Game Rant's Rob Keyes reviews Battlefield 3 (PS3/Xbox 360)
Fans of the series have waited over six years for Battlefield 3, the next installment in the core Battlefield series, the Bad Company titles notwithstanding. Like Battlefield 2, DICE's first game to make use of the Frostbite 2 engine was designed for the PC first and foremost, with a somewhat scaled-down version coming to the consoles.
After a problematic, yet very popular beta test, DICE promised to rectify the common issues and deliver a comprehensive first-person shooter experience, including a single-player campaign and a co-op mode to go along with the franchise's flagship multiplayer offerings. After all the hype, does Battlefield 3 deliver on the promises of DICE and Electronic Arts to offer a worthy competitor to the Call of Duty franchise? Read on for our review of Battlefield 3 on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
In short, Battlefield 3 is a great looking, must-play video game for FPS multiplayer enthusiasts and veterans of the Battlefield franchise. For gamers looking for an enthralling campaign or a deep and replayable co-op experience, it's best to go elsewhere.
To aid in the fight against Call of Duty, Battlefield 3 includes a single-player story mode not dissimilar from the campaigns of similar shooters. Outside of a cool intro and an interesting twist late in the game, the story of Battlefield 3 serves simply as an excuse to forcefully string together different scenarios, environments and vehicle missions to showcase the game's visuals, explained through a weak-scripted interrogation of sorts and the game's protagonist living out flashbacks of his experiences and that of a few others.
The campaign however, although presented well, doesn't take full advantage of its potential, both from a story and gameplay perspective. Running about 6-7 hours long on normal difficulty and strangely featuring no flying missions (players play a co-pilot in one sequence), Battlefield 3 is extremely linear with a boatload of quick time events that offer a few cool moments but no memorable story bits or characters. In the end, it plays out seemingly only as the first two acts of a three act story.
Battlefield 3 also includes a standalone co-op mode, entirely separate from the story. It allows two players to play through a variety of combat scenarios, taken mostly from the game's campaign, but not all are accessible from the get-go and must be unlocked in succession.
Players have the option to play with a friend or hit up the public servers for a wingman, which often results in dropped connections or client disconnects when one of the players exits a match. When this happens, or if both players get downed within the mission, the game doesn't provide a way to quickly replay without going through the menus, selecting a map and difficulty all over again. The game does not support local co-op through splitscreen or system-link so the only way to play with a friend is if they're connected online from elsewhere.
The co-op was a bit of a wasted opportunity and DICE could have taken the 4-player squad system from the multiplayer and offered something a little more substantial in creating a fun and accessible pick-up-and play mode. As it is stands, the co-op feels tacked on like the campaign to instill more value on Battlefield 3 as a whole, but like the campaign, it's minimal and does little for the genre and series. Players can however, earn experience while playing co-op which helps them unlock weapons and mods for the standard multiplayer.
The multiplayer always was and remains to be the singular focus of the series with Battlefield 3 and if players are looking for that, they will be satisfied with what we can safely say is the legit competitor to Call of Duty we've been waiting for.
A big concern for the console variants of Battlefield 3 was how its multiplayer was heavily scaled down from the PC for the consoles. Instead of 64-player conquest mode, a match on PS3 and Xbox 360 maxes out at 24 players. For the most part, the smaller maps and lower player counts work very well and there are only a few maps and instances where more players would be beneficial.
Conquest mode in multiplayer is what defines Battlefield 3 and the franchise to date: Work with a large team and utilize vehicles to capture and defend strategic points scattered along the map. The team that holds the most earns itself forward-located spawn points while the opposing team's ticket total depletes at a quicker rate. Rush mode offers a similar experience, but pits one team on the offensive while the other holds the line, so to speak. Standard team deathmatch has been added, where combat is restricted to infantry only. To get away from the heavy armor, deathmatch will be a popular mode, especially for players familiar to standard FPS gameplay.
