Nov 18, 2011

Battlefield 3 Review

Battlefield 3... The game really needs no introduction. It's the latest entry in DICE/EA's flagship online shooter franchise, Battlefield, and one of the most anticipated titles of the year. The game's been out for several weeks now, and you've probably already bought it and decided whether or not you like it.

Me, I love it. If you're a fence-sitter, I can recommend right here and now – and will – that you go out and buy this game immediately. Can I guarantee you'll love it as much as I do? No. But the game bleeds quality and is doubtless one of the best shooters on the market right now, even if it's not for everyone.

It's not perfect, but it is more than awesome enough to be awesome for me. And here's why.

Military Drama: The Game

Obviously, single-player isn't the main component of Battlefield 3. But since the game does come with a single-player campaign, I'm not going to pretend it's not there. If you're wondering what my policy is on this – it's okay to release a multi-player only game. But if you're going to have single-player, make it worth my time.

So, how does BF3's single-player component stack up, particularly in terms of story-telling, characters, and setting? Well, I'd be lying if I said that the structure – the story is told almost entirely through flashbacks – didn't feel a little hackneyed. And most of the characters are either not very detailed, or are bland cardboard cut-outs we've seen a thousand times before. But it's not terrible.

The story-telling isn't innovative or exciting, but the plot is serviceable, and distinctly more authentic in feel than DICE's main competitor. It seems to me that the goal with single-player was to make an exciting, action-movie experience, yes, but one that was also immersive and felt grounded in reality and in the personal stories of those involved.

He knows you ate his fruit cup
For what it's worth, although it's not terribly inventive, the plot did keep me entertained through to the end of the game's brief six hour campaign. The gameplay in single-player is more or less what we except from online focused shooters these days – it's a corridor shooter filled with enemies with bad AI and allies that occasionally get in your way (although at least they actually help out a little in the fights in BF3). The game mixes things up a little with an on-rails jet section and some quick-time events – both points that other reviewers and the community in general seemed to hate, but I found to be fairly effective – but is mostly quite standard fair.

It's okay. There's decent variety in the missions. In addition to the aforementioned jet level, you get to drive a tank, and there are the obligatory stealth and sniping based mission in addition to generic ground combat. The missions feel suitably epic, while not over the top, and it's an enjoyable romp if not quite as heart-pounding as Call of Duty. It's just a shame that DICE didn't do more to make a really memorable experience, or one that meshed better with multi-player.

If you ever visit Tehran, don't do the helicopter tour.
They could've gone with some kind of vaguely open-world persistent single-player, had missions where you actually FLY the air vehicles to serve as training for multi-player if nothing else, or at least made it a little longer with a little more diversity in gameplay than just shotting heads. It's kind of a shame that DICE played the campaign so conservatively instead of using it as an opportunity to really show what their flagship engine can do. Speaking of which...

I've Got a Nasty Case of Frostbite. And I Love It!

The presentation in BF3 is incredible. It's simply stunning. And it's all thanks to DICE's new engine, Frostbite 2.

This is THE first-person shooter engine. It's so bleeding edge I needed to mop off my desk after I started up the game for the first time. Every aspect of the engine is fine-tuned to provide an incredibly immersive and exciting experience. Let's break it down a little more.

Firstly, graphics. Extremely high-res textures, detailed models, and, most of all, one of, if not THE, most impressive lighting engines I've ever seen in a video game result in a game that looks astoundingly realistic. I understand the console versions were toned down pretty heavily to run on older hardware, but the PC version simply looks fantastically good. I've read a lot of comments of people saying they think the game doesn't look very good. I'm not sure what they're smoking, because these are some of the most impressive visuals I've ever seen, although perhaps not QUITE the rival of the likes of Metro 2033, the scale of BF3 makes that difficult on current hardware – unlike that game, BF3 needs to show off gigantic maps with dozens of players and vehicles, and all the fire and smoke that comes along with that.

The fire and smoke effects are also quite nice, by the way.

Movement in the game feels incredibly fluid, helped along by great animations, including first-person animations when vaulting over objects or standing up from prone, for example (and you can see your legs if you look down!). The fluidity of motion and these first-person animations make it one of the most immersive shooters on the market. It's easy to let yourself get lost in the game, feeling like you're really there.

Destructible buildings are present, like in Bad Company 2, and although the level of destruction seems to be a little less – you won't be levelling whole towns this time around – it feels like this was a concious design decision made to preserve the shape and flow of the maps a little more, rather than something that was cut back out of laziness or to keep system requirements down. What destruction there is is quite detailed, and the front of a building falling down after being struck by a rocket is a pretty impressive sight to behold.

What voice-acting there is is extremely well-done. Single-player voice actors are competent, delivering very high quality performances, well beyond what we normally expect in a video game, and the incidental dialogue soldiers yell out in multi-player combat is well scripted and well voiced, lending to the feel of authenticity and to the overall experience of all-out warfare.

The sound design is the best I've ever heard in any game ever. Period. Full stop. Everything sounds how it should, and the environmental audio effects are simply stunning. I don't know what else to say here. It has to be heard to be believed.

