My Battlefield obsession borders on legendary, with roots dating all the way back to the 1942 days, back when I still owned a joystick. Though young, I was quickly weaned off the arena based shooters early in my FPS gaming childhood and discovered a more refined shooter palette. Certain expectations are placed upon the Battlefield player, including an acquaintance with team-based mechanics, such as utility, longevity, strategy, and malleability. Having adopted these concepts early on, I never truly had a taste for the more casual shooters, or even the faster, harsher arena-style games. Battlefield 2, to me, was the epitome of the shooter genre.
As such, my excitement for Battlefield 3 was almost palpable in the days leading up to its release. Finally, a true heir to the mixed-arms throne. Yet now I sit here, jabbing away at the keyboard, entirely conflicted. Despite Battlefield 3 delivering on virtually all fronts, I have found that my tastes have shifted slightly in the years since Battlefield 2’s release. Battlefield 3 is a fantastic game, no doubt, but as the sum of all its parts the title falls short of expectations. While the multiplayer portion of the game is exactly what we’ve been waiting for – a worthy successor to Battlefield 2 – the single-player might have be better served by another year or two in the can.
The original Battlefield 2 lacked a real story mode, focusing instead on strategic, class-based multiplayer combat, but DICE has adapted what it learned from the spinoff Bad Company series to develop a campaign mode, complete with an epic storyline featuring earthquakes, political intrigue, high speed chases, and amazing visual spectacles. Though a welcome addition, the single player game is ultimately overshadowed by the incredible multiplayer offering.
The truth is, though DICE made much progress in its narrative design, the game feels a bit too much like its competitors, rendering it a somewhat bland experience. Destructible environments and crazy visual effects are certainly welcome additions, but ultimately I felt let down by the game’s somewhat disjointed narrative. Readers will no doubt detect a bit of irony in what I am about to say, but Battlefield 3’s plot feels like a video game.
What I mean by that is the game’s narrative feels like an excuse of sorts, existing only to attach multiple set pieces together. An early mission, where the player co-pilots a fighter jet, was utterly heart pounding, but after it ended I was left scratching my head, asking, “What was the point of that, again?”. This feeling resurfaced several times during my sessions with the game.
What’s more, I’ve grown increasingly weary of hallway shooter games over the past decade. Games like BF3 and COD carry story modes that are largely centered around shooting gallery-esque scenarios which are practically interchangeable and totally irrelevant to the plot. Though these scenarios can be fun, the challenge is largely artificial. When I die in BF3, I am just frustrated, because it feels like the carrot the game is dangling is mostly unwanted and undeserved. I’m not making any progress in my own personal narrative, I’m merely clearing out the hundredth room full of generic terrorists so that the game can continue telling its story to me.
This is only compounded by some practically unavoidable deaths. By and large, they don’t come off as cute or surprising – they’re just entirely unwanted. I was becoming invested in the storyline of BF3, and as such I think this game, and others like it, need to develop a new punishment system other than deaths and checkpoints. It merely hinders my progress and ultimately proves to make the experience more frustrating than tense or compelling.
In that sense, I can only recommend the single player offering to people who are invested in military narratives or those who genuinely enjoy the more of the same things shooters have been peddling for the past decade. I will say this in its defense, though: The graphics and design throughout the game are phenomenal. The game looks great, even running on my dated hardware. Materials look and behave realistically (barring flying tanks), and there are so many tiny aesthetic features that it makes the world feel believable and fun. To some extent, I do believe that some of the effects that are featured in the game (falling skyscrapers, for instance) are totally worth seeing. I just can’t say that the narrative leading up to these events will always be compelling enough to keep you going, though things certainly pick up towards the end of the campaign.
If you’re anything like me, though, you’re looking to pick up this game for its multiplayer. Rest assured that this component of BF3 is a true evolution in the franchise’s lineage. Between the destructible environments, new weapons and vehicles, and large assortment of changes inspired by the Bad Company series, this game delivers on all fronts.
For the uninitiated, Battlefield’s offerings differ from other shooters through their strategic, class based, mixed-arms style tactical play. Though there are multiple game modes, Conquest holds the standard for the franchise, dividing players into two opposing factions and pitting them against one another for control of strategic locations. Multiple vehicles are available, though all are capped at a relatively limited number per team, balancing out the small arms gameplay with aerial dogfighting, heavy armor battles, and APC maneuverability. When thrown together, the game gives players a multitude of gameplay options, all the while encouraging team play over Rambo-style run-and-gun models.
Battlefield 3 places you into battles that seem organized and driven rather than chaotic and confusing. Locked spawn points means that you will always find yourself among friendly bodies, even going so far as to let you spawn on your squadmates in the middle of the battlefield. Staying alive opens up a mobile spawn point for any squad member, actually inspiring careful gameplay.
