Posted Wed 30th Nov 2011 9:59pm by Michael Kendrick
Battlefield 3 Review
In many ways, Battlefield 3 is trying too hard. EA's attempts at delivering a sophisticated, system-crunching title for the PC crowd are all but annulled by their efforts to appeal to the vast, casual console market. The result is a game which varies radically across its many game modes, with many of its high-points offset by moments of bland and unimaginative gameplay.
The difference between the game's single-player and multiplayer experiences is perhaps the most obvious of the game's contrasts. Where the former has you obediently hammering buttons in disappointingly-placed quick-time events, the latter has you tactically complete objectives as part of an effective squad with three other players. In that respect, Battlefield 3's single-player campaign doesn't even feel like an extended tutorial. It feels far too similar to some of the other shooters on the market, channelling the experience down narrow corridors rather than opting for the more appealing open spaces of the Bad Company campaigns.
While it may be a stiff and restricting experience, the campaign does have its fair share of highlights. I've never been as excited by a game as when I was performing pre-flight checks in the rear cockpit of a fighter jet before blasting into take-off from an aircraft carrier. The incredible graphics made the experience stunningly entertaining on the PC, and the masterful sound design brought the action to life. The whole mission was little more than a glorified quick-time event, but that didn't stop it from being a fantastic exhibition of DICE's ability to make an exciting military experience.
The story, though, is painfully tepid, feeling more like a series of completely unrelated military experiences. It's pretty clear that developer DICE wanted to pack in as much variety as possible in the short confines of the campaign. Missions are connected by some fairly dull cut scenes that do little but spew military jargon and barely dramatic dialogue. That said, DICE's talent for spectacle delivers just about enough memorable moments to ensure the campaign doesn't feel entirely limp when compared to its awesome multiplayer counterpart.
Battlefield 3's co-op element is easily the weakest offering of all three modes. It features only six missions, and while there's doubtlessly going to be more added in future DLC, it feels completely artificial. It's almost as if the mode was added exclusively to provide some sort of answer to the offerings of some of Battlefield 3's competitors, giving the impression that the mode was tacked on during the latter stages of development. The two-player limit is disappointing given the scale of Battlefield 3's online warfare, striking a poor balance between the Rambo-ish action in single-player and the huge team battles in multiplayer. The inclusion of a partner does make some of the missions a little more exciting than they would be if they were experienced alone, but the same feeling of restrictive claustrophobia is just as prominent here as it is in the campaign. It's a shame that the balance they tried to create for the co-op didn't fall down a little heavier on the side of the mind-blowing multiplayer.
The amount of scenarios that can develop in a 64-player match is unbelievable. I threw my fist in the air with exhilaration more often here than in any other game. I actually found myself shouting in joy when a couple of battle tanks rolled in to help defend a flag which the remnants of my squad and I were sure to lose. It was the kind of heart-pumping adrenaline rush that could only be created because of the illusion DICE put before my eyes. Everything about the situation such as suppressing fire that blurred my screen and the thundering rumble of the battle tanks created an experience which felt fantastically authentic.
It isn't just the marvel of the Frostbite engine that makes the multiplayer experience what it is. The core mechanics of the game's squad system, the brilliance of the level design and the intelligent balancing make for an unrivalled multiplayer experience.
It all feels like less of a competition and more about team play, rarely resulting in the rage-quitting emotions you may have experienced in other titles. The team-play mechanics are a little more refined than what we saw in Bad Company 2; the addition of suppressing fire and some new team-oriented gadgets provide far more options when it comes to helping out your team. Everything from spotting enemies, replenishing ammunition and providing homing beacons for allied rocket launchers help remove the niggling paranoia of the kill-death ratio. Instead, the game encourages players to be instinctively helpful and supportive to their allies. After all, what other game can let you end a match with a kill death ratio of 1:10 and still walk away in the top three on the leaderboard?
Aside from the intelligent design, the emphasis on team play and the stunning graphics, there is still one more crucial element to the Battlefield 3 multiplayer formula: vehicles. They cement the authenticity of the war zone experience. Starting the match in a small military base complete with an airfield, tank depot and helipads just brings a sense of scale that you'll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the FPS genre. A few minutes into a match on Caspian Border, one of the game's largest maps, will have fighter jets circling and strafing the battlefield, columns of tanks rolling in to capture objectives and attack choppers harassing enemy positions. When all this comes together, which it mostly does, Battlefield 3 is peerlessly epic.
My only complaint here is with the 64 player Conquest matches. The objective is for one team to secure as many points on the map and hold them for as long as possible. However, the chaos can quickly grow from having 64 players in a map. While the squad system does its bit in keeping players close to each other and to the action, I feel that a return of the commander mode, a feature in which one player gives out orders to squads, would have added a much needed layer of cohesion to the action.
Luckily, Rush mode, Squad Rush and Squad Deathmatch all manage to keep the action focused, with Rush in particular feeling like the best and most focused multiplayer experience on offer. The inclusion of Team Deathmatch, however, is obviously part of the attempt to lure in the broader, casual audience, and it's a disappointingly poor addition. The focus here is, as you'd expect, solely on fragging the enemy. It feels annoyingly unlike Battlefield, and doesn't stack up at all against the Team Deathmatch modes of other shooters on the market.
It's a shame that EA's assault on its rival publisher has influenced the game so much in areas like these. However, DICE had enough of its own way with the game's multiplayer to make Battlefield 3 as incredible as it was built up to be. The single-player element is far too restrictive and simply isn't what Battlefield is or ever should be. The co-op is a nice attempt at offering something between the enormous multiplayer and the tight and focused single-player, but it's obvious that most will just be in it for the multiplayer. And who would blame them?
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