Battlefield 3, the long-awaited, mature-rated third installment in the popular EA series, is finally here. It has managed to make me happy and disappointed at the same time
Before diving into the heart of Battlefield 3, I should address the window dressing: Namely its single-player campaign. This portion of the game really is a round of terrorist whack-a-mole, just like Call of Duty. You’ll face an unending wave of brain-dead suicidal terrorists until you manage to inch your way up to whatever checkpoint controls enemy spawning, take a few seconds’ break, and do the whole thing all over again. It’s not bad, but it is frankly uninspired. The gameplay itself is indistinguishable from COD, though the narrative trappings are a bit more down-to-earth. While this works well (in the sense that it’s one of the few elements of the campaign that distinguishes itself from the game’s competition), BF3’s reach exceeds its grasp near the end of the campaign when the story takes a sharp left turn into crazy town. The campaign trades in its pseudo-realistic credentials for a finale straight out of an ’80s action movie, with giant plot holes to match. The schizophrenic nature of the single-player is disappointing in light of the campaigns in the Bad Company spin-offs, which also take cues from COD but manage to maintain their own narrative voice.
However, for all its flaws, the campaign is a wash. It’s a nice distraction, but what fans are really throwing down their $60 for is the multiplayer, which manages to marry modern FPS tropes (like the progressive unlocking of weapons and abilities) with the massive mixed-arms battles of previous Battlefield games. Most maps are populated with an amazing assortment of helicopters, tanks, mobile anti-aircraft guns, and jets. Ground vehicles are easy enough to maneuver, but aircraft are tricky. BF3 offers keyboard-and-mouse controls for all vehicles, but try piloting an F-18 with them and you’ll crash almost immediately. I took to holding a 360 controller in my lap and switching to that whenever I climbed into an aircraft. Once I made the switch, I found myself scoring far more kills. It may sound a bit awkward, but seasoned Battlefield veterans are used to switching between controllers on the go.
The new control scheme also improved the rate at which I unlocked upgrades. The game features an independent unlock track for each class, weapon, and vehicle. Upgrades come at a decent rate if you’re putting hours into the game, and the sheer number of separate ways to level up means that if you’re stalled on one you can focus on another. Even when you’re not being rewarded with new stuff, the game lets you know how close you are to leveling up at the end of each match just to ensure that your brain is hooked to a steady dopamine drip. Even when I didn’t earn anything in a match, I enjoyed watching BF3 enumerate and quantify my successes at the end of each round. I may not have earned that fancy new scope I was hoping for, but I’m much closer now thanks to my MVP ribbon (earned for being the top player in a round), Savior Ribbon (earned for saving multiple allies in a match), and boatload of experience earned from killing dozens of enemies and reviving nearly as many allies with my defibrillator.
Saving your friends is just as valid a way to level up as simply killing the enemy. BF3 rewards you for playing smart and using teamwork. While the incentives aren’t enough to prevent a lone jackass from driving off alone in a six-passenger vehicle, thus stranding his allies far away from the battle (a dilemma as old as the series itself), it is enough to ensure that there’s more to ranking at the top of the server than your kill/death ratio. For example, if you spot an enemy behind cover and can’t take him down yourself, you’ll earn XP for keeping him pinned with suppressing fire while your teammates take care of him. While you’re keeping the bad guy down with suppressing fire, his vision blurs and his weapon accuracy will take a hit as well, making it easier for your allies to clean up.
Of course, some of you are wondering if you can even run the game on your machine, or whether you’re better off sticking with the console version. Based on my own experience in the beta and with the final retail build, I can say that if you have a DirectX11-compatible video card and a quad-core processor — not a particularly high bar to clear these days — you’re definitely better off with the PC version. I was impressed when I played the BF3 beta on my quite powerful Nvidia GTX 560 with no issues. I was able to max out the settings at 1080p. The game looks better than the consoles on all but the lowest settings. So, even if you have aging hardware, running the game on medium or high (as opposed to ultra) will still serve you just fine.
If you do have the hardware, BF3 rivals Crysis 2, Metro 2033, and The Witcher 2 for the king-of-PC-graphics crown — even in giant 64-player matches. The Bad Company series eliminated this particular trademark, along with going prone and aircraft. All three make their return, though the 64-player count is exclusive to the PC; console players are limited to 24. These battles are massive, and it’s fantastic to see friendly aircraft flying overhead keeping the skies clear while you defend allied armor from enemy RPG fire at a capture point.
If you want to rack up the kills in smaller environments, you can try 32-player Team Deathmatch or Rush, which was featured in the beta and tasks you with destroying enemy M-Com stations. Squad-based variants on both modes further shrink the player limit down to 18 and 8 players, respectively. These modes don’t stress mixed arms as much as the 64-player Conquest mode, but they might be more suitable for leveling up classes and guns quickly, and Bad Company 2 die-hards will be pleased that there are modes that play more like that game than BF1942.
When it’s just you and a friend who want to play, you can jump into a series of co-op missions. These levels are best when they change things up from the single-player campaign — for example, by putting one team member in the role of helicopter pilot and the other in the gunner’s seat. However, many of the missions revolve around putting down enemy troops — just like the single-player game — and they suffer from the same flaws plus one additional issue: There is no mid-mission save or checkpoint in co-op. That means if you fail, you’ll have to start from the beginning, and these missions are long. While some fans will love the challenge, far more will do what I did: Say “screw this” and go back to competitive multiplayer.
Fortunately, Battlefield 3’s competitive multiplayer is among the best in its class, providing immensely rich and immersive combat zones. These are complemented by the slick browser-based Battlelog, which serves as the hub from which you access each game mode. With EA’s Origin software running unobtrusively in the background, Battlelog tracks your unlock progress, displays your stats, and enables you to join parties and launch games easily. Battlefield 3 may not offer much beyond the multiplayer, but there are so many ways to contribute and feel like a powerful soldier that after hours and hours of playing, all you’ll want to do is play more. Games like these deserves every bit of hype they gather.
- Amazing visuals
- Impressive aural component
- Mind-blowing weapons
- Gratifying combat
- Solid multiplayer with tons of features
- Unbelievably smooth animations
- Average single player gameplay, skip this if you are looking for a good single player shooter
- Few glitches, mostly in Single player
- Lousy Co-op
- Slightly higher hardware requirements