The changes between the earlier games and this sequel are largely aesthetic, but some serious balancing has occurred between classes. For one, the Medic class has been combined with the Assault class, a move that I gladly welcome. The Support class, which carries the heaviest weaponry, now takes the role of delivering munitions to allied players, as well as locking down territory with suppressive fire from large weaponry.
The biggest change, however, has occurred through the much-hated Recon class. Originally, the recon class was identified as a sniper. Its mechanics inadvertently encouraged camping and, ultimately, rendered the class somewhat useless in a real battle. The Recon class’ strategic utility was overshadowed by its powerful sniping potential, even in Bad Company 2, where DICE attempted to encourage a new style of play by giving Recons a tracking ball that displayed enemies to allied radars. Now, in Battlefield 3, the Recon class carries a mobile spawn point, encouraging players to move to the front lines, away from the back of the map where they might otherwise feel most at home.
There are also several new modes this time around, some plucked straight out of Bad Company 2, like Rush Mode. The large assortment of game modes and modifiers mean that anyone should be able to find a niche to fall into. Heck, you can even play squad deathmatch in smaller arenas a la COD, just in case you’re not entirely sold on the franchise’s epic, objective-driven mixed arms combat.
Also, for those still aching for some tangible rewards, there are a multitude of weapon unlocks available, all made available through steady play between multiple classes. As in Bad Company 2, weapons can carry minor customization, and though several of the late-tier weapons are powerful, the default weapons still hold their own tit-for-tat. The unlocks will keep players coming back, but as I’ve said in the past about fighting games, I hate unlocking content in a competitive game. I’d rather just have all the weapons immediately at my disposal, so I could swap setups for the specific situation at hand. I understand the appeal of progression-based rewards, but in the end it feels more like a minor inconvenience than anything else.
Another major change to multiplayer is the removal of an in-game browser. Now, before you leap from your seat to retrieve your pitchfork, let me explain how the new Battlelog works. Battlelog is, quite honestly, far better than the past versions of DICE’s in-game browser. Despite the clunky feeling that comes from launching from your web browser, Battlelog performs every action that the in-game menus used to, only now the entire process is much more efficient.
Stats like lag and player count are operated in quick time, and searching for servers is much, much faster. Now, while joining a game, your computer is no longer rendered inoperable. Since the game launches from a web-browser, you can surf the net, talk with friends, or ignore it altogether until the server makes a connection.
Also gone are the previous game-joining issues that would boot players before the game had properly loaded. Battlelog is able to connect to servers much faster than the previous in-game browser, and you’ll never have an issue with joining matches that fill up between when you first hit the launch button and actually connect to the server.
Multiplayer, however, is not without its flaws. With the new graphics come a multitude of new hindrances, even ignoring hardware limitations. Exploding buildings, new lighting effects, debris, and smoke will surround and overwhelm, meaning that there are more distractions on the field than ever. Upon first jumping into the game, I entirely lost my bearings several times, lost in a sea of bright orange explosions or collapsing debris. Things can become so tense, with aerial and armor support moving about, that I sometimes needed to find a corner to regroup in, to check my map and reevaluate my procedure.
For those familiar with BF2, flying jets is still extremely difficult with a mouse. If you can, find an old joystick if you’re serious about sitting in that pilot seat, otherwise prepare for a very harsh ride.
Also, at the time of writing, there were several hilarious glitches, including an extremely irritating graphical glitch that found my soldier’s arms impaled onto nearby walls, leaving his gun and limbs dangling from the surface while they disappeared from my view model. This was funny the first few times it happened, but quickly became a huge hassle, as I couldn’t aim properly without seeing my weapon. Also, while rare, there were a few instances where players shot me before they loaded into view. Invisible players had been a major complaint during the Beta, and to some extent the problem seems to have carried over. I assume these issues will be fixed soon enough, so I won’t place too much emphasis on the game’s bugs.
My one final complaint is that this game would have benefited from modding tools, as BF2′s longevity was driven, in part, by the dedicated modding community, who ensured that new content continued to come long after DICE had moved on to other projects.
For what it is, though, Battlefield 3 holds the title for best modern combat multiplayer shooter around. The flexibility in game modes, play styles, and roles give this game a crazy amount of strategic depth, not even mentioning its multitude of multiplayer modes and modifiers. This is a multiplayer game worthy of your attention, especially if you value tactical gameplay and adaptability. And heck, who knows, you might even enjoy the single player, for what it’s worth. Otherwise, I’ll see you on the Reddit server!
Battlefield 3 was released on October 25th, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Review based on the PC version.