Battlefield 3 Review
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On 11/07/2011 at 12:00 PM by Travis Hawks
Battlefield 3 escapes its single player experiment.
Fans of the Battlefield series and team-based multiplayer should dive into this one. Those that only enjoy a good single player campaign should look elsewhere.
Is Jesus your co-pilot? I sure hope so, ‘cause you’re better off with a 2,000 year old carpenter at those helicopter controls than me. Despite my inability to steer the helicopters, I’m still having a blast in Battlefield 3’s multiplayer. The vestigial single player campaign aped from Call of Duty is a different story. But nobody’s buying this game for the single player, and they shouldn’t. Battlefield games mean multiplayer and this installment should make all couch commandos giddy.
Assuming the server down time, matchmaking failures, and laggy bits will all be gone shortly, the multiplayer has enough problem-free streaks to prove that it can be the experience we all expect from the series. The maps plop you down in a believable warzone with scant places to catch your breath and regroup. Although there are limits to how far from the action you can escape, the maps allow for a lot of freedom to flank enemy troops and capture objectives. Even with nobody using headsets on XBOX Live, there is typically an unstated understanding of how you and your neighboring teammates are going to work together. Choosing to spawn at the location of a teammate will dump you back into the midst of a battle where you can quickly get your buddy out of a jam or help capture a base.
Vehicles are the other element we expect from Battlefield games, and this entry in the series pleases plentifully. Tanks, Humvees, F/A-18s, and many more weapon-laden transports are a joy to command. The flying vehicles take significant practice to get the hang of, but if you don’t want to struggle with that you can man the guns and go along for the ride. Your vehicle load outs will upgrade as you gain experience, just like your soldier.
The leveling up and the unlocking of weapons and gadgets is another COD-ism that has bled into Battlefield 3 and it works out well. Spend more time in a specific role, rack up some kills, and you will soon unlock better weapons, gadgets, and specializations. There are now four roles available instead of just three like in previous games. The basic functions of these roles are similar to those in past games, but have been mixed up and re-balanced. The Assault role has taken on the Medic abilities of old and the Engineer is there to destroy enemy armor and fix up vehicles on your team. Support troops can resupply teammates with ammo while Recon soldiers snipe from afar and set out mobile spawn points for clever strategizing. This new set of kits isn’t dramatically different from past iterations, but allows for just as much variety and as many tactics as before.
Battlefield 3’s leveling up is unique from Call of Duty in that the vehicles’ equipment can also be unlocked as you play. Blasting enemy troops with the Abrams tank, for example, will make guided shells, optical zoom, and other augmentations available for future rounds. As always, those opening sessions are a little frustrating while you work your way up the ranks to unlock better weapons for your soldier and transports, but the challenge is worthwhile and rewarding.
Just like the unnecessary single player mode, death match was added to the game to appease and to draw in some of the Call of Duty faithful. At least a modicum of integrity was maintained by making all death match games team-based affairs. The other game modes are more traditional to BF; Conquest has teams fighting to capture and hold bases, while in Rush mode, the offensive team storms a series of objectives as the other side tries to thwart their progress. These two game types are more of what we’re used to seeing in Battlefield games, and the addictive challenge they have always offered has returned at full strength.
Developer DICE also felt it necessary to include some form of co-op game on the discs, which is similar in layout to the endless onslaught modes of Halo: Reach and Gears of War. Thankfully, the single player missions weren’t just adapted to play through as a team. The co-op missions are, instead, their own scenarios with challenging objectives that tempt you to constantly try to beat your last round’s score and move up the leader boards with your friend or someone culled from the matchmaking software. Either way, this is how you should train yourself with the weapons and controls rather than spending any time in the single player.
The single player portion of Battlefield 3 feels like an afterthought from the start, since the 360 version relegates the campaign to the Disc 2 ghetto, far from the upper class multiplayer and co-op Disc 1. And it should be ghettoized, since the entire experience is completely pedestrian, lacks any sort of innovation, and feels like it was cobbled together under duress. Everything works though, and it’s a decent way to spend some time learning the weapons and vehicles to prep for the multiplayer sessions you should be playing instead.
Perhaps that’s a little harsh. It’s just difficult to give the single player portion of this game any slack when it is paired with one of the best and most sprawling multiplayer experiences available. The single player missions are all just narrow corridors for you to traverse in a pre-defined path. The campaigns in Call of Duty games that Battlefield 3 clearly cribbed from are often maligned for their linearity, but DICE should have emulated aspects of that series while making it feel like a more open-ended experience.
The scripted structure of the missions is so palpable that after a while, you don’t even bother peeking around that one open doorway to see what’s in there (a desk, if you’re lucky). The way the game pulls you along isn’t in a clever and crafty Half Life 2 way, but more of a follow-the-flashing-dot manner that makes the missions feel like a checklist of tasks. At one point, the game even requires you to climb on a turret for the plot to move along, something we haven’t seen since early Medal of Honor games. The game also switches your weaponry to what is required at key plot points with no explanation.
Making all of this harder to bear is when you reach moments that are begging for a divergence in the script or maybe an alternate ending. If you fail to follow the planned course of events your mission is failed and your game is over. Take a few extra moments to decide if you should murder a fellow soldier or choose a different route than what was ordered, and the game will either kill you or stop your advance cold.
Thankfully, the strength of the multiplayer game overcompensates for the failings of the single player game, and would be worthy of a sixty dollar purchase alone. Although the addition of trendy co-op and single player sections to compete with the unstoppable Call of Duty franchise almost hurt Battlefield 3, the sum package turned out to be a superb product. It’s a shame that so much effort was put into a single player campaign that didn’t amount to anything special, but it’s a boon that the same mode of thinking gave us the enjoyable co-op game. Just as the solo adventure barely avoided disaster from the addition of multiplayer in Metroid Prime 2 years ago, Battlefield 3’s multiplayer survives the idiotic decision to tack on a single player campaign. Hopefully DICE has learned that their series’ strength lies in multiplayer, and that should be their focus, because next time the resource-sucking single player project might ruin everything. Everything except my helicopter skills; those can’t get any worse.