You seem to be being shot...
I do find the sound-track to be a little lacklustre. It's the only real complaint I have about the game's presentation. This year's adaptation on the heroic Battlefield theme lacks the beauty and clarity of other versions, coming off more as distorted electronic noise, and other tracks are similarly forgettable. It's a nice touch that, in multi-player, the music builds up towards the end of the match with a crescendo as the game ends, but the songs themselves are not terribly effective, reducing the impact. But this is a minor complaint, a tiny smudge on the game's otherwise immaculate presentation.

So, Online Warfare, or Online BOREfare?

I believe “Awesomefare” would be correct.

The focal point of BF3 – as with every Battlefield – is in the multi-player. And, backed up by the amazing engine, BF3 provides one of if not the most comprehensive and enjoyable online experiences available when it comes to first-person shooters.

This is a happy screen!
Battlefield's famous brand of combined warfare is well represented here on 9 large, varied maps and three basic game-modes. Old-school fans of the series may feel that the maps are a bit tighter than they remember, and with somewhat less vehicles. I feel like this is a welcome change. There are still enough vehicles to accommodate a decent percentage of each team on the larger maps, and the tighter design means that infantry combat is more exciting.

The game boasts a 64-player limit on PC, with console versions scaled back to a measly 24 (with accordingly trimmed maps). 64-player games really do have the feel of fairly large scale battles when you throw in all the tanks, Jeeps, helicopters and jets. The smaller scale maps (which are also available on PC) have a somewhat more compact feeling, and are still enjoyable, however, this is one game that should clearly be played on PC for the full experience thanks to these larger battles as well as improved graphics and frame rates.

The core gameplay is extremely solid, whether on foot or in a vehicle, the game controls well and feels very smooth and immersive. Most weapons feel balanced, responsive, and are a joy to use due to well-selected levels of recoil and damage. There can be some minor issues with hit registration at times, perhaps slightly more severe than in competing titles, and while it can be a downer to be shot around corners on occasion, these problems never become serious hindrances on the enjoyment of the game.

Each gametype has something to offer here. Conquest matches offer a great deal of freedom and variety, and really capture the feel of a pitched battle, with players competing to hold strategic zones around the map. Rush games, made up of a series of choke-points with one attacking side and one defending side, give slightly faster objective based gameplay where teamwork, flanking, and aggression are key. Or you can turn off your brain for some mostly mindless but still enjoyable shooting in one of the game's deathmatch modes. There are only a few gametypes, it's true, but I feel like there's something for everyone here, even if it might've been nice for the series to start incorporating new gamemodes. I'd especially like to see how a game of capture the flag might work in a Battlefield title.

And there was much customising.
Around this strong core gameplay there's an extensive meta-game, with hordes of unlocks (as we've come to expect from our online shooters) including weapons, attachments, vehicle upgrades and player camouflage schemes. There are also ribbons to collect by making notable achievements such as getting a certain number of kills with a certain weapon class in a round, which eventually lead to medals, unlocking customisable dog-tags that are shown to other players when you kill them, and can be taken from others with a well-placed stabbing. There's a lot to keep you going here if you're a lover of unlocks and customisation, with each gun having between ten and twenty different unlockable attachments for using that weapon.

Battlelog, the social networking site that launched alongside the game, also keeps a detailed record of your gameplay stats, including game-by-game statistics, allowing you to quickly see how you're going or brag to other players. Leaderboards compare your achievements with your friends, players can join platoons to have a shared stat pool and additional communication features, and you can, in true facepush style, write status messages for your friends to “Hooah!”. The com centre also makes it easy to group up with friends, join their games, and even start up voice chat (with a decent codec, no less!). Browsing and joining games is done through Battlelog, which features a full server browser with all the filters and features you normally expect, and is generally quite responsive despite being browser based.

This is not a happy screen.
The system was controversial, as it's just one more thing PC gamers are forced to register for, one more system they need to go through to play their game. But to me, Battlelog is a resounding success. It's got a great feature set, it makes playing with friends phenomenally easy, and it generally works quite well overall.

There are some niggling issues with the game. Some glitches, minor balance issues, occasional crashing or connection problems, the normal mess of tiny problems that most games ship with to be worked out in the first year or so of patches. It seems clear DICE intend to listen to and support the community, with the first patch on the way and some quite expansive (and free, if you got the limited edition of the game) DLC coming next month.

There are also a few bigger problems, such as the lack of in-game VOIP, but there's nothing really game-breaking for me, and overall, BF3's multiplayer component is the full package, offering hundreds of hours of great gameplay to be had, with even more on the way.


Despite a somewhat bland single-player, Battlefield 3 is a triumphant success. In this reviewer's opinion, the game sets a new bar for multiplayer shooters with its amazing technology and epic, enjoyable gameplay. There's certainly room in the market for DICE's competitors, but I don't think any game released this year will be able to compete with BF3 in terms of sheer quality.

If you play online shooters, whether you're the most hardcore 1337 dewd the world has ever seen, or a bumbling casual just looking for some thrills, you're doing yourself a serious disservice if you pass this one up. Just don't get it for the single-player. And for the love of fuck, if you have a PC that can run it, do yourself a favour and play this one on the platform it was designed for. Not that console gamers should pass up on the chance to play BF3, not at all, but the experience is significantly better on PC this time around.

Go out, get this game, add me on Battlelog if you want (Troubletcat), and I'll see you on the battlefield.

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