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The Game Effect Review

Battlefield 3 Review

This game has more polish than a diamond, more fun than a barrel of C4, and more chaos than an Internet comment thread.

By Alex Gralski on 10/27/2011
The fall games rush has only recently begun, but the release of one of the biggest titles this year is already upon us. Battlefield 3 has waged an advertisement war against Call of Duty for months now, and EA has thrown its full support and a lot of money - a lot - behind DICE's flagship franchise. How does the game compare to the competition, and to previous installments? Read on to find out.

I just work here, Montes...

Battlefield 3 drops us into the combat boots of Staff Sergeant Henry Blackburn of the 1st Recon Marines, incarcerated by his own government and retelling the events that brought him there in an attempt to stop a terrorist attack on New York City. Gone are the lovably incompetent members of B Company, replaced with the gritty, war-hardened operators who take their jobs very seriously. Along the way, the player focus shifts to a number of other soldiers and operators, from an F/A-18 gunner to a top-tier Russian special forces operator (the latter playing a significant role in the unfolding drama).

Much of the game continues the old Battlefield focus of playing as ordinary soldiers caught in extraordinary times. As the enemy shifts from the PLR (Iranian paramilitary organization) to Russian and Azerbaijani criminals, and Russia and the United States are nearly drawn into war against one another through extenuating circumstances, it's clear that the poo is hitting a fan in a big way.

Unfortunately, you may have noticed the setup sounding familiar. From the starting point in the Middle East to a Russian terrorist conning two superpowers into conflict, right on down to fighting through waves of cannon fodder to reach a safehouse in Azerbaijan, the campaign smacks strongly of the Modern Warfare series. Unless EA's trash talk regarding Activision's efforts was directed at besting them with the same plot (which they arguably do), it starts to ring a bit hollow.

However, that parenthetical statement is no less true despite being confined with rarely used punctuation. While playing, I found myself motivated by the thought of making it to the next cutscene and having another piece of the puzzle filled in, a feeling which is sorely lacking in most modern shooters. My squad mates, whether American or Russian acted like human beings with thoughts and feelings, not caricatures - whether filled with resignation at still being deployed or grim determination to do their job and finish what had to be done, DICE treated many of the characters like real people. Though the setup is similar - incredibly similar - it's done with much more finesse and is much more grounded in reality. Some players may agree, others may still find it a shameless rip-off. The debate might rage on all day, but what we're really here for is the gameplay.

Ambush left, they're in the trees!

DICE has always been known for smooth, intuitive gameplay, and Battlefield 3 is anything but an exception. From the infantry gunplay to the on-rails flying sections, everything functions like they wrote fluidity commands right into the code when making the game. Guns all feel natural and balanced, with enough recoil and ammunition management to make moments tense without feeling impossible, and creating that instant dramatic moment when, crouching behind cover with nearly no health left, an enemy soldier rushes the player's position and forces a quick-draw shootout to see who lives and who gets sent back to the nearest checkpoint.

The shifts in perspective and gameplay do a great job of breaking up the action and keeping monotony at bay, though they can sometimes be a little jarring - especially when we warp not only all across Europe, the US, and the Middle East, but also backwards and forwards through time. At one point I was shocked to see a character who I was certain had died, and had some skepticism regarding the fact that he'd somehow survived being shot and left in an alley, only to discover that this was before said incident in the timeline and I had flashed back extra-far to reveal this nugget of information.

Additionally, though the levels play extremely well, sometimes the enemies seem to have a better grasp of the terrain than you do. Even while playing on Normal, some parts of the campaign felt like rolling the dice to see if enemies would put a round through Blackburn's brain bucket before I could find them. On Hard mode, this feeling is only magnified (although, in fairness, playing on Hard in most Battlefield games has often felt like an inordinate challenge).

That is a biiiiiiiig city...

I also may have been shot one too many times because I took a break to admire the game environment. The Bad Company sub-series set a new kind of standard for prettying up first person shooters, and God bless it for that, because the bar has only gotten higher. Between the blindingly realistic sun glare coming from the East, forests and buildings looking so gorgeous, and the almost poetic sound of gunfire and artillery sweeping over the landscape, Battlefield 3 is one incredible audio visual experience. There was more than one occasion that I wanted to just put away my rifle, walk across No Man's Land, and offer the Russians a picnic basket so that we could all just enjoy the beautiful weather we'd been having recently.

Scenery aside, the engulfing audio also helps to make the game world come alive. Every gun has a unique sound, but without blurring together - after a few hours in-game, it's apparent when the gunshots are friendlies with M4s or enemies with AK-74Ms, and it's honestly a huge help in figuring out what's going on and where on the battlefield. The sound also helps to cement some of the crazier moments in the campaign, like being thrown up into the air by an earthquake and, once lying face down on the pavement, hearing the buildings all around come crashing down. Setpieces like that, which would come off as overly flashy in a lot of games, feel real thanks to the sound and visuals.

Yep, got eyes on an enemy sniper...

Honestly, though, DICE has built their reputation not on campaigns, but on the multiplayer. A lot of gamers, myself included, found more enthusiasm in our jaded, dried up hearts for the multiplayer experiences of the Battlefield series than for the campaign. And, while AI partners are all well and good (and much more competent than expected, all things considered), it's with other humans that the series shines like a highly polished .50 caliber BMG round.

