“Don’t believe the hype” - I’m 99% sure Public Enemy were not talking about the hype games receive in the run up to launch but if they were...in the case of Battlefield 3 they may well have been on to something!
Battlefield 3 hits stores with arguably the biggest hype campaign of any game launched this year, mainly and most oddly focused around the single player campaign. Trailer after trailer, TV spot after TV spot consistently trash talking the Call of Duty series and in turn its publisher. Arguably we witnessed one of the most aggressive PR campaigns for some time but ultimately have EA and DICE made a rod for their own back by doing this? Are gamers now forced to perform direct comparisons to Call of Duty when in fact Battlefield as a franchise is a completely different beast?
Well...it’s now time to see if that direct aggressive PR assault has left the gaming community happy or ultimately just really disappointed.
Battlefield is a juggernaut of a franchise, fusing authentic team based strategic combat with cutting edge visuals and unrivalled online play. PC has always been the lead platform, and coincidentally the one they chose to keep showing pre-release; here we are looking solely at the console version, specifically the Xbox 360 version.
For the first time DICE and EA have added a full single player campaign to a Battlefield release, not counting the Bad Company franchise and it is with this that you begin to question the PR tactic. Clocking in at around 5 hours the single player campaign is lovely to look at, bombastic, completely action packed but sadly at the same time dull, predictable, infuriating and ultimately a big disappointment. Taking a hell of a lot of cues from Black Ops (to the point of completely ripping off plot devices) you play as an elite soldier being interrogated for their part in past events and obviously as this is a military shooter some crazy foreigners have some nukes. Agents ask some rather vague questions during some well rendered cut scenes (book ending each mission) and within a flash you are transported back to past events As you relive each mission very little story is relayed, leaving that mainly for the cut scenes. The story is really poor, fairly predictable and ultimately just dull - any form of emotional attachment to either the plot or the characters is nigh on impossible.
The whole single player campaign is just forced. It feels as though they had to have a single player campaign rather than they really wanted one, it displays very little creativity and you just never feel like they wanted to make it better than anything that has come before. Throughout there are some frankly crazy design decisions, not least of all the “Microcosm” / “Dragons Lair” on rails sections and the excessive use of quick time events. On rails shooting sections are fine and sure they have been done before but you do so little during these sections it’s hardly worth them being there - rather than break up the gameplay they just feel like padding. Oh and yes, that’s not a mistake back there - there are copious amounts of quick time events in a first person military shooter with a massive budget.
On a more positive note (and there are some positives to take from the campaign) the mood and general tone is pretty much spot on - it’s a little bit more grown up than its competitors and places an awful lot of emphasis on the cinematic moments rather than Hollywood style explosions. It’s all a lot less Michael Bay than the Call of Duty franchise and considerably better for it.
Once you have installed the texture pack (which you have to really to avoid your eyes bleeding) it can be said that the single player campaign looks fantastic and the sound design sets a new bar for shooters. Dazzling lighting and particle effects fill the screen and the destruction modelling is top draw. Oddly the superb graphics are actually too good in some areas, mainly as the smoke effects are that good you will be unable to see who is shooting you - this makes some particular levels really frustrating especially when you ramp up the difficulty. If this was the intention then in all fairness, it’s perfect, war is hell and all that.
The sound design is at times astonishing and all other development houses should use this as the new benchmark for sound design in a console title. Everything is just absolutely executed to perfection; from the beefy machine gun noises to heavy tanks ripping through buildings all the way to the sound distortion experienced by a lone solider who is under attack from all angles, it’s just perfect. The score itself is adequate if a little understated but in the heat of battle you will pay this little thought and focus on your objective....like a proper soldier should!
Co-op mode is pretty much a write off; consisting of a handful of new environments and driven by a wafer thin plot the six scenarios offer some additional content but it suffers from many of the same problems the single player campaign does. It’s not a great deal of fun and without ANY checkpoints it can prove to be very tricky. A reasonable addition but really not something that will tempt co-op lovers to add to first week sales.
If you had planned on purchasing Battlefield 3 for the single player campaign alone then honestly that is not a sound investment and you will be disappointed. It’s a multi player game and they appear to have added a single player campaign in solely to compete with Call of Duty. It’s fairly annoying to have to reference Call of Duty so much but unfortunately the marketing machine has really dictated that this has to happen with every element of Battlefield 3.
