Battlefield 3 review
- EA DICE
Battlefield 3 review score: 8 out of 10
Formats: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
In Battlefield, EA have long had the most highly regarded multiplayer FPS around, but in the sales charts it’s thoroughly trounced by Activision’s Call of Duty. Labouring under the assumption that CoD’s edge comes not from its responsive controls and negligible barriers to entry but from its whizz-bang single-player experience, Battlefield 3’s campaign has shamelessly been spliced with Call of Duty DNA.
Gone are the open levels of Battlefield Bad Company 2, designed to give a taste of the multiplayer main event. In their place is what amounts to a narrow corridor filled with endlessly respawning enemies and psychic snipers who zero in on you the moment you pop your head out of cover, even when your AI team-mates are standing out in the open.
Teamwork is vital in the new multiplayer modes
Handcuffed to a chair
Battlefield 3’s story is told in flashback, flitting between seemingly unconnected characters while the main guy, Sgt Blackburn, is being questioned over his connection to a terrorist plot. It makes no sense at all - Blackburn tells his CIA interrogators there’s a nuclear bomb about to go off in New York but his captors are only interested in going through a hackneyed good cop / bad cop routine. This despite Blackburn’s squad having already recovered one of three stolen Russian nukes in Iran. Oh, and the second one having just obliterated the centre of Paris.
So you listen to all this nonsense, admire the rather impressive facial animation, then get transported into the past to see how it really went down. One moment you’re a Russian special forces bloke, chasing terrorists through Paris and laying waste to half the French police force. The next you’re the weapons operator in a jet fighter, pushing a cursor around the screen in a spectacular - but only semi-interactive - target shoot.
Battlefield 3’s revelatory moment, when you finally find out exactly why Sgt Blackburn is handcuffed to a chair in an interview room, is the most ludicrous part of all. It doesn’t quite stretch the story’s credibility to breaking point - that barrier was shattered long before - but it’s ridiculous and inexplicable. If you didn’t do it already, try ignoring the Russian man’s plea and see what happens. As if...
Limited visual feedback makes it hard to tell when your recharging health has reached a critically low point. In Battlefield 3 the screen is supposed to get a bit red before draining of colour, indicating imminent death, but all the lens flare effects, super bright bloom lighting and a permanent patina of blurry dust on the camera (your soldier’s eyes are dirty?) mean it’s sometimes impossible to tell how badly wounded you are.
Your computer-controlled buddies are so tightly scripted, they’ll actually shunt you out of the way if you stand in their predefined path. You can’t so much as open a door until they’re all in place, and they’ll happily tolerate enemies in their midst, waiting for you to turn up and kill the masked terrorist who’s directly in front of them, shooting magic bullets that go clean through every mission-critical character except you.
One final moan about Battlefield 3’s campaign mode. There was one segment of a mission that I’d had to repeat and reload at least 10 times. I finally made it to the safety of a building, only to have an enemy walk through a brick wall and stab me in the face. On a positive note, the face-stabbing animation is particularly excellent / horrible. I was tempted to go back to the Xbox dashboard straight away and delete the entire campaign install disc, saving myself 7GB of space and the frustration of ever playing it again, but I did finish it in the end. It’s totally deleted now, though.
The new lighting effects bring new tactics (and new annoyances)
This is more like it
So, the good stuff. Battlefield 3’s multiplayer has absolutely nothing in common with the campaign, barring those parts of the nine giant maps that you might have glimpsed while groaning through Sgt Blackburn’s ordeal. The two main modes, Conquest and Rush, are little changed from previous versions, and still stand as arguably the twin pinnacles of multiplayer gameplay design.
Conquest is the classic Battlefield mode, with two teams fighting for control of three or four flags. Each time somebody dies and respawns, it costs their team a point (a ticket, in Battlefield terminology) from a starting total of around 300, and by controlling the majority of the flags you can make the other team bleed additional points. The first team to zero loses the round.
Rush is a more recent addition, played in much larger environments. One team of attackers, with a limited number of respawn tickets, attempts to place charges on a pair of objectives defended by the other team, which has infinite lives. If they’re successful, the attackers get all their tickets back, a new pair of objectives is created and the action moves further inland. A full game between evenly matched teams can take the best part of an hour.
