, but unless Infinity Ward completely blow us away, like they did with Call of Duty 4, I don't see it outdoing Battlefield 3's strong package. While not a Call of Duty killer, the game just might've taken the crown. Only time will tell.