by Sean Nack
Battlefield 3 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
Release: October 25, 2011
If you are a company trying to build a team-oriented multiplayer first person shooter, stop it. DICE has won: in Battlefield 3, they have created the definitive online shooter of 2011. Look upon DICE’s works, ye mighty, and despair.
Plot? We Don’t Need No Stinking Plot.
We’ll address the three game modes (single player campaign, co-op, and multiplayer) individually. The campaign plot is a fairly standard affair, with loose nuclear devices in the hands of terrorists determined to start a world war for an indeterminate reason.
Plot-wise, the fact that we never got the “why” behind the villain’s machinations irritates me. I’m not looking for a typical “bwa-ha-ha” moment, where the villain describes his elaborate scheme before throwing you into a pit with razor-toothed-shotgun-wielding-hyper-intelligent-gorillas, just a simple “this guy is trying to destabilize Russia and the US so that Kazakhstan can reclaim oil fields” or something. I’ll put it to you this way: I think if BF3 and I sat down and had a conversation, mano a disc-o, and I asked why the character did what he did, BF3 would reply “because.” That doesn’t cut it for me.
Not only is the story a little weak, the way it’s told feels a little thin. First, the game is aggressively linear. When it tells you to follow your teammate, the plot will often not progress until you are physically behind your teammate. That slows down some of the more, ah, “motivated” players trying to get through the campaign.
I frequently would get too far ahead of my teammates and have cinematic events happen into my character, so end up walking behind one of the enemy spawn gates and just watch insurgents teleport into the battlespace. I understand what DICE is trying to do, but I think they could’ve focused a little harder on the player experiencing the game organically, rather than insisting on mapping the player’s experience.
Even though I’m participating in tank battles and fighting my way into three continents, it feels small-scale. Example: my tank unit is rolling into Tehran, which has obviously been under bombardment and whatnot, but the only people I see are my two other tanks. Where are the civilians? Where are the F/A-18s flying combat air patrols?
It’s evident that DICE focused on building a world of small-scale intense firefights and in that sense they entirely succeeded, but seemingly at the cost of grander, cinematic “moments” that the competition is so good at. In Call of Duty, you have these huge dramatic set-pieces that create images that are, at times, unforgettable. I think it’s telling that I beat BF3’s campaign 8 hours ago, and I don’t remember how it ended.
Get Together With 32 Friends, Then Kill All Of Them.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Who here plays Battlefield for the campaign? I appreciate DICE’s efforts, but multiplayer is what this franchise is all about, and in that arena DICE delivers.
Co-op combines the best of BF3, online play, with the middlin’ part of BF3, the plot. It does so successfully however, striking a balance between the two that I wish had found its way over to the campaign. I won’t spoil anything for you other than the sniper mission alone is worth your time. Co-op is a surprisingly high-quality and welcome addition to the game.
In classic Battlefield style, the player is given the option of four classes: Assault, Mechanic, Support, and Recon. The Assault and Support classes saw quite a bit of tweaking for BF3, fusing the old Medic class into Assault and transferring Assault’s Ammo Box ability into the Support class, which now fields bipod-enabled light machine guns. The Support class can be used to devastating effect if the player knows what he/she’s doing, taking a position and employing the bipod (which eliminates much of the muzzle-climb and recoil, greatly improving the accuracy of the weapon).
The Recon class benefits from the return of the sniper’s best friend: the prone position. Their lower visibility is offset by “glint” from the scope that can be seen under indoor/outdoor conditions whenever a sniper is looking at you. DICE paid a lot of attention to balancing in BF3, and it shows.
What DICE didn’t try and balance at all was the combat between players and buildings: it’s decidedly one-sided, as the buildings can’t shoot back and player’s explosive weapons are devastating, like take-out-one-whole-side-of-a-building devastating. The destructible environments look better than ever, and I loved making them go away.
The control system is also much improved, with what I refer to as the “shanking mechanic” being much faster than it was in the beta or in Bad Company 2 for that matter, making the knife a tool you actually want to use as opposed to something you dread having to pull when your weapon goes “click.”
The unlockable progression system continually rewards you for playing, with each unlock spaced out just enough to make you want to work harder to get it: “just one more game,” and then another, and another, rewarding the player with fun, meaningful little gadgets and new weapons as you go on.
I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty, Pretty And Witty And - <Headshot>.
Now, I have to reveal a little bit of myself to you, Complex readers. I’m a former US Army infantryman with a firefight-heavy combat tour in Afghanistan under my camouflaged belt. I don’t tell you this to impress you; I tell you this so that when I say that the audio alone in BF3 is good enough to give me flashbacks, you know I mean it. I was playing the game with 5.1 surround sound cranked up, and the crack of a sniper’s bullet literally made me duck and consider running for cover. If you don’t have a surround system or can’t afford one, invest in a pair of headphones. The sound engineering is that good.
Graphically, the game is great, with excellent details and textures, and more lens flares here than a JJ Abrams movie. Many players’ complaints from the beta have been addressed, including the overpoweringly bright flashlights; still effective, just not brighter than the sun itself anymore. The background landscapes are almost photorealistic, and the draw distance is incredible, enabling visuals.
Love Is A Battlefield.
If I were trying to use one word to describe the multiplayer gameplay, it would be “satisfying.” But not “satisfying” like “adequate” or “just enough;” satisfying like your favorite Thanksgiving dinner. It’s deep, it’s good, and it makes you wonder why you would ever consider anything else. Where else can you get a 1,000 yard headshot in a game as a fellow team-member takes out a tank that’s barreling down on your position? Battlefield’s gameplay just fills your gamer-soul up in places you didn’t know were empty, satisfies gaming needs you didn’t know you had. Frankly, it’s a fantastic game, easily the best competitive shooter of 2011 (and yes, I’ve played the “esteemed competition”), and maybe of 2012 and 2013.
Basically, readers? Buy this game.