Battlefield 3 review

By Xav de Matos, Nov 07, 2011 2:45pm PST

Battlefield 3 is one of the most inconsistent titles on the market, teetering wildly between being one of the best shooters of the year, and one of the most frustrating.

Multiplayer is brilliant, but continues to be crippled with server issues weeks after launch. Single player, on the other hand, manages brief moments of excellence, only to be ruined by ham-fisted scripted events.

Scripted encounters aren't rare to games, but Battlefield 3's approach is nonsensical. In one mission, I was told to to sneak up behind a solider and knife him silently. As I approached, a prompt told me to activate the kill. Since the prompt seemed too far from the enemy to work, I inched closer and my character simply fell over and died. "Maybe I was spotted?" I thought. I wasn't. The game simply wanted me to activate a lengthy battle sequence where my silent partner and I would be discovered. Since I didn't comply with the game's demand, my character just ceased to live, as if embarrassed to the point of death. (Watch this scene on YouTube.) Utilizing Quick Time Events is fine--and Battlefield 3 uses them quite often--but doesn't it only make sense when its use is to showcase something that the standard game mechanics cannot accomplish?

Even destruction feels artificially designed. While Frostbite 2 may allow for more dramatic environmental damage, you rarely feel in control of shaping the world to your advantage. Whereas in Bad Company 2, the destruction felt very dynamic and chaotic, every hole punched in Battlefield 3 feels cosmetic or scripted.

The game's A.I. is painfully annoying to face off against. As detailed in my PC single-player Field Report, every enemy soldier knows exactly where you are and ignores your allies the moment you step out of cover. What happened to feeling like you're part of a battlefield?

The story in Battlefield 3 lacks creativity, summed up best as a mishmash of plot points ripped from other movies and games. And in spite of the campaign's issues, the narrative is disappointingly short. Just as things started to get interesting, the game simply ends with an entirely unfulfilling final scene. The cooperative campaign doesn't add much more. Suffering from the same design flaws as the single-player campaign, the six out-of-context missions available in co-op do little to better the game.

Judged solely on campaign and co-op modes, Battlefield 3 would be a mess. Not only does it lack polish, it lacks an identity that is uniquely its own. Multiplayer is where Battlefield 3 defines itself.

In other games, you feel like a superhero and are given tools to act as such. In Battlefield 3, you are a piece of a puzzle that must work in conjunction with other pieces in order to successfully advance. DICE has streamlined classes to four, giving the assault class the same tools reserved for the abandoned Medic class. Thus far--having played five hours on PC and three on Xbox 360--the classes feel balanced. The game features standard multiplayer modes like Team Deathmatch, but the emphasis continues to be on the franchise's objective-based Rush and Conquest game types. Simply put, these modes are unmatched in quality, and easily set Battlefield apart from the competition.

My only complaint is the size of maps, specifically on PC, and how far too often I'd spawn a great distance from ongoing combat. Battlefield's 'Squad' mechanic helps in this regard, but you'll still be forced to run (or drive) miles to the action. This, however, is a minor quibble. Barring connection issues--as I had on multiple occasions--Battlefield 3 is the best military-based online shooter I've played this year.

When I first launched Origin to play Battlefield 3 on PC, the game's mandatory Battlelog gave me some problems. It was unable to update as it was required to do, but eventually the problems smoothed out. Battlelog is a nice addition, but its forced use on PC may be bothersome for some players. I do enjoy its immediate updates to my stat tracking, but it's not as detailed as other games--it lacks mission heat maps, for example.

Battlefield 3 should be more than a graphics card benchmark, but for those uninterested in multiplayer, that's what the game is best served as on both PC and Xbox 360. It's no secret that Battlefield 3 attempts to compete with other shooters, feature for feature. While DICE's experience in producing compelling squad-based multiplayer is unmatched, many of DICE's other efforts fall flat. Should you be willing to pay full price for that inconsistency?


[This Battlefield 3 review is based on the PC version of the game purchased by the reviewer and the Xbox 360 version of the game, rented by the reviewer. EA's Online Pass was purchased by the reviewer for the Xbox 360. Specs for the PC used in this review can be found here.]

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