Battlefield 3 Review
It won all sorts of E3 awards. It’s EA’s big dog; the game that will steal away part of Call of Duty’s market share. The PC footage we saw earlier this year blew us out of our chairs. And now that it’s here, shooter fans everywhere are prepared for a groundbreaking experience. Well, the multiplayer, despite a few technical issues I’m assuming will be fixed presently, stands out in a number of different ways, and the campaign is super intense. It just falls a little shy of the, “damn, this is some next-level sh**!” that I had expected.
Much has been made about the graphics, so I’m going to spend a little extra time on this category. There’s no doubt that it’s one of the best looking games of the generation; the lighting is superb, the particle effects and intricate details are extremely impressive, and the atmosphere really is second-to-none. That Frostbite 2.0 engine is an absolute beast. It provides us with an invigorating, white-knuckle military atmosphere that keeps us rooted to the spot, wondering what’s going to happen next. In truth, you really shouldn’t be disappointed.
But let’s talk expectations for a minute. This is not the PC footage we saw, and it’s obvious. There’s more pop-in than I had anticipated, and the PS3 version definitely has some screen-tearing issues. While the textures are arguably better than RAGE, and the latter also suffered from plenty of pop-in, id Software’s product felt more like a refined painting in which we reveled at the extreme sophistication. DICE’s production is beautiful as well but with so much going on, we’re often forced to notice those small console drawbacks. This is still awfully pretty, though.
The audio is a definite highlight, even more so than the visual presentation, in my opinion. The satisfying, crystal-clear crack of your weapon – bolstered by the very distinct sound of each weapon type – and the whiz and crunch of bullets is fantastic. The cries of your allies, ranging from whispered orders to panicked yells, is very realistic, and the soundtrack rocks. The latter is a tad repetitive, though, and the enemy dialogue isn’t as accomplished as the ally voice work. That being said, you definitely want surround sound or a good headset for this bad boy.
With such a mammoth title, I was looking for two things: an excellent campaign that leaves me breathless and the robust, singular multiplayer experience that is undoubtedly the primary reason most gamers are forking over their cash. For the latter, I think DICE has succeeded beautifully with a few small exceptions and for the former, I maintain that it’s a worthy campaign and one well worth playing. However, it just didn’t reach that pinnacle of single-player action I wholeheartedly expected.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still wicked intense. In fact, I dare say it’s maybe the first military shooter where I actually felt frightened and on-edge; in some situations, I actually had to battle my nerves. That really doesn’t happen to me anymore, so this is a testament to the realism and immersion one enjoys when tackling the campaign. The vehicles are part of the patented DICE flair, and it’s great that the controls and mechanics for most every element are very well implemented and plenty accessible.
The pacing and style is that of a typical Hollywood blockbuster: lots of stuff blows up, there’s a constant sense of danger, and the faceless terrorists are dead-eyes but in general, aren’t very bright. This last point brings me to the first flaw; the AI sort of let me down. Other shooters this year have already exhibited smarter enemy intelligence, and that includes Killzone 3, RAGE, and even Resistance 3. The foes in BF3 will run for cover, but that’s about it. There isn’t much in the way of flanking, dodging, strategy, etc.
Plus, the other surprising old-fashioned aspect of the gameplay is that regardless of how many allies you have around you, the enemy will always fire at you. Man, I thought we had left this behind. But it’s still here and unfortunately, it detracts from the ultimate accuracy and realism DICE was going for; since when am I the only one on the battlefield? Lastly, I have to say that the story really isn’t anything special. It’s well presented and the voice performances are great, but it feels more like a vehicle for the nonstop action rather than an actual narrative.
Thankfully, the positive aspects greatly outweigh the negative in the campaign, because you always feel pumped. It just never lets up and that’s part of the appeal. The vehicles are awesome; I preferred being the gunner in a jet (you could see more of the unbelievable scenery), and other military vehicles are sweet. Oh, and we can finally go prone in a Battlefield title, which was a necessary addition for the sake of that aforementioned realism.
But it’s the multiplayer where gamers will get the most bang for their buck. Indeed, it’s crazy meaty and sadly for single-player lovers, sort of makes the campaign feel more like a tutorial than anything else. It’s all about teamwork in BF3 online and when everybody works together like a smoothly oiled machine, it’s the closest you’re going to get to a virtual warzone feel and sensation. The Battlelog is an excellent feature, as it keeps you updated on just about everything, including the unlocks that are heading your way.
You can upgrade in a million different ways. This goes well beyond simply gunning down other players; the vehicular aspect by itself makes the BF3 multiplayer unique. But you can also assist downed teammates, and unlocking everything is gonna take a significant chunk of time. That’s because there are independent unlock routes for every class, vehicle and weapon, and you can gain experience for any/all of them based on a round’s performance. Maybe you ran around resurrecting fallen allies with your defibrillator or maybe you were a sniper extraordinaire.
Whatever you decide to do, you can always expect deep, satisfying multiplayer action, round in and round out. DICE really seems to have thought of everything. You’re familiar with getting a little experience for an Assist, but have you ever been rewarded simply for keeping an enemy pinned in one spot until a friend can take him out? And did you know that while he’s pinned, he has to deal with blurred vision? The combination of the fantastic vehicular element and teamwork keeps it all fresh.
Battlefield 3 is a powerful shooter that tries its damndest to suck you in, to keep you saying, “woah, look at that!” In so many ways, it succeeds. I think the campaign will take too much flak for the problems I noted here, but the bottom line is that it’s a thrilling ride from start to finish. The campaign is about 7-8 hours, but I’m sure everyone cares most about the multiplayer, which is like nothing else out there. I didn’t play the beta; I know it had issues, but this seems just fine to me.
Maybe it’s the day-one patch they implemented that made it more stable. I did get stuck near a jeep once and the game froze, too, but through many hours of playing today, I didn’t find much to get in a twist about. The somewhat clichéd and uninspired narrative, disappointing AI, and graphical sacrifices clearly made for the console versions might drop this one down in your estimation, especially given all the PC footage we’ve seen. And if you’re a CoD fan, you really might dislike the multiplayer, as it’s a different experience. But overall, Battlefield 3 is a winner.
It just isn’t quite the massive elite shooter that outstrips all other FPSs in every category. If you can deal with that, I’m sure you’ll be happy.
The Good: Gripping, highly detailed visual presentation. Audio is gritty; voice work is excellent. Intensity is off the charts. Great control and feel. Multiple vehicles add a huge amount of flavor. Multiplayer is a robust, complete experience.
The Bad: Pop-in and screen-tearing issues. Outdated AI that doesn’t often acknowledge your allies. Storyline is lacking.
The Ugly: “Yeah, I’m the only out here. Mm-hm.”
10/25/2011 Ben Dutka