Forget all the hype about EA and DICE’s latest first-person shooter. Forget about the promises of Battlefield 1943 included in PlayStation 3 copies of Battlefield 3. Forget about all the smack-talk about its ultra-elite graphics. Forget about the other “modern-war” shooter on the horizon. If you can look at Battlefield 3 like this, without expecting-eyes, there’s an awful lot to like about this shooter. But, we don’t live in a vacuum, and perhaps the enormous hype surrounding Battlefield 3 will rub gamers the wrong way, and dash their expectations if they only play through a few missions in the single-player campaign. At its core, Battlefield 3 is a terrific game, right on the level of just about every other first-person shooter on the market, and luckily the multiplayer—the real main offering—makes up for an otherwise mediocre story mode.
Taken right out of the “games made with Hollywood flair” playbook, Battlefield 3 explodes onto your PlayStation 3 with fiery gun battles, epic warzones where jets, helicopters, and tanks blanket the horizon, and soldiers fight alongside one another to maintain any sense of control. All of this takes place in DICE’s high-quality multiplayer, which at times borders between stellar and pure genius. Nothing in Battlefield 3 breaks new ground or unhinges old or current trends, but perhaps its biggest achievement is that playing with your buddies or complete strangers online is simply a blast.
Like most games we play (and review) we start with the single-player campaign experience. Luckily there is a lot of game to play outside of the campaign as DICE seemed to take a pass on some very basic elements in the single-player mode. We know many who read this will be up-in-arms that we even bothered reviewing the story experience because most FPS are only good for online multiplayer, but it’s our job to review the complete game. If you are someone who is a stickler for scores, know our views of the single-player mode, along with some minor issues in multiplayer, helped us arrive at the final verdict.
The story is a globetrotting affair that puts you in the boots of different soldiers. You primarily follow Sergeant James Blackburn as he’s interrogated, Call of Duty: Black Ops-style, and you’ll play through various missions that help fill in the blanks about the events leading to missing WMDs, and the aftermath Blackburn must explain. It’s a pretty basic story, but there are moments it felt exciting.
The excitement comes from breathtaking set pieces. One in particular, an evening sniper mission on city roofs, is downright beautiful. The new Frostbite 2 engine works really well, but it’s not perfect. There are occasionally graphical hiccups and texture issues, but Battlefield 3 is like your friend’s little sister who grew up to become a model—you can’t take your eyes away, and even if your friend asks you to, you’d give him a dumb, dazed look of joy. But, looks aren’t everything, and while Battlefield 3 is a graphical powerhouse, there are some fundamental flaws that make the single-player campaign feel frustrating at times. Little annoyances include relying too heavily on your poor A.I. controlled buddies to open doors, or even worse, the game runs a loop with waves of enemies until you stand in the proper location. From issues like not being able to kill enemies because they are part of some choreographed building collapse, or your allies popping through walls, the issues in the single-player campaign are not so bad that it ruins the experience, it just makes it all a bit dull, especially in the second half.
The levels are not designed particularly well, and there is at least one bottleneck in each ground combat level. Vehicle combat may sound promising, but it’s hard to feel DICE put some of these levels in, like the jet mission, just to have something to look at. The flying level in particular is a massive let down, and consists of pushing buttons when you are told to, and gazing out your foggy window as you wait for something to do. Without giving away too much of the plot, some of the best missions are when you play as Dima, the Russian spec ops soldier. There is also a level that finally gives you a wide open warzone to not only feast your eyes upon, but to also test your skills and give you more opportunity to play how you want, not how the game makes you play.
There are six co-op missions that certainly improve on the A.I., but some of the same issues mentioned earlier are present. The emphasis here is, as you probably guessed, teamwork. There are stealth missions and straight-up major gun fights. The gameplay and overall presentation in co-op feels quite a bit stronger than that of the single-player campaign.
The real lasting appeal and sugary cake is the multiplayer mode. While there are some launch day issues and some frustrating server drops and lag, this will likely be worked out by the time you read this review. Just about everything in multiplayer is the single-player experience on bull steroids, minus the forgettable story and characters. The scale in multiplayer is absolutely massive. Picture jets dogfighting in the sky while tanks pepper the warzone. Picture sneaky soldiers finding comfort atop a building, which is quietly brought down by enemy forces, leaving the map forever changed. Now picture yourself in the middle of it all, rolling through sprawling and lively maps with your friends, and working together to secure strategic locations.
DICE got a lot right in multiplayer, but there are some issues with camping, and other small gripes with graphics and even hit detection—but those are all fairly minor. Complete objectives and kill enemies to earn points that allow you to nab new gear. You can play as any one of the four classes—Assault, Support, Engineer, and Recon. As is the case with most quality FPS games, they each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Little things like laser scopes blinding your enemy are terrific, and this also helps keep anyone from being too overpowered. For example, if you are on the other side of the scope, you’ll have a second (or split second) when you realize you are in someone’s sights. You then have to react, meaning if you have skills, you can take on even the best equipped opponents. Still, even if you have skills, you are going to die.
The modes are fairly traditional, including standard team deathmatches and conquer modes, but the maps really add something special to Battlefield 3. There are snowy mountains, European city streets, cargo facilities, and giant battlefields. Again, the scale of the maps—at least those outside deathmatches—are spectacular. Everything seems to blow up, and the skies are nearly always lit by explosions in the distance. Multiplayer includes up to 24-players, but the PC version allows for 64-players. This may feel like a letdown, but 24-players battling it out with an assortment of vehicles over gorgeous, brutalized landscapes still works really well.
There aren’t a lot of new components or new ideas thrown into multiplayer, and this may frustrate some FPS fans, but Battlefield loyalists will feel right at home. However, it’s hard not to feel like DICE was focused more on aesthetics than new ideas. This may sound like nitpicking, but in such a competitive market it’s nearly a requirement to push the boundaries.
For all the shortcomings in the single-player, and the triumphs in the multiplayer and co-op, DICE deserves a fair amount of credit for creating worthy competition to that other modern-shooter. If the studio had fixed some of the glaring issues, for example, the fact your A.I. companions are virtually invisible to enemies in the single-player mode, or the “stand here before we’ll allow you to continue” pacing, this would have been one of the most solid FPS in recent history. But, we still have a great game at our fingertips, and luckily the multiplayer is strong enough to keep even the most loyal modern-shooter fan excited.