Seldom do I encounter games that boast a great deal of potential for success and timing that might allow them to overtake a genre.
Usually, the games I buy are either leaders of the genre – already established through previous and successful entries – or good examples of them, utilizing features that players enjoy, but not necessarily possessing the ability to overtake the top dog.
In the case of Battlefield 3 (BF3), the potential existed for the latter of the aforementioned two to become the former. Unfortunately, I say “existed,” just as it suggests – in the past tense of the discussion.
Leading the charge of features that put BF3 in position to take the First-Person Shooter crown is the new Frostbite 2 engine, which right away shows how capable it is of delivering top-tier graphics and impressive realism. If you’re like me and my friends, you get a great look at this by entering the multiplayer first.
The best maps to judge the graphic capabilities are the outdoor maps in modes such as Conquest or Rush, with my personal favorites being the maps set in urban environments (Seine Crossing, Operation Metro, etc). The detail and clarity of the architecture in conjunction with the way things like smoke, sunlight and even wind affect the overall environment is nothing short of exquisite, and despite the decreased frame rate of 30 frames per second (FPS) (by comparison, Modern Warfare 3 will be 60 FPS). Add to that the destructive environments and Battlefield 3 boasts one of the most authentic looking experiences of any multiplayer I have ever played.
The campaign sees no drop-off in ability from the Frostbite 2 engine and shows little-to-no screen tearing. The animations throughout the missions have a great look to them as you’re making your way across the different terrains – all of which are visually stunning. The one thing people are commenting on regarding the graphics is that the console versions (I played this on PS3) don’t look as good as the PC iteration. To be completely honest, I don’t think this is something that should take away from the game at all. Given the other game options out there and the way they look, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something much better.
Despite the focus of most modern FPS games being on multiplayer, I’ve always been a fan of a decent (even if it’s short) campaign. Right away you can tell the Battlefield 3 tries to offer what many other FPS campaigns before it – specifically Call of Duty (surprise, surprise) – have done and offered a “playable movie” in the campaign. Unfortunately, unlike those preceding it, Battlefield 3 carries forth a very forgettable story. The plotline – which I won’t divulge for those of you who still haven’t played it – struck me as typical and unsurprising. It had the basic missions (Tank/Sniper/Capture/etc), a couple of somewhat shocking, but not unsurprising twists and an ending that… well… left me asking “that’s it?” Don’t get me wrong – by the end of the campaign, I had enjoyed it enough, but it wasn’t quite the breathtaking experience that I (and I think many) players anticipated it would be.
My biggest gripe about the campaign isn’t in the difficulty – which is easily above Call of Duty on the normal setting – but the way my character is directed to perform tasks and is usually killed while performing them as directed. For example, early in the game, you’re tasked to an overpass where you’re supposed to man a light machine gun (LMG). However, upon obtaining the LMG and laying down suppressive fire, your elevated location combined with the lack of cover usually results in your death. I did this three times before finally moving away from the designated area and completing the task from another location. This one instance of annoyance would have been tolerable, but there are many more like it throughout the game.
When you look past the lack of innovation in the story and the annoyingly poor AI direction, the campaign gets the job done with a story that will at least keep your interest, but won’t likely have you raving about how great it was. The one thing I appreciated the most about this game (at least through most of it), is the realism portrayed in verbal commands and communication, weaponry and scenarios. Outlandishness takes a backseat to the sobering, true nature of warfare.
Of course, it’s not truly about the single-player campaign with Battlefield 3, is it? Of course not. And fortunately for those of us who understand this, the multiplayer doesn’t disappoint. For the most part, anyway – but I’ll talk about the shortcomings in a minute.
To put it as best as I can, the multiplayer experience and gameplay of Battlefield 3 is something I haven’t experienced for a long time. With Call of Duty, it’s less tactical maneuvering and more run n’ gun intensity. With Socom, it’s less intensity and more luck of the draw (provided you can move past the fact that there hasn’t been a good Socom since Socom 2). Battlefield 3 gives you a well-rounded experience that offers something for everyone and doesn’t confine itself to a specific designation.