The beauty of it is in the teamwork that’s absolutely critical to success, with each side divided into four-man squads of specialists. Communicating and co-ordinating activities over a full team of 12 people (on consoles - it’s 32 per side on the PC version of Battlefield 3) would be next to impossible, but it’s much more manageable when you’re running a smaller unit.
They’ve mixed things up a bit for Battlefield 3, so some of the weapons and attributes of Bad Company 2’s overpowered Medic class are split between the Support and Assault classes. There’s layer upon layer of customisation, with masses of add-ons available for each weapon and different gadgets that you can select to suit the way the battle is going - choose between claymores to take out troops or mines to get rid of heavy vehicles, for example.
Visibility can be a problem, thanks to the bright lighting and dirty lens effect from the campaign mode. If you’re hiding in a dark building on a sunny map, you can barely see anything outside. Impairing the enemy’s vision is now a viable tactic, with torches and laser pointers that blind people momentarily, even in daylight. Those can get annoying, but the suppressing fire feature - bullets landing nearby cause a player’s screen to blur - is a brilliant idea.
Vehicles are particularly important on the largest maps. Tanks rumble around noisily, often with a trail of enemies running after them, attempting to plant C4 explosive. Helicopters plummet from the skies, ramming sideways into the ground in the hands of inexperienced pilots - they’re pretty difficult to fly - while jets circle overhead, seemingly involved in their own private game. In the hands of experts, though, everything is lethal.
In keeping with the game’s ‘Call of Duty-beater’ mission statement, there’s a new Team Deathmatch mode that’s designed to give new players an entry point. It’s not exactly Modern Warfare 3 but at least it’s a chance for people to get a few kills on the board before jumping into Rush or Conquest, which tend to get dominated by organised squads of grizzled Battlefield veterans.
Once you get into it, Battlefield 3 a much more involving and technically demanding game than anything Call of Duty has to offer. And that, perhaps, is Battlefield’s big problem in the long term. EA expect huge things from it, but in aping - poorly - CoD’s smoke-and-mirrors campaign, they’re misselling it. Battlefield is all about the multiplayer mode, and you only have to look at the frequent mismatches between teams of experts and their poor noob victims to realise they’re not going about this the right way.
Ignore the nonsense: check out the facial animations!
Helicoper! Sweet! Is that a...
Everyone wants to have a go in a helicopter or jet, but the first time you ever see one will be in a live game. You jump in, and ten seconds later you crash it into a building, killing your entire crew, because you’ve had no training at all and there are no servers where you can just mess around to get used to the remarkably unfriendly controls. And all Battlefield 3’s good stuff, like missiles and targeting systems, is locked off until you’ve spent hours in the air as a kind of unarmed flying bullseye.
On the ground, the screen is filled with unexplained objective markers. The critical importance of ‘spotting’ to light up enemies on the minimap isn’t reinforced by the award of a measly 10 XP points when the marked enemy is swiftly killed - you get twice as many for having a team-mate spawn on you.
Unlocking the best weapons in Battlefield 3 takes ages. You can customise your soldier on the main menu, but to get there you’ve got to wait almost two minutes until the next game starts before you can quit out. Even then you might not even be able to find the item you just earned, as the main menu offers only the ability to customise the loadout of the US team. Considering you play as the Russians 50% of the time, with a different starting weapon, that’s quite an oversight.
Almost all of the stats and info that players love to analyse have been offloaded to the Battlefield website, so console players will have to sign up for an EA Origin account and keep a laptop nearby if they want to see their accuracy rating, skill level and so on.
Considering Battlefield 3 is a product that’s intended to attract players from the world’s most popular and accessible online shooter, it’s hard to fathom why the designers would make you jump through so many hoops to get the best out of it. Battlefield vets might be looking forward to the release of Modern Warfare 3, as it will mean a sudden increase in helicopter safety rate and a lot less people who spend the entire game hiding in a bush with a sniper rifle, but you can bet EA won’t see it that way.
So, once again Battlefield preaches to the converted. I’d urge you to give it a go, as it’s ultimately a lot more rewarding than Call of Duty, but I completely understand if, like all the Battlefield dabblers on my friends list at the moment, you’re about to abandon it in favour of something a little less taxing.
Words by Martin Kitts
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