Multiplayer in Battlefield 3 takes two shapes - the first is the online matchmaking, which we'll get to in a moment, and the second is the co-op gameplay. To use a comparison likely to frustrate EA, co-op bears a lot of similarities to Spec Ops mode in Modern Warfare 2. Unfortunately, there's only room for two players, but as the gameplay gets off the ground it becomes apparent why. A lot of the moments only need two people to make them fantastic, and it's hard to imagine where a third or fourth person would fit in during several missions. The best example that comes to mind is a section where a friend and I (co-pilot and pilot, respectively) flew an attack chopper together - with three people, the game mechanic of teamwork in a helo doesn't work, and with four, the targets would have stood even less of a chance and removed a good amount of the challenge. That said, it is somewhat frustrating to be tempted by co-op when my friends list has a lot more than one person on it.

Regardless, my previously-excluded battle buddies and I were more than able to stay together on the 12-person teams in online matchmaking. Even console versions of the game now include a server browser, where the player can select a specific game to join by searching with filters like game type, map, and server location. A new queue system means that if there isn't room in the game now, you'll be on the server as soon as there is, and the ability to manually select squads once in the game allows scattered players to quickly group up to work together more efficiently.

Finally, remember all that gushing about how well-done the gameplay, visuals, and sound are? Well, all that finds the perfect outlet to express  itself when it comes to the online multiplayer. The setpieces in campaign are all well and good, but the awe factors is multiplied several times over when the chaos is unscripted and "Did that seriously just happen?!" comes through the chat system. The excellence we've come to expect from the series is very much present, back from the heavy blow it took in the open beta. While said beta gave the gameplay a more Call of Duty feel of "reflex first, aim later," the game itself has bounced back quickly.
The new weapons and vehicles offer a (mostly) great improvement over Bad Company 2 - tanks and humvees are still present, as are certain other vehicles, and there have been lots of additions including amphibious assault vehicles, APCs, mobile artillery, jets, and more. Weapons, on the other hand, are mostly the same, but with minor changes (for example, small Personal Defense Weapons like the PP-2000 are now available for all classes). The new meshes well with the old, keeping the same feel while giving us new toys to play with. Gone are the Apaches and Havocs we know and love, replaced with newer versions with much more difficult controls.

The only real issue at hand would have to be the unlock system. While the invidual weapon unlocks function very well and keep tickling that "level-up button" all gamers have in their head, some of the others seem incredibly unfair at the start. This is particularly evident in vehicle unlocks - when heat-seeking shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles are unlocked so quickly for Engineers, why don't air vehicles start off with flare capability? This is especially frustrating with scout helicopters and jets, as even that initial level-up is incredibly difficult when an A-10 ground-attack plane has to make do with machine guns and machine guns alone (which seems like a lot, but is actually much less between nigh-impossible dogfighting and difficulty in attacking ground targets). This inequality does level out, eventually, as more and more perks and gadgets become available, but the frustration is still there.

Overall Impression

Battlefield 3 has its issues, some of which probably should have been ironed out in QA long before the beta even went live. And these issues keep it from reaching its full, nearly-perfect potential. But the vast majority of the problems with the game are small annoyances compared to the many, many, fantastic elements it has to its credit. The audio and visual effects create a staggering game world to play in, with well-balanced mechanics, intriguing (if slightly unoriginal) plot points, and some of the best multiplayer available on the market today.

DICE hasn't necessarily re-invented the wheel here, so much as they have improved the wheel design to the point that the ride is smoother, faster, and more exhilarating than it ever was before. From an immersive, chaotic campaign to a well-balanced and fully entertaining multiplayer that will keep you coming back for more, the ladies and gentlemen of DICE know exactly what they're doing - and they do it extremely well.

If you're looking for something that's going to wow the alternative crowd and stand out by virtue of abnormality, then it might be best to keep looking. On the other hand, if you want an incredibly polished, well-made shooter that will stand out by virtue of outdoing the competitors at their own game, then look no further, because Battlefield 3 has something it would like to show you. And that something is a mortar falling out of the sky to set off several pounds of C4 and blow a tank to high heaven before it can capture a strategic objective.
The Good
  • Great characterization
  • Intriguing plot
  • Well-balanced
The Bad
  • Borrowed premise
  • Some frustrating vehicle controls
  • Some slight balance issues
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Bluance on January 15, 2012
The difficult vehicle controls have always been a staple in the series actually. I remember the fear of getting in vehicle with someone who didn't know how to fly. It was always a point of pride to be able to be a proficient pilot.
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Briaireous on November 06, 2011
Best game i have ever played
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Drfunkler on November 07, 2011
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bryanorr on November 05, 2011
very nice
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ismatron on November 04, 2011
me parece un buen juego
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varun2000 on November 03, 2011
this game can be the game of the decade or gta 5
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MrPowerrs on November 02, 2011
one of the best games i've played love the jets!!!
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Genert on November 02, 2011
The game is great.Now theres something to play for years ^^
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wyldebull on November 02, 2011
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xander1421 on November 01, 2011
Great game---...
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OSMenace on October 31, 2011
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UnlimiteCowZ on October 30, 2011
i got it the first day and this game is bad ass =D
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gapymlakar on October 30, 2011
graphics in BF3 are better than MW3;)
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EchoStar191 on October 30, 2011
It sounds soo good. What am i going to do i want to get skyrim, BF3, and MW3 so many options oh wait why not get them all.
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Merfyz on December 06, 2011
Thats how i think, if i cant choose then why not get them all.
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Joe2491 on October 29, 2011
The AI's were a little on the dumber side if you asked me
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hellsinghanou on October 29, 2011
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