Reviewed On: AMD Phenom II 955 BE, Asus M4A87TD/USB, 4gb G.Skill F3-10666CL9D-4GBNQ, Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 768mb
EA/DICE want their crown back. There’s no doubt that this game has been ground through the hype machine. Teasing gameplay footage, pimping of the Frostbite 2 tech, and lots of video with distorted bass were common themes in the past few months. Now, Battlefield 3 is finally upon us, and it’s certainly doing well so far: several game awards and a solid set of metascores, great beta participation and several million units sold to date.
However, it also comes with its fair share of critics. It is said that its single player is weak and uninspiring; using Battlelog is an awkward experience; and the initial server downtime hurt early multiplayer gamers.
Let’s see how it’s faring after the dust has settled.
An “integral part of the game”
I dove into the single-player campaign first with a heart full of dread. I couldn’t help but read some of the reviews and comments, and a majority of critics couldn’t see the purpose of the campaign. It was uninspired, short, and disjointed, stealing bits from other games and mixing them together into a papier-mache of story and action.
I don’t really agree.
Sure, the campaign isn’t absolutely stunning. There are quite a few elements that were appropriated from other franchises. And yes, there were a couple of sections that I felt were just shadows of implementations done better elsewhere – the tank run and the “death from above” sequence, for instance, were surprisingly short and lacked substance.
But it was still fun. Playing as the GRU operative with my two fellow Russian spec-ops comrades was a treat, running and gunning through the levels with plenty of close quarters combat. The jet sequence was amazing, and I had a palpable sense of excitement when we took off. Frostbite 2 tended to simply colour the environment in a certain state of rubble, rather than actually provide a tactical option in-game ala Bad Company, which was unfortunate, but it still looked amazing.
The campaign simply suffers from a lack of extension. The current elements in there are fine – there’s a healthy mix of roles, the immersion is spectacular, and the voice acting and presentation is generally superb. It just feels like the game only offers a glimpse of what there is to offer. If single-player is meant to be an introduction to the multiplayer component, I want to be able to get accustomed to the different vehicles and weapons. I want to fly that damned jet, too.
Recon Do It! (All Night Long)
As is to be expected, multiplayer is where this game throws its weight around. It still has all those elements that make a Battlefield game great – high player numbers, vast maps, dramatic moments, and fierce fighting. This is where the cream is.
The four classes lifted from Bad Company 2 have changed a little – Assault classes have assumed the healing responsibilities of Support, and Support roles can now dish out ammunition. It is a slight paradigm shift – a ball of Assault troops can press on hard with the ability to defibrillate and heal each other, and Support troops can now lay down a base of fire from behind the lines and keep forward troops stocked with ammo (although the threat of friendly fire is ever present). The classes prop each other up rather well (although it still pains me to see some Recons lacking initiative), and some epic battles can be had if you’re in a cohesive team. Granted, it may be difficult to find one on a public server, so playing with friends is highly recommended.
The number of unlocks has greatly increased almost to the point where it becomes daunting. Most weapons have their own progression tree of kit items, which are unlocked as the player kills enemies with that weapon. Completionists will surely be clocking in several days worth of gameplay. Most kit items are quite useful, bar items such as the “Tactical” Flashlight, which blinds friends as well as enemies. Thanks, guys.
“See the world”, they said
Rush, Conquest, Team Deathmatch and the Squad based variants are all present and accounted for. The map selection is fairly respectable, and the multiple game modes add some variety in to the mix. However, some of the maps don’t play quite as nicely as others; Tehran Highway Conquest and Market Bazaar Rush in particular don’t do it for me. Caspian Border’s wide open fields are quite impressive and allow for some vehicle-heavy Conquest play. There is an interesting ebb and flow where tanks vie for territory, foot soldiers mop up on the ground, and aircraft rain havoc from above. Having said that, I find that due to the map’s size and the amount of traffic feeding through, most short-range encounters tend to lag quite heavily, which results in a confusing kill or death.
Destruction in the game certainly looks great, but it feels a lot less tactical than before. Fallen trees and rubble can make traversing paths more complicated, and getting hit by falling masonry does hurt. But there doesn’t seem to be any further incentive to blow out walls to reveal enemy positions. It feels like so much time is spent outdoors or in buildings that are uncollapsible anyway that there doesn’t seem to be any further danger of being caught in a building collapse.
The presentation is Battlefield 3’s other draw card. Despite the heavy shades of brown, the environments are beautifully rendered and the water and particle effects are striking. Burning tanks and suppression fire blur your vision, and close-range explosions will set your speakers ringing. The “War Tapes” sound set is still present, and it really heightens the immersion.
Some gamers will lament the heavy amount of lens flare and the lack of differently themed environs such as the frozen tundra and jungle battles, but it is still an incredibly impressive graphical feat nonetheless. The upcoming expansion pack promises more locations to wage war too.
However, it appears that the main point of contention with the game is Battlelog: a browser-based platform that presents player statistics, matchmaking, capabilities, a server browser and game launcher.
Foregoing an in-game server browser was a move that I still don’t fully approve. Having to continually open and close the game just to change servers is time-consuming and ineffective. It also feels like a lot of the features in Battlelog can be easily integrated into the game rather than separating everything. The interface from Bad Company 2 wasn’t fantastic, but at least I have more power within the application itself. I also don’t like the idea of installing these mysterious browser plug-ins needed for Battlelog, given the noise over Origin’s privacy issues.
The idea of a having a Facebook-style “news feed” is also entirely inappropriate in my view. Who actually cares that I unlocked a scope on some random gun? Am I going to get some likes on the fact that I finished a Rush game? It smacks of attempts to piggy back onto other successful formulas, and it degrades the product’s appeal.
Despite all that, there are some features that I like. I enjoy the speed and responsiveness of the server browser. Battlelog also presents some interesting stats at a glance, as well as battle reports detailing some random facts and the final score. I can see this feature growing as clans and other organised gaming groups really start poring over the finer details. Maybe an overhead replay function and / or console log dump?
Despite all the loud noises and rabid fanboy attacks, I’m fairly comfortable with where Battlefield 3 stands. It is an excellent game, and easily provides hours and hours of entertainment. The negative press is both right and wrong – the game isn’t absolutely perfect, but it is definitely at an incredibly high tier.
If you haven’t already made up your mind as to which military shooter camp you stand in, this is a worthy successor and a great value product for anyone interested in true open warfare.