Ultimately, putting aside the completely forgettable single player campaign the tacked on co-op and bizarre marketing campaign, Battlefield is at heart an online multiplayer franchise and Battlefield 3 continues this rich tradition of epic online team play. Anyone who has ever played a Battlefield game online on the PC (or the Bad Company titles on this generation of consoles) will rightfully expect the multiplayer element to shine and my goodness does it shine. DICE absolutely come in to their own here.
Team Deathmatch is included this time around in what one could only conclude as being a way to slowly introduce the masses of Call of Duty (yep, that game again!) players to the franchise but as ever the ultimate Battlefield experience can be found in the Rush and Conquest modes. There is some fun to be had in the squad rush and squad deathmatch variants but the full rush and conquest modes are where Battlefield effectively opens up a can of whoop. The encounters are intense, often absolutely huge and are up there with some of the best online gaming seen on consoles.
All modes support up to 24 players, hosted on dedicated EA servers and rotating through all of the nine available maps. There is plenty of variety although it’s clear after a few hours which maps will become firm fan favourites. It would have been nice for the maps to not auto rotate and some kind of voting system be put in place but that really is a minor gripe. Levelling is a lot slower than previous Battlefield releases but the rewards dished out for each rank are worth their weight in gold. Things have been adjusted since Bad Company 2 in an effort it would seem to streamline the options a little bit and the game is better for it. The assault class can now dish out medical packs for example (after they’re unlocked) and there are all manner of very cool gizmos to aid you on the battlefield. The ranking system is fairly unforgiving at first as you will need to put the hours in to get some decent kit, that said team play is promoted and you do receive points for kill assistance and suppressing fire. For the first few experience levels you will have to go old skool using iron sights but this simply makes receiving a decent new weapon sight that much more rewarding.
Squads of four is very much a love it or hate it feature. It absolutely promotes team play and as this is Battlefield not COD, team play is imperative. That said four players in a squad is a limiting factor that Call of Duty players are never faced with and for a large group of friends it is very difficult to play Battlefield 3 together. It’s somewhat odd that a game of team based tactical warfare requires you to split up before and during a game but a lot of this is purely down to the poor server infrastructure in place for launch.
For console gamers the first week is always a testing time; almost impossible to get online for the first weekend due to the lack of servers, with the situation easing as the weeks progress.
The addition of the server browser has eased the problem of finding which server your friend(s) managed to get on to so joining them in battle is simple enough. No doubt this will all sort itself out within the first two weeks of launch but the question still remains...why does this always happen?
It is worth noting that the day one patch of Battlefield 3 did sort out a lot of the issues experienced during the beta. Sure a few of the glitches are still evident but it is a vastly superior version to the shambles that was the beta.
Vehicular combat has always been a core element of the Battlefield series and it makes a triumphant appearance in Battlefield 3. Jeeps, tanks, armoured cars, helicopters and jets can all be employed to “bring the pain” online. Mastering each ranges from easy (tank) to very difficult (jets) and perseverance is essential. The maps are for the most part big expansive areas so the use of vehicles is a must. When you step out of the vehicle though it’s just as good. The tight controls are very simple to master, using tried and tested console FPS layouts. Whether you run and gun or sneak and hide the gun play is fantastic. Each weapon has a slightly different feel to it and such things as kick back just feel right. Experiencing the two types of combat during a full scale battle really is satisfying and makes Battlefield 3 more than just a twitch shooter.
Putting all the pieces of the multiplayer experience together presents you with a must have game. The combination of on foot & vehicular combat, matched with some superb map design and battles on a grand scale ensure Battlefield 3 really sets itself apart from any other online experience on home consoles. Add to this the excellent destructable environments and superb sound design and there are clearly a lot of reasons to part with your money.
Battlefield 3 has an awful lot of offline flaws but as soon as you begin to experience its online delights every negative thought just disappears. You will soon find yourself pouring hours in to your soldier, ranking up, working with a full squad and generally just blowing a lot of sh*t up. It more than makes up for the poor offline components and leaves you wondering why they even bother with them. There really is no need to be more like Call of Duty, the Battlefield franchise is much loved and has a big following, concentrate on refining/improving it and the masses will come. Tacking on a half arsed single player campaign which mimics a year old Call of Duty game is just going to disappoint and make people want to buy the next Call of Duty game as it can’t be like last years.
As an overall package it offers a wealth of content but is far from perfect. It is not recommended for its campaign or co-op experiences but the multiplayer absolutely shines, offering hours and hours of the best team based combat ever to grace a console.
It's on like Donkey Kong!