While evidenced in all multiplayer modes, team deathmatch especially emphasizes some of the game's multiplayer issues. On occasion, small objects will block players from moving, whether it be a small step at the opening of a building or a tire laying on the road. The real problems though, come with spawning where players can re-enter the fight on top of a live grenade, right beside an opponent, and worst of all, even right in someone's line of fire. The other odd issue is that between matches, when the game is loading a new map or the next round, there is no option to exit to the main menu - Players must wait it out until the game loads in order to back out.
The retail edition of Battlefield 3 ships with only 9 maps, 3 less than its predecessor at launch. Maps like the Caspian Border - which feature air vehicles - often involve lengthy traveling distances on foot and extended periods of time without combat. While large maps are part of the Battlefield tradition, it's not fun having to wait when no vehicle is available.
Multiplayer is inherently unbalanced by nature of the vehicles which makes team strategy and tactical play a necessity. Unfortunately, there are little in the way of team organization options to help bring strangers together and most Conquest and Rush matches are more or a less a session of team deathmatch with a shifting killing ground.
The commander role from Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142 was removed for Battlefield 3 in an attempt to make the game less complex, but since the game is very complex relative to other shooters anyway, it's now missing that additional dynamic of having a leader instructing the squads and squads issuing orders to their teammates. Squads on their own do little outside of allowing players to spawn on each other so in the way of team organization on the battlefield, it's up to the strangers to do their part if not playing with friends over Xbox Live and PSN, since in our experience, few online use headsets to communicate with other players.
When players do work together and take advantage of the game's four character classes (Assault, Engineer, Support, Recon), wonderful experiences are waiting to be had, and the combination of defending/assaulting different areas of the map with supporting teammates through health and ammunition sharing is what Battlefield is all about. The same must be said for taking advantage of the game's vehicles.
All of the support functions help players earn more points to level up quicker and unlock more weapons, equipment and upgrades for which there are a lot. Players with better weapons with better scopes have a noticeable advantage over players of lower levels, so earning points through map objectives and taking advantage of the added details of suppression fire and marking enemies will go a long way.
The big question on every console gamer's mind is how the Battlefield 3 graphics look on the consoles, especially when compared to the PC. There is a significant difference and users are recommended to install the game to take advantage of Battlefield 3's HD textures. With the HD textures, Battlefield 3 looks very good, especially in the campaign, but it's not industry-leading compared to titles like RAGE and some may be let down by the limitations of the current generation consoles for which Frostbite 2 can't be fully utilized.
The Frostbite 2 engine shines through literally with the zealous use of lighting and particle effects, blinding lens flares and a very high contrast which all work to trick the naked eye. They allow for some eye candy landscape shots on the console editions of BF3, but up close, there are textures and foliage that look dull. The effects, while visually impressive, can actually hinder gameplay when traversing dark areas or looking in the distance for foes. It even directly plays into the game for players who add tactical lights to their weapons to blind foes in close quarters.
The animations however, are awesome. Players landing from a tall jump, punching out their parachutes from a fall or leaping over cover all look like soldiers actually performing these physical actions and do help create a more realistic combat experience. It successfully adds more immersiveness to the details in like gravity-affected bullets and realistic gun recoil and sound.
It needs to be noted that Battlefield 3 is not a beginner-friendly title and setting up the game is an annoyance. To play the game, a day one download of 167mb is required, undoubtedly there for last-minute patching after the beta. After this, the user is prompted to install the game to employ the HD textures - on the Xbox 360 version this requires disc-swapping - and this is followed by the need to input the online pass code in order to play online. Users will also need to sign up to Battlelog separately if they haven't already to take advantage of the advanced stat tracking. That's just to play the game.
Within the game itself, there are no tutorials for beginners to learn the vehicles and this is experience breaking when jumping into the second co-op level with someone in the pilot seat of a helicopter for the first time. The game's HUD and menu when in multiplayer is built strictly for players of previous Battlefield games or similar shooters.
It would have beneficial if DICE had more time to polish the game, but even on the consoles, what they have crafted is an excellent multiplayer game for dedicated players to invest their time in.
Battlefield 3 is now available for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
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*Screenshots taken from PC build of Battlefield 3.