Battlefield 3 is finally here, and after all the heated and vocal arguing between developers and fans alike it’s time to find out if it can walk the walk, or if everything is just talk.
With over 17 million units sold in the decade since the Battlefield franchise hit PCs, there’s no doubt that the series has a well established following, but its recent transition to consoles through the Bad Company spin-off has introduced a whole new group of players to the popular shooter formula. Battlefield 3 continues to bring that experience to console users as the 11th game in the series and, as a direct sequel to Battlefield 2, introduces significant changes from both the 2005 classic and the most recent console release, Bad Company 2. Changes include a serious campaign plot line, cooperative online mode, and revamped multiplayer with new class load outs and improved vehicles, all of course accompanied by new maps and updated graphics.
Most Battlefield fans are accustomed to a multiplayer only experience, but the Bad Company spin-off introduced a mildly humorous plot line amidst a linear objective campaign. Battlefield 3 continues this new trend, but with its own unique cast, setting, and more serious tone. Multiple characters are controlled throughout the story, but the majority of the campaign follows US Marine Henry Blackburn, and Russian GRU Operative Demitri Mayakovsky. Each shares a common enemy in the People’s Liberation and Resistance (PLR) who are waging a violent revolution near the Iran-Iraqi border. For the most part the campaign encompasses what you could expect from any standard military shooter, with explosive set piece moments accompanied by plenty of flank and cover battle tactics, while herds of AI enemies put their unintelligent heads in clear view for us to shoot in a linear gallery. Most of the time we’re accompanied by companions who guide us along the way and shoot some enemies for us, but even they sport some hokey AI and tend to run out in the open while shouting for you to follow, even when it’s entirely unsafe. The pacing gets broken up by some tank driving sections, as well as an on the rails jet flying level where the player acts as wing man by firing missiles on enemy targets. It’s fun but also disappointing, since it feels like a missed opportunity to give new players practice flying the jets, which can be fairly difficult to handle.
While it’s all quite beautiful with spectacular explosions and great visual design, the 8 hour campaign fails to do anything of worthy mention or particularly new for the genre. In fact, the often confusing plot ends up doing more harm than anything for the franchise, by skipping back and forth in time which creates a jarring and inconsistent telling of the story, and eventually builds up to one of the most anti-climatic turning points I’ve seen in recent video game history. After a particular plot spoiling event, which I will refrain from detailing, I was left wishing it would simply end and had never been written, so I could move on to the real meat and potatoes of Battlefield – the multiplayer. That’s not to say that the campaign is a complete waste either, but the storyline treads fairly familiar territory until a vain attempt to throw in a twist that should have never been twisted. Thus, it primarily serves to give players a chance to get their bearings with the shooter mechanics, but it also has a “been there, done that” feeling that makes me wish the effort had been directed at multiplayer, and fails to embrace many of the elements that have made Battlefield the stellar franchise we all know.
Fortunately, the online cooperative mode fares better, by pitting two players in various scenarios where team work is absolutely key to coming out on top. Featuring six levels with three levels of difficulty, most of these battles are a challenge even on normal mode, but hold sweet rewards for those determined to overcome them. Most of the tasks are nothing new to the genre either, with players defending a highway section against oncoming waves of PLR troops and tanks, and then a helicopter mission where one player pilots and the other acts as secondary gunner to escort troops to their LZ (this is a great place to practice your piloting skills). However, each of these scenarios place emphasis on the team work that Battlefield has always encouraged, and feels satisfying when getting through “Exfiltration”, which starts off as a stealth section but ends in a all-guns blazing shootout in clustered streets. Team work is further reinforced in “Drop ‘Em Like Liquid” where partners must count off their sniper shots or risk failure due to losing hostages. As a result, having a good partner makes things much more fun, and when you’re ready to hop back into multiplayer you’ll have earned some good guns to use (including one of my favorite pistols, the MP412 REX). There’s significant challenge here too, since there’s no checkpoints mid-mission and most scenarios take 20-30 minutes to complete. A single mistake, like flying your chopper into a cliff, will cause the mission to fail and restart, which can lead to frustration, but also ensures players are careful about their every move.
The multiplayer aspects of the game are top-notch, and are not to be missed by any fan of online military shooter games. The classic Rush and Conquest game modes return intact (except Rush objectives can no longer be damaged, effectively eliminating kamikaze C4 tactics), along with Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, and Squad Rush, wherein players select from one of four specialized classes to assist their team mates with the objective at hand. The assault class is now acting medic with access to a defibrillator for reviving allies and health packs to increase the rate of health regeneration, but can later gain access to under barrel accessories like a grenade launcher and shotgun to replace the health packs. Engineers retain their roles of repairing and destroying vehicles, but can now replace their repair tool with land mines or a remote control robot that can repair and damage vehicles, or set and defuse rush objectives. The new support class dishes out ammo for allies, while introducing the new suppression system, which disorients enemies while they’re being fired upon, allowing players to provide covering fire for their allies, even if the enemies can’t be hit. Finally the recon class sees new balancing as well, with a stationary motion detection gadget, a radio beacon that creates new but temporary spawn points for allies, and the ability to laser targets for air strikes. Recon classes also give off a reflective light while sighting with a sniper rifle, attracting the attention of opponents and helping to prevent snipers from hiding in one spot for entire rounds. Finding the right balance among your squad mates can be key for each scenario, since sometimes you’ll want more of a particular class like engineers to battle tanks, but lacking medics can lead to swift defeat when on the attack.
