Battlefield 3 Review: Squad Up Again

By: Doug Scott

If you’re anything like me then you have two piles of games. There’s your retired pile; a collection of games you have played to completion. They are games you love and never will part with, but you’re not actively playing them. Then there’s your playing pile which stays near your consoles. Most likely there is an open world game, a multiplayer game, a party game for guests and the current blockbuster game of the season in this pile. Make room in your playing pile because Battlefield 3 demands a spot.  You want Battlefield 3 for the multiplayer. Battlefield 3 has enough guns and gear to unlock for each class to keep you playing it until the end of time or until Battlefield 4 is announced. Each weapon and vehicle has three equipment slots that can be equipped with special unlocks. Guns have a variety of scopes, muzzle attachments and grips to upgrade them. Vehicles gain perks like flares and faster reloading weapons. These toys will keep players begging for more. They are, however, daunting to a new player.

It’s not fair that a new player will have a pitifully weak gun with no attachments, and he will then be forced to fight fully decked out opponents. In the Call of Duty series this unbalance is managed by preset load-outs which have access to a few advanced perks. Battlefield 3 has no equivalent and results in more griping from new players. If your thought is now “well if they play well then they’ll be fine” then I’ll have to explain a bit. The past year I played BFBC2 with a group of rag-tag friends from all walks of life. Many of us were exceptionally good at the game. We could calculate bullet drop for sniping, or fly a helicopter with the greatest of ease. Then there were the people who supported us. Our engineers and medics didn’t have the highest number of kills, but they were the backbone of our team. Battlefield 3 seems to leave those support players behind in favor of a more frantic paced Call of Duty firefight experience. Don’t get me wrong. Medics can still revive people and engineers can keep a tank running an entire game, but it feels as if gameplay is now more suited to running and gunning.

Despite these minor changes, Battlefield 3 still is a fantastic and thrilling multiplayer experience. Squads are still the iconic staple of Battlefield multiplayer, and are so successful it’s a surprise every other shooter hasn’t copied them. Squads allow you to break your team of twelve into three 4-man units. Teamwork, as always, is vital to success in BF3’s multiplayer.

Previous Battlefield games were renowned for their scale and BF3 is no exception. Maps are as expansive as ever and filled with Humvees, tanks, jets, helicopters and LATVs, a near indestructible vehicle which anyone can spawn in. The Frostbite 2.0 engine is a marvel of destructibility from small tiles being chipped away by machine gun fire to an entire building being brought down by several well placed rockets.

The sound design is, as always, the best there is. DICE has a natural talent for immersing players in their games with stellar audio and BF3 goes above and beyond with a new mechanic called suppression fire. What’s remarkable by suppression fire is that it is activated by the audio engine. As bullets fly by you your vision will begin to blur, creating a panic induced state when pinned down by enemy fire.

Another new addition is blinding techniques. Each gun can be equipped with a tactical flashlight or laser sight. These attachments will blind enemies. In close quarters, a shotgun with a flashlight is satisfying to wield but diabolical to encounter.

The single player campaign highlights everything that can be done in BF3 but not the way it should be done. Battlefield is about spontaneity and vast open firefights. The campaign features neither of those except in one instance. I find it funny that the campaign starts off on a train because the entirety of the campaign feels like a narrow set of rails.

The majority of campaign is killing a wave of enemies, advance twenty feet, hit a check point and repeat. When multiplayer is filled with so many player induced “Battlefield moments” of helicopters falling at your feet or ducking under a rocket at the last second encountering a scripted event seems so…blasé. There are no “oh shit” moments since you know you’ll survive these scripted events.

The featured quick-time events which often have you punching some schlub to death aren’t even quick-time events. Two button presses for a forty-five second beat down doesn’t present a challenge; it’s just something you’re supposed to watch and be impressed with. By the anti-climatic finish, these quick time events have become time wasting.

The campaign is about as ho-hum to be expected in a modern warfare shooter. You’re trying to save the world from nuclear destruction and prevent a war with Russia. It seems like such a step back from the Bad Company campaigns. Sure they were nothing special, but they had the charm and goofiness of the Bad Company members. Without Haggard and Sweetwater constantly bickering you’re left with a cookie cutter modern warfare clone with the same story you’ve seen a hundred times.

Where multiplayer is polished to a shine (except the network problems experienced at launch), single player is plagued with bugs. I’ve had opening level dialogue repeated constantly throughout a level and NPCs stand and converse with one another during a firefight. BF3’s campaign really is just a “me-too” campaign that can easily be compared to Call of Duty. In fact if you put both campaigns on two consoles in the same room and asked someone which is which they would have a hard time discerning the two.

The game itself is remarkably beautiful even on consoles. It really pushes the Xbox 360 to its limits. Audio design is the best out there, and the multitude of visual effects is staggering. If there’s one complaint I could make about the presentation is that there is way too much lens glare. I understand the new mechanic of blinding your opponents with a flashlight, but when you can’t shoot strait because you’re being blinded by the sun no matter where you are then there is a problem.

Campaign has flecks of dirt constantly on your screen that really made me question the cleanliness of my monitor. In the end, it all works though. The blinding sun really is a personal complaint, and it, in fact, adds a new layer of strategy to the multiplayer. If you can position yourself with the sun to your back you’ll be invisible for a few seconds as other players’ eyes adjust. Battlefield 3 is unlike any Battlefield game before it. It is just as grand as its predecessors and just as fun to play, but it’s has a much faster pace. It feels like a Call of Duty game has been married to the scale and destructibility of the Battlefield franchise. For some that is the perfect excuse to get into the series. For others it is the perfect excuse to keep playing Bad Company 2.

I wish I could ignore the campaign and review only the multiplayer because they are two completely different experiences. With the bugs and feel of a different game the campaign would get a middling review. The multiplayer is without a doubt fantastic albeit slightly different from previous Battlefield games. One thing is for certain. I love Battlefield 3. It will stay in my playing pile until its sequel comes out. I will forgive the network errors because, well, I’m a sucker. There’s no better team based experience than a Battlefield game. If you’ve never experienced Battlefield then do yourself a favor. Turn on your microphone, make new Battlefield friends and work together as you have the time of your life.

4 stars

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Battlefield 3 provided by the reviewer. It is also available for the PS3 and PC.

This game was played with the texture pack installed.

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