For 8-24 players Only
It isn’t uncommon to find that your newly purchased video game has more than one disc in its box, but Battlefield 3 is the first that I know of to put multiplayer, not single player, on the first disc. At first, I was a little surprised due to the sheer amount of time DICE and EA spent showing off the Frostbite 2 engine and campaign. The PR emphasis was definitely on those two points, and the online beta earlier this year didn’t help the multiplayer stand out one bit.
But here we are, with 24-player, objective based online combat on Disc 1, and for what purpose? Simply put, it is the only reason to purchase Battlefield 3.
From the first moments of the campaign, it becomes clear that the linearity of Call of Duty was followed so stringently that players are given literally no room to breath. The typical, “Go back to the battle!” message pops up whenever you venture even a few feet out of the acceptable zone, which is anemic even by linear shooter standards. It doesn’t help that the enemy AI isn’t given any chance to exercise flanking or maneuvering; you know, the clever things that make shooting them fun. They simply run to the exact same cover spots each and every time you go through a fight, and never venture elsewhere.
Enemies also manage to have pinpoint accuracy, even while running full speed to their predetermined sandbags or concrete walls. And these shots are deadly, with only one or two needed to put you down for good. This becomes incredibly irritating because even on “Normal” difficulty, opposing fire will rip you up in a few short seconds, and you’ll be forced to replay numerous, uninteresting firefights in the game. Now, if you’re like me, you might end up trying to take firefights slowly to compensate for the lethality of unfriendly fire. Sadly, the hit detection is spotty, leading to moments where enemies are winging you through cover or your bullets simply refuse to work. Tactical advancement simply doesn’t work.
Even if Battlefield 3’s story was a well-told piece of interactive fiction, these fundamental flaws in the raw shooting mechanics would still be a problem. As it is, this is one of the most convoluted, offensive, and unmemorable narratives I’ve ever played through. The plot revolves around three nuclear weapons that a terrorist leader, Solomon, is determined to set off in America and Paris. Marine Sergeant Blackburn and company stumble happenstance upon one of these nukes, and the story is recounted by Blackburn through Pulp Fiction-esque flashbacks that interrupt play far too often. You see, Blackburn is being interrogated by homeland security since, apparently, nobody will believe him that Solomon has WMDs. And the two interrogators—who are the most typical, angry, old cops imaginable—are just the start of the character clichés, which don’t stop coming until the end credits. The game isn’t afraid to try to shock you as well, with violent executions and other would-be disturbing acts. The problem is that brutality with no emotional engagement comes across as crass and exploitative, and Battlefield definitely fails to create any sort of character-player connection to avoid this.
Of all these missteps, none confound me more than the quick time events. They are used literally every few minutes or so, dominating the already frustrating combat situations through numerous rounds of random-button-pressing fisticuffs with terrorists. I can only think of one specific event that differentiates itself from the rest, with most of them playing out nearly identically. By the end of the sparse 4-hour ordeal, it’s clear that Battlefield 3’s campaign is almost entirely worthless. Only a tank mission and clever twist on a bank heist are worth any mention, but even these suffer from the unsound design flaws that I mentioned.
Even though I’ve just beaten the near lifeless corpse that is Battlefield 3’s campaign and left it to rot, soulless and stained, in the proverbial gutter, as I said before, the multiplayer makes this worth the purchase alone. Like Bad Company 2, DICE has blended objective based modes and large scale arenas with a scoop of class based gunplay to create what I consider the best multiplayer experience of the year. All the familiar modes are here, with Rush and Conquest still filling out the main docket. There is also Team Deathmatch, but given the support-oriented nature of this game, I don’t think it works well. The way that the former two modes force you to stick with your squad mates and use your class abilities wisely, and then reward you for it, is simply sublime. Kill death ratios are subsequently of little consequence since healing and reviving, deploying ammo crates, repairing vehicles, and capturing objectives earns you more XP and points than straight up murder does. Rush, which pits attackers with the single goal of blowing up MCOM radio stations against a heavily fortified defending team, plays with a distinct surging vibe. Attackers crash against the defenders in the desperate attempt at victory, making it frantic and incredibly challenging for both sides of the fight. Conquest plays much slower, with distant capture points setting an ebb and flow that is much more meticulous. Deciding which flag to capture takes some thought and careful use of spotting to counteract enemy advances. Players who like gigantic maps with isolated firefights will love Conquest, but I prefer the focused insanity of Rush. Even so, both are nice changes of pace from the lone-wolf mentality that Call of Duty is known for.
I suspect that the changes from Bad Company 2 will be equally championed and lamented by series veterans, but I think the differences are for the better. Melding the assault class with the medic was a stroke of genius since it allows the grunts on the front line to actively keep their teammates in the fight longer. The interface also communicates flag capturing and base demolition much more effectively than the series’ previous efforts. One change that is a bit strange is the lack of destruction that characterized much of Bad Company 2. Heavy vehicle ordinance can still tear apart walls with shocking violence, but your average guy with a rocket launcher won’t be doing the same kind of damage.
The intensity of a tank shell blasting apart a wall is only enhanced by the excellent sound design. In fact, all the weapons are acoustically explosive, which makes getting shot at sort of terrifying. Its not often that any shooter manages to make me really fear the bullets flying around me, but Battlefield 3 does. The concussive sound of debris flying during a machine gun barrage works in tandem with a tunnel-vision effect wonderfully. Of course this works both ways, since suppressing fire now earns you points and is a great tactic for deterring enemies. It’s a great touch, and honestly one of the more interesting parts of the presentation of Battlefield 3.
Also of note is the lighting, which takes on a washed out, overloaded brightness that makes a pretty deep contrast, but can make spotting enemies a bit difficult at times. Some blurry textures are to be seen here and there, but the Xbox 360 version manages to look nice and run smoothly. Of course, this being a modern war shooter, there isn’t much in the way of art direction, and while that’s not what anyone is coming here for, I think future titles need a more distinguishing visual style in order to carve out a niche in Call of Duty’s gargantuan market share.
Again, if you buy Battlefield 3, DO NOT do it for the campaign. Even at 4 hours it’s a slog, and doesn’t even come close to Bad Company 2’s—which was sadly underrated by most. The multiplayer probably isn’t everyone’s bag, but for those who enjoy an online experience that doesn’t revolve entirely around headshot percentages, it is a real treat.