Guest contributor Ken J reviews Battlefield 3 (PC)
Battlefield 3 is the true sequel to the multiplayer hit Battlefield 2. PC gamers everywhere have waited six long years, but the time has finally come. Sure along the way we had a spin-off in the form of the futuristic Battlefield 2142, expansion packs, and the series' console cousin Bad Company games making it to the PC, but fans have long been clamoring for a true sequel.
Do we finally have the game we've been waiting for? Or, after a lot of Battlefield 3 hype, has DICE dropped the ball for their PC audience?
Battlefield 3 is almost two different games in one package - and one thing people often forget is that all of the previous numbered Battlefield games (Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Vietnam, Battlefield 2, and Battlefield 2142) were multiplayer-only titles. As a result, there's no doubt that DICE's single player offering is far-less refined and robust as the multiplayer (a formula they've refined over multiple iterations now).
The single player of Battlefield 3 plays out like a lot of movies and video games that came before it. Where players jump straight into an event out of context and then backtrack to see how things got to that point. The rest of the game plays out as mostly separate segments held together by the angle that players are reliving events being discussed in the present tense interrogation room timeline. Obviously, many people will draw parallels to last year's Call of Duty: Black Ops storyline - and while those are fair parallels to draw, at the same time, the Black Ops story wasn't an entirely original idea either. We've seen this kind of thing a lot (read: too much) lately in video games and it would have been nice to see a story that brought in some fresh ideas. Alas, the end result is a single-player campaign that lacks cohesion and comes across as randomly pasted together segments - just to allow for gamers to play a number of different roles in many different situations.
As we mentioned in our Battlefield 3 console review, the segments themselves however, do have some strong points - namely in the voice acting, animations, and the authenticity of the set-pieces. To clarify, there is a difference between realism and authenticity. Realism would adhere strictly to the rules of real life - one hit kills, limited weight bearing, endurance, etc. Instead, to be authentic, developers only need to appear to adhere to the rules of real life - by presenting accurate weapon models/animations, believable character animations and AI, voice acting, dialogue, among other factors. If a game can achieve authenticity, that's the next best thing to realism, and this game definitely delivers on that front. Beyond authenticity, there were plenty of other little details that helped make the game one of the most immersive shooters on the market - including military lingo and radio chatter that sounded like something from a war movie and sound effects were dead-on (from far away gunfire, the sonic-boom snap of a passing sniper round, to the explosion of an oncoming tank).
The most impressive of these campaign levels are the vehicle segments though they are few and far between. Players get a first-person view of the steps involved in shooting an F/A-18F Super-Hornet off an aircraft carrier (although players do not get to fly it) to driving around in a 70-ton M1 Abrams tank. The details are sharp and it's hard to think of any other first-person shooter where the game actually shows how the loader loads a new sabot round into the main gun of a tank. In general, weapon animations are all dead-on as well.
Graphics also play a role in a game's immersion - and Battlefield 3 does not disappoint in that area. There had been speculation that the Battlefield 3 PC specs would be very steep but older PC's, as long as they have enough RAM and a decent video card, can run this game at various graphical levels just fine. After hearing that the PC version running with everything on the lowest settings are comparable to the console versions - Battlefield 3 looks gorgeous even if players don't have the latest and greatest hardware, even on the bigger maps with more players. Lighting effects are gorgeous, water puddles on the ground look realistic, and trees move organically as they sway from explosions. Weapon models are also surprisingly detailed and characters even show facial expressions as they fire away with their fully automatic weapons.
Now the good comes with the bad. Unfortunately as a whole, the single-player experience is far too linear. Along with the linear gameplay, there were also a lot of quick-time events that took away from the experience as well. Using QTEs is understandable every now and then if the story calls for it, but Battlefield 3 relies on it too much as physical control is taken away from players too often.
As for the game's bread and butter, the multiplayer, while the exclusion of some features such as Commander mode and six-man squads (BF3 allows squads of four players max) might frustrate some Battlefield alums, the game retains the bulk of what made the previous numbered series titles so great - namely the large-scale warfare that only Battlefield can provide. There's nothing like playing in a server of 64 players with bullets and RPGs whizzing by, tanks firing off their main guns, walls crumbling, rockets raining down from an attack helicopter, and jets dog-fighting overhead - all directly controlled by players. That's the experience players get with the PC version of Battlefield 3. For that experience alone, the game is worth buying, even if the game doesn't do anything new. Of course, the detailed graphics also carry over from the single-player.
Another thing that makes the multiplayer great is the power of choice. The multiplayer, like in previous Battlefield titles, features multiple classes to choose from that can be customized so that each can be played in multiple ways. Every class has access to a variety of weapons that can be unlocked and every weapon features some 18 to 19 accessories that can be selected further customize the player's loadout. Players can choose and customize weaponry to be a short-range killing machine, long range marksman's rifle, or a silenced stealth weapon. The choice is up to the player.
Then, of course there's the choice of how to get around - i.e. which of the many vehicles will suit their playing style. Whether gamers just need a jeep or a boat to get to a destination quicker, or they want to be in a main battle tank, APC, LAV, mobile anti-air vehicle, jet, attack helicopter, or transport helicopter - there are plenty of options to choose from. To add even more choices, as players earn points with these vehicles, they'll unlock abilities and weapons that they can also choose from to further customize their vehicular play style.
As briefly mentioned, the only real let-downs with the multiplayer on the PC version of the game would be the lack of the commander mode, no squad leader abilities and the reduced squad size. DICE claims they excluded the commander because only one person can be a commander for each team - asserting they wanted to be able to give some of those abilities to more players. That said, having a commander who can help support the squads with supply drops, vehicle drops and even artillery strikes is a something DICE could have expanded upon to evolve the series.
Also missing from the game, however minor, is the horn on the jeeps. This might sound like a ridiculous comment but the horn is actually very useful. Just ask a BF2 veteran...
Outside of bigger maps, higher player counts and better graphics for the PC version of Battlefield 3, the major change for the series is the requirement of EA's new Origin service. Players must use EA's still-in-beta browser-based service to communicate with friends, track stats and browse for servers. Organizing squads is still glitchy at times and the application and server friend lists don't sync up properly, but it does cleanly layout every player's progress and it is easy to find browsers through the service.
Overall, despite its flaws, Battlefield 3 was definitely worth the wait. The multiplayer alone makes the game worth every penny - with plenty of DLC on the way the game is only going to get bigger and better. The single player might be a bit lackluster but it's still a fun diversion in a great multiplayer experience.
If you're a console gamer - make sure to check out our Battlefield 3 console review.
Battlefield 3 is now available for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.