Battlefield 3 is in a tough position. Not only does it have to please veterans of the PC core series, it also has to cater to newer fans familiar with the Bad Company series. EA has also publicly positioned it to rival the Call of Duty series – not an easy feat by any means. Yet, despite all the odds being stacked against DICE’s latest shooter, the game passes every test with flying colors… in most departments.
Perhaps the most notable feature carried over from the Bad Company series is the inclusion of a full single-player campaign – the first for a core Battlefield game (previously, only single-player bot matches were available with little to no narrative.) You’ll spend most of your time playing as Henry Blackburn, a Marine detained and interrogated by members of homeland security. The campaign structure is much like that of Black Ops as you sit down in a chair and play through flashbacks of your previous military campaigns. The ultimate goal here is to find a missing nuclear bomb, which might be used to to level New York City. You’ll traverse some unique and beautiful landscapes while playing singleplayer – from the dusty cities of Iran/Iraq, to million dollar penthouses and Mirrors Edge-like offices in Paris. You won’t also play as Blackburn whilst undergoing missions on the other side of the world though – the game will frequently throw you in the shoes of various pilots and Russian militants all of whom you never get to know very well at all.
The problem here is the campaign is severely limited and also completely boring. It might sound odd to describe “run here and shoot” gameplay as mundane in a first person shooter, but Battlefield 3 does little to nothing in terms of keeping the campaign feeling fresh and exciting. For all the taunting EA have done about the massive maps and free-form nature of the game – none of this is present in the singleplayer. Doing anything other than your strict instructions while playing through SP will result in either your death or a countdown to death for going out of bounds. Seriously. There are few opportunities to flank opponents, or even to think for yourself. It’s also rife with potentially game breaking bugs. AI will occasionally walk through doors (that are required to be opened by them for the game to progress), bump you out of cover, or they’ll look at an enemy face on without firing. These are but a few of the issues I ran into while playing the single player campaign, but the list could go on for centuries.
However, I also have to mention that for a game that taunts vehicular combat as one of it’s strengths, it’s not at all a plus in the campaign. Can I fly the Jet? No, sit in the back and play a on-rails bombing section. Can I drive the Humvee? No, get on the 50.cal for a “brilliant” on-rails turret shooter sequence. Can I drive the Jeep we’re in? No, sit in the back and listen to a conversation. You’ll eventually be able to drive a tank in a straight line, so that should alleviate these issues… right? The story mode is a disappointing trudge through various plot-points that try too hard to be dramatic, ultimately wrapping up with an even weaker ending than expected. However, if the single player does succeed at one thing, it’s teaching you the controls for Battlefield 3’s incredible multiplayer experience.
The Multiplayer in Battlefield 3 is an immense beast – you have the rush mode for Bad Company vets and the Conquest mode for those who prefer the original game’s open playstyle. That’s not to say you should stick to either one though, as the game does a wonderful job of merging the two modes into something truly epic. On the PC, conquest battlefields will be gargantuan in scale, with 64 players fighting it out in Jets, Tanks, Helicopters, Light armoured vehicles and on foot. The console versions may be stuck to a 24 player count, but the maps are designed in such a way that frequent battles are never hard to find. I can assure you that your experience won’t be gimped on the PS3 at all. Quote me on that. The variety of maps are definitely all pleasing to the eye, and work well from a gameplay aspect as well. From the well known tight corridors of Operation Metro, to the sprawling deserts of Operation Firestorm, there’s sure to be a map that entertains you and your playstyle to the fullest.
There’s a large amount of unlockables and incentives to keep playing as well. Each gun can unlock a near armory of attachements, and the various classes will earn new gear that further enhance their capabilities. Vehicles can also unlock new pieces of equipment such as heat seeking missiles, smokescreens and flares. Support players will eventually gain the Mortar to reign death from afar, Engineers will be able to control EOD bots, while Recon’s can drop sensors for vital intel and Assaults will keep soldiers on their feet with defibrilators. Battlefield 3 definitely does a great job of catering to everyone’s playstyle, and the core mechanics are extremely solid and fun to take advantage of. The shooting itself just feels right – each gun has a distinct weight, and most really pack a punch. The vehicles are fun to control, and once you’ve mastered one, you’ll really dominate the battlefield and turn the tide of war.