While the classes each receive their own upgrades through new gadgets and abilities, vehicles also see additions to their ranks with the return of jets from Battlefield 2, and each vehicle type receives various components that can be equipped to their class in three different categories. For example, aerial units are split into three categories – jets, attack helicopters, and scout helicopters – each of which gain their own experience as the player earns points them on the battlefield, which eventually unlocks items to be applied as upgrades, gadgets, or alternate weapons. Thus, MBTs (Main Battle Tanks) can get upgrades like a proximity scan to alert you to surrounding enemies, while a gadget like smoke can conceal your location or thermal optics can reveal opponent tanks and infantry in their own smoke clouds. Alternate weapons like a secondary LMG for anti-infantry assaults, or a heat seeking shell for locking onto those pesky enemy vehicles that won’t stand still. Jets on the other hand have their own sets of equipment, like heat seeking rockets, extended radar, and flares for deterring locked on missiles. Having so many options lets the player customize their vehicular experience to each vehicle type pre-game, leaving more time playing to your style, and room for varying tactics, but all these settings can still be tweaked mid-game to adapt to various situations, or counter enemies using their own gadgets and upgrades.
Rank progression can seem slow at first, especially for anyone who decides they’re a lone wolf. However, those who learn to work as a team will reap the benefits of not only decimating their opponents, but earning plenty of precious points for every action that supports team mates. Whether its healing, reviving, giving ammo, repairing vehicles, making kills, assists, headshots, laying support fire, or defending and destroying objectives, nearly everything you can do earns points for experience. As a result team work is highly encouraged by the game’s structuring, as Battlefield games generally have, but the emphasis on team work is more prevalent than ever. Those who work together will gain ranks faster, earning plenty of new guns and gadgets to further their Battlefield prowess. Besides those bonuses, plenty of other accessories for the various weaponry can be earned between ranks by scoring a set number of kills with the associated gun, like new scopes, laser sights that dazzle enemies, and tactical flashlights to blind opponents. When all that is coupled with the rewards for increasing class levels and vehicle levels, players will find themselves earning plenty of new toys to play with rather quickly. This progression also opens up specializations, which encompass bonuses like sprint boost and flak jackets, and introduces a new feature by eventually upgrading to effect your entire squad, providing yet another opportunity to help out your team.
Throughout all the high-octane military action Battlefield 3 is a graphical and audible treat, with incredible explosions bursting to the tune of thunderous tank rounds, while jets swoop overhead for their own personal view of the expansive landscape. The sheer size of levels and enormous amount of in-game action at any time makes it incredible that this game runs so well while making it all look so good. Like Bad Company 2, the sounds of guns and cannons cracking are so distinct that a skilled player can easily tell what’s coming before they see it. Moving in and out of various buildings layers echos into the spectrum, while their destruction rains dirt and debris around you with excellent particle effects. The lighting in particular is amazing looking, as beams of sunlight shine through slits in walls, enemies blind you with flashlights that actually make you want to turn your head, and nighttime scenarios where shadows quickly become your friend. It’s not all perfect, as textures can sometimes pop in during play, and other players can be seen with parts of their bodies jutting through walls sometimes, but the huge scale of the game makes it easy to overlook these nuances amongst the great details.
Battlefield 3‘s online modes embraces what’s always made the franchise great, with massive levels, plenty of vehicles, and great team play, but unfortunately there are still a few smudges in the polish. While for the most part a smooth experience, there can be a few hang ups with intermittent lag causing stutter, and rare disconnections from the server. Possibly the most annoying and prevalent glitches involves playing with friends. While the Battlefield 3 official website sports a boldly worded quote stating “It’s never been easier to play with friends,” it can actually fairly difficult since squads have a nasty habit of getting split onto opposite teams while joining a game. Luckily, this can usually be remedied by going into the XMB, finding your friend, and hitting “Join Session”, but it may lead to unnecessary frustration when what you should be doing is playing. To add some insult to injury, the mic support is often flimsy, breaking up from time to time and occasionally not working at all. Luckily these issues are inconsistent, and at the moment act as a nuisance to an otherwise stellar experience, but they can lead to major annoyances when they pop up. Previous Battlefield games have seen plenty of support that eventually ironed out many similar issues, so hopes are that Battlefield 3 receives the same treatment, especially when considering DICE has already stated a patch is on the way.
It’s difficult to find a better online military shooter for consoles, although the competition is definitely heavy in the category, with irritating bugs being the only major complaint. Battlefield‘s tried and true formula has been improved upon in nearly every way possible, while providing the thrilling entertainment past iterations always have. The mediocre campaign is rather disappointing, and is easily the game’s biggest drawback – the real value here is in the competitive multiplayer modes. There’s plenty of great online competitive shooters out there, but few encourage friends to work together as a team with such refined gameplay, where vast terrains, powerful vehicles, and high-tech gadgets provide such a bevy of tactics and options to be utilized to conquer the enemy as Battlefield 3 does.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Deep and engaging multiplayer provides hours of entertainment
+ Huge maps, plenty of vehicles, tons of upgrades and accessories
– Lackluster campaign means a disappointing single-player