Over the past several months, some of the folks at EA have seen fit to puff out their chests and talk about how Battlefield 3 is going to finally end the run of dominance Call of Duty has enjoyed these past several years. It's fine to be confident about a product, and taking potshots at other publishers is a time-honored tradition in gaming, but ultimately, it's the products that do the talking. EA envisions Battlefield 3 as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but in reality, it's more like DVR: It's nice to have, but you can definitely live without it.
Let's forgo talk of the single-player experience for a bit and jump right into what matters most for shooter fans: the multiplayer. The Battlefield franchise has always placed more weight on objective-oriented play over straight deathmatches, and that preference is on display here. Conquest mode operates like a hybrid of Capture the Flag and Capture and Hold, doling out experience points for taking flags, defending them and playing in a strategic mindset. Players looking for unpredictable matches and chaotic action will love Conquest, and the inclusion of Battlefield's signature tanks, choppers, jets and other vehicles add a dangerous element to the action. I've seen entire matches turn based on the deft touch of two tank commanders who could expertly lay waste to practically all who opposed them. Sadly for me, they were on the other team.
Rush splits teams into attackers and defenders battling over a pair of M-com stations. As the attackers succeed, the defense is pushed back and further entrenched, so much so that by the time you get to the final set of objectives, the combat turns truly fierce. DICE did a great job tailoring the maps in Rush, providing plenty of options for attacking teams (but narrowing them down toward the end) while also creating hardened defense areas and sneaky sniper perches for the defense. While Conquest may be the more wild and crazy mode, Rush often delivers the more nail-biting finishes and desperate last stands.
For Battlefield 3, DICE has tweaked the classes a bit, combining the Assault and Medic roles into one. This allows each team's traditional healers to play a little more aggressively and step right into the chaos of the frontlines. Also, the franchise once more allows players to lie prone, so the sniper-centric Recon class suddenly becomes deadlier than ever. Even with these new additions, the various classes are expertly balanced, with each specialty having an equally important role to play in the field. You can tell DICE has been at it for a while, as it has almost perfectly nailed down the gameplay elements of multiplayer.
While there are a few complaints to be leveled against the multiplayer component of the game, they are few and mostly superficial. There is some amount of graphical pop-up during battle, and from time to time, lag can be an issue. For the most part, the servers are able to handle the action, but once in a while, they'll start to chug when the action gets heavy. Although server stability has been improving since launch, the game has also suffered the same fate as every other Battlefield launch: overcrowded servers that drop some matches and fail to connect others. As of the writing of this review, EA claims the servers are 98 percent stable, and though the majority of my matches went off flawlessly, I got failed connection messages on three occasions and was kicked out mid-round once.
Lastly, not a complaint per se but a point of information, the console editions of Battlefield 3 are capped at 24 players per match, and the maps are slightly smaller than their PC counterparts. For many, this isn't a big deal but if you must have the true "Battlefield experience," then you'll need to play the game on a computer that can handle it. The downside is that if you play on PC, you are forced to use Battlelog, whereas console players can avoid the service entirely. Trade-offs, my friend.
Now then, let's return to the single-player campaign, which is the big ugly crack in this otherwise beautiful gem of a game. The Bad Company titles previously published under the Battlefield banner did a nice job of showing you the lighter side of war. Not so this time, as Battlefield 3 puts on its serious pants and marches around the house doing its best Modern Warfare impression.
The single-player narrative brings in all the familiar tropes that have become downright clichés of the genre. Stolen Russian nukes? Check. Middle Eastern bad guys with grand dreams of mass destruction? Yup. Constantly shifting viewpoints with the "shocking" death of a main character by the end of the second act? Uh huh. Oh, and don't forget the mission where you're in a plane on a bombing run and taking out ground targets. Wait, guys! This time, it's different because you're in a jet and sometimes you have to shoot down other planes or evade missiles. That's new, right? Guys? Where are you going?
As if the premise weren't bogging it down enough, the gameplay is equally uninspired. Nearly the entire game involves running down linear corridors and shooting a handful of dumb bad guys when they pop out of cover. There are a couple of set piece moments that appear promising but never really go anywhere. The biggest missed opportunity is a HALO jump, where the entire experience is pre-scripted and all players can do is look at the sun as they fall. Don't even get me started on the Quick Time Events (QTEs) that pop up far too often; they really drive home what a complete waste of time the single-player campaign has become.
I know it's said that no one plays games like Battlefield for the single-player portion, and if that's the case, then this is a terrific multiplayer title that scratches the itch Call of Duty can never seem to reach. The game is still incomplete, though, and for EA to steal away the title of best modern shooter, it will have to create something that delivers on all fronts. Battlefield 3 is a fine objective-based multiplayer shooter, but that's it. In all other respects, it comes up short.
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