One moment, I’m lone-wolfing it through Tehran Highway with my sniper rifle in hand, moving around the map as cleanly as possible during a Team Deathmatch, the next minute, I’m in between the shipping containers of Operation Firestorm with my shotgun or LMG, moving with my squadmates to secure an area in Rush. Or, if I’m looking for something that is literally bigger than just my squadmates and I, I’ll head to Conquest mode for a trip through the Grand Bazaar and an epic battle involving ground forces, tank and jeep supports and airstrikes moving overhead.
In addition to the stellar gameplay, the environments are, as I mentioned earlier, the best I’ve seen. The maps themselves seem particularly well put together, allowing for a great deal of freedom when approaching an objective or attempting to flank/sneak up on an enemy. I appreciate this in particular due to the usually-confining locations in most multiplayer games. While there are areas you cannot venture past in Team Deathmatch, the freedom you are allowed still far exceeds anything currently offered in a multiplayer experience.
Unfortunately, there are a few problematic items that have persisted since the launch of Battlefield 3 that may keep it from reaching above and beyond the “Call of Duty Crown,” which is honestly disappointing for me to write. The biggest issues:
— The party system: While it is understood that Battlefield employs squads, which allow for only four people at a time, there seems to be a big problem with joining a match and keeping your squad intact at the same time. In the multiple instances (at least 10) that I have tried to do this with various friends, not once have I ended up on the same team. Now, when I get a game invite, I usually decline it because it’s very unlikely that I will end up in the same squad or even on the same team.
— Hit Detection: I talked about this in the Things I love/Things I hate piece I wrote not long ago, but hit detection in this game is something to be desired. The biggest sign of this for me is when using a sniper rifle. More often than not in games that utilize sniping, a headshot – if well placed – will give you a one-hit kill. That is only the case some of the time in Battlefield 3. I can honestly say, I have fired upon multiple enemies several times with my SVD or MK11 and hit what appeared to be their heads, only to receive hitmarkers that gave away my intentions and usually cost me the kill. This problem also persists with shotguns at close range (but less often than the sniper rifles).
— Spawn locations: This is a big one for me, as I HATE when I don’t have the opportunity to move before dying. However, that is precisely the problem I am facing in nearly all of my matches in Battlefield 3. Just last night I spawned in front of the enemy time three times in a row and had them spawn behind me another four, resulting in seven VERY frustrating deaths. I understand determining a way to work out random spawns for players is difficult, but this is something that should have been a priority from the beginning instead of a problem now.
— Weapon Progression: There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you’re within reach of that next weapon unlock and getting into a match you are confident will yield the fruits of your labor. The thing is, that labor seems to take a REALLY long time, especially with the escalation in point requirements with each unlock. I know this lends itself to the player ranking system, but come on – it shouldn’t take three days of playing eight to 10 matches per night to get an unlock of a weapon or for a weapon.
— Servers: I was so giddy about having dedicated servers for games I almost wet myself. And then I got online to find the majority of the servers empty, with just a select few having actual gameplay on them. Then I discovered that these functioning servers usually had a wait list attached to them because they were the only ones available in the region. Yikes.
Scarily, these are just a few of the issues that persist in the multiplayer. While these things may not seem terribly game-breaking to many players, they might be deterrents to players who are unfamiliar with Battlefield and are used to the “plug and play” features of other multiplayer experiences. Hopefully EA can get things under control and fixed before there is a mass exodus due to the MW3 release next week (which you will be able to find a review of right here).
Still, I don’t think there should be a large decline in interest, given the functioning aspects of the game. Battlefield 3 offers a great multiplayer experience complemented with an intuitive menu system, which allows you to filter the games you want based on their server, core/hardcore nature, region and game mode. It gives you a nice level of customization that you can even track online thanks to Origin and the Battlelog.
But most of all, it gives you a multiplayer that currently (and for the foreseeable future) has no rival. Though the problems are a nuisance and should have been dealt with before launch, this may be the quintessential FPS multiplayer of the year – especially if it receives the patches it so desperately needs. So if you have any kind of interest in online multiplayer, I definitely recommend picking this up (just make sure you buy it new as it requires an online pass).