Is it really the best and worst game of the year?
One needn’t look further than their Twitter feed to get the consensus on Battlefield 3. Considered a potential Call of Duty-killer since EA unveiled that eye-searing single-player demo earlier this year, the publisher’s bid to take down Activision’s FPS juggernaut has been described as both awful and awesome—the former referring to the single-player campaign, the latter describing the multiplayer content. While I appreciate these 140-characters-or-less critiques, they seem to reflect a pretty clear case of expectations—high and low—breeding an overly passionate response to a final product. While exaggerated reactions are somewhat justified in this case, given EA’s aggressive “Above and Beyond the Call” campaign, I still wanted to peer down the iron sights for myself to find out if Battlefield 3 could indeed be the year’s best and worst shooter.
Based on what I’d heard, I was expecting the campaign to be as painful as passing a kidney stone the size of Texas. It’s not. Yes, it’s buggy as hell, occasionally boring—there’s a flight-combat mission that singlehandedly cured my insomnia—and it lacks the level of destruction I’ve come to expect from DICE’s Frostbite tech. Still, I’ve slogged through far worse campaigns—this year, even—that haven’t been this poorly received. C’mon, even Homefront’s so-bad-it-shuttered-a-studio single-player didn’t take this much flak.
On the plus side, Battlefield 3 sports some stunning visuals—yes, even on console. Thanks to the developer’s aforementioned horsepower-pushing engine, lighting, shadowing, smoke, fire, water, particle, and physics effects often set a new standard in visual trickery. Coupled with some set pieces that would make Bruckheimer blush—fighting a war during an earthquake’s an especially nice touch—the presentation yields a few adrenaline-pumping moments.
Ultimately, the solo run’s not as balanced, cinematic, or dramatically paced as Modern Warfare’s blockbuster campaigns. If you typically play an FPS’ single-player mode, you’ll want to check out Battlefield 3’s at least once—maybe twice if you’re a gamerscore whore hunting for every last Achievement or Trophy. But all the buzz swirling around a Call of Duty-rivaling campaign? Well, that all seems silly now—Modern Warfare 3 has absolutely nothing to worry about in that regard. That said, there are far worse ways to spend a weekend—like replaying Duke Nukem Forever’s story mode—than dropping evildoers, chasing nukes, and maybe having your pulse raised by Battlefield 3’s choicer moments.
If the campaign has been its bane, then Battlefield 3’s multiplayer has served as its savior. Despite the presence of server problems that could knock the Death Star Station offline, the title’s competitive modes have been hailed as the second coming. While such praise in the face of technical problems is a bit surprising, it’s also spot-on; when it’s working properly—and, as of this past weekend, EA had already made great strides in fixing the hiccups—it’s pretty brilliant.
The series has already proven its multiplayer prowess in previous entries, but it’s still damn impressive to see the expansive maps, vehicle integration, and teamwork focus translate so well to consoles. Sure, some of the objectives have been tweaked, and it only supports 24 players, but even as a dialed-down PC port, it manages to deliver the franchise’s defining large-scale warfare.
While the ability to soar over a stretching landscape in a fighter jet earns it some obvious appeal, it’s the subtler stuff that truly separates its online melees from the headshot-scoring pack. All four classes—Assault Recon, Soldier, Engineer—feel like integral parts of the team; whether healing a wounded brother, repairing a vehicle, or keeping your buddies ammo clips full, you’ll feel just as badass as the guy introducing evildoers’ heads to hollow points. Everyone relies on each other, and going lone wolf earns you a toe tag more often than not. Couple this approach with an addictive progression system that grants class-specific rewards, maps that still feel fresh after repeated battles, and a barrier of entry less daunting than most multiplayer games’, and Battlefield 3’s online firefights are a welcome alternative to the been-there, fragged-that competition.
With that in mind, I’m not sure it’s so much better than Modern Warfare’s competitive multiplayer as it is different. Those who’ve spent years honing their body bag–filling skills in Call of Duty’s comparatively claustrophobic battles will no doubt be frustrated by the inability to memorize maps in an effort to rule them as a one-man army. Because the two games support completely different playstyles, it seems unlikely Activision’s faithful followers will flock to Battlefield 3’s front lines.
For all the hype surrounding the two franchises facing off—and I know it’s a cliché—fans of the genre ultimately win this battle. Rather than having to pick a favorite among two similar experiences, they’re presented—at least, in terms of the multiplayer—with a pair of options that complement, rather than cannibalize, each other. While the single-player campaign’s not nearly the steaming pile I was expecting based on the widespread negative reaction, it’s not the reason to buy Battlefield 3. But if you’ve been craving a multiplayer experience that’s more Band of Brothers than Rambo, then this one’s an easy recommendation.
Summary: Come for the single-player—it’s not that bad—but stick around for the immersive team-based multiplayer.
- The Good: Large-scale multiplayer warfare
- The Bad: The campaign alone doesn’t justify the price
- The Ugly: Server issues keeping me from the fight
Battlefield 3 is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, and iOS. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.