Battlefield’s strength and charm has always been its multiplayer with its fans arguing that this is the more “mature” title when discussing who is king in the COD vs BF battle. It’s kind of funny that the more “mature” crowd are insistent on arguing their cause all the time! Battlefield has gained quite a few devout campaign fans who enjoyed the humour and open map scenarios that they could traverse and literally level to the ground, but this is from Battlefield Bad Company and Battlefield 3 sees the franchise take on a whole new direction in the form of a Hollywood blockbuster action movie. It’s important to go into this game with a clear head and forget all that you know and expect from a BF title. Don’t expect to find a campaign that you will recognise because BF3 is quite a different beast from its brothers and is related more to its half-brother Medal of Honor.
All eyes are on DICE and EA as they lay claim to taking it to the king of military shooters and claiming the crown for themselves so I think it’s fair to say that BF will receive a much harsher treatment from most gamers as expectations are that much higher. Being that BF is all about the multiplayer we have decided to split the reviews into two so that we can give a fair score so that both single and multiplayer gamers can see straight away how their favored mode stacks up in our eyes.
Battlefield requires an optional HD texture install which comes in at around 2GB, without this BF is rather ugly so unless you are still playing in the dark ages on a SD TV then I strongly recommend you install the pack. I also installed the single player disc to my HDD. In addition, there is also a day 1 patch to the game which is a hefty 167MB so don’t expect to be able to pop the disc in and play straight away – get yourself set up with the install and update and make a nice cup of tea. You will return to find a beautiful looking game with some pretty incredible lighting effects, in fact at times DICE have gone very in your face with these effects shining pointless lighting blooms at you as if to say “oooh look what we can do”.
BF 3 is quite the hand holding experience, like you are walking to school with your mum, don’t think you can wander off or do things in your own time and style. The freedom you have had from the previous games has been snatched away and although you are presented with a visually stunning game it never feels like you are able to make any tactical choices or decisions. Go here, do this, follow this person, shoot that – this is more like taking part in an interactive movie. It’s hammered home by the style of the action and the storyline which wouldn’t be out-of-place in a Hollywood movie. Accept this dynamic and you will find an enjoyable experience that never grates on you for being too hard, there are no tug of war battles with enemies or segments of the game that are trial and error, you progress through the game at a steady rate always pushing forward through corridors, stairwells and large open areas. The open areas which seemingly give you open ground to play in are as linear and straight forward as the corridor segments, stray to far and that leash will pull you back into the direction that the game wants you to go in. This is by no means a bad thing, after all COD is about as linear as it gets but they have better smoke and mirrors to divert your attention.
The game opens up with you taking part in a chase scene onboard a train as you try to track down a terrorist, it’s at the climax that the screen burns out and you go back to 8 hours earlier (not like this hasn’t been done before). You play as Sergeant Blackburn and are being questioned about past missions that took place in Iran/Iraq, it seems there are some missing nukes and all eyes are on you as a suspect. Over the next 5 hours of the campaign you will go back and play these missions as you tell your story and try to warn that the nuke is here in New York, at times you will also jump into the shoes of other characters as your interrogators tell you what they know. These missions are all very high-octane and glamorous but (and this is a big but), the scenes are all very heavily scripted. People die in the same way in the same places, things explode and knock you head over heels which may look dynamic but it’s the same every time. You literally have no control or choice in this game and really you are nothing more than an onlooker in the events that unfold.
This is highlighted in a mission which sees you on an aircraft carrier as you board a fighter jet and take to the sky. While visually stunning and frankly breathtaking you only have to play the sequence again to find it’s not quite as exhilarating as the first time round. In a rather AC-130 esque mission you are the gunner and can attack and defend against enemy aircraft as well as taking out several ground targets – which of course you are instructed to do. You may as well have just pressed fire as there is not much else to do because there is little finesse in aiming. It’s these moments that I wonder why we are teased with freedom and that we are having a direct impact on the choices when some scenes use the dreaded QTE formula, surely the bombing runs are little more than glorified QTEs as well? These dreaded action scenes with buttons that must be pressed at the right time are awful, particularly if done incorrectly and in BF3 they are just wrong. Scenes play out for large segments then as if the game has suddenly remembered that you are there, a button flashes up which must be pressed quickly before the fight can continue – surely you want the QTE to be responsible for the final blow not just a one button press to be able to pull off a combo of several hits and a block? These scenes seem very pointless and ineffectual and when there are so many games that do this well I often wonder how anyone can get them so wrong.
The issues with heavily scripted gameplay continue to haunt the game’s campaign with teammates pushing through you or getting in your line of fire as they navigate their pre-determined routes. This invincible team can also pretty much play the levels for you except when DICE decide you must take out a particular person which makes for some pretty funny battles. In one fight three of my team were piling in the gunfire as the enemy just stood there, like that scene in commando where Arnie takes on that massive force, this made it even more amusing when I just popped out of cover and dropped the guy with one shot. The team also soak up bullets and just won’t die, except of course when they are scripted to. If there was any doubt that this is a big Hollywood blockbuster movie it’s proven right here with all the actors sticking to their scripts perfectly. Enemy AI is continually plagued with this scripting, which makes them tactically useless. There is no clever flanking or use of cover, they are there for one reason, to stand in the open until you shoot them in the face. With the lack of tactical choices you can make, the lack in a clever enemy really does put a damper on the dry samey gunplay elements of the campaign.
Just like a movie there are plenty of wow moments as well as a token sniper level. Although the Jet scene sees you as just the gunner I was more than happy that there is a rather large tank mission which you have free reign over. I throughly enjoyed cruising around blowing stuff up using all the tanks weapons and being able to move anywhere I wanted to. Tanks are something that I’ve always enjoyed in BF and I’m glad that they largely remain unchanged. I also quite enjoyed a level that sees you navigate through a villa not too dissimilar to the Rainbow Six Vegas Villa level, the difference was I was a rolling one man army with a large LMG – it makes for some easy simple gameplay but I quite enjoyed blasting everything to pieces.
As basic and lacking in tactical options the gunplay is, it’s made just that little bit more awesome by some impressive SFX and music. The music pumps in and really does polish that Hollywood stone – it wouldn’t be out-of-place in any military action film, but for me the main push of the sound is the incredible SFX. Guns sound absolutely immense and consequently feel just as bad ass! Explosions are loud enough to rock the screen and should you play via headset, they will rock you as much as they rock the world of your AI counterpart. The stand out winner is the sound and graphics and DICE have got them spot on.
The campaign blows from hot to cold with some genuinely awesome moments that are tarnished by the game reeling you back in on that leash. The frostbite 2 engine seems to have taken a backseat as there really isn’t much that you can destroy when compared to previous BF titles and if you have no interest in multiplayer I would recommend you take the campaign for a spin on a weekend rental from Blockbuster. There really isn’t much to make you want to go back and play the levels again as it’s the same experience and you are less on the edge of your seat as the action scripts out in exactly the same way each time. It’s a rollercoaster ride with some boring parts and some truly thrilling parts, should you ride that coaster again though the whole journey is less thrilling.