Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Battlefield 3 Review*

*Originally posted on 7bitarcade.com

Consoles have been in the multiplayer spotlight for some years now but it wasn’t always so. Before Xbox Live and PSN the only way to get a console online was to buy a Network adapter for your PS2, configure it for four hours then try to find a game that the other ten people in the world who completed the former were playing. Go back even further and the only device capable of such a feat was your trusty Personal Computer. It’s in this sector of history we discover the origins of Battlefield.

The key to the Battlefield heritage, whether set in the past or present, has been its heavy emphasis on vehicular combat. Rather than facing off in the direct firing line of idiots dual wielding AA12’s, players could jump into tanks, jeeps, APCs, fighters, bombers, water craft, anti-aircraft guns and mounted machine-guns. It took computerised warfare away from the simple man v man aspect seen previously and turned it into, well, a battlefield.

Recently, DICE and EA have been playing around with the Battlefield formula and trying to get the consoles users onboard, starting out with the extremely poor Battlefield 2: Modern Combat and then moving onto two story driven games. I, personally, didn’t enjoy Bad Company. It’s single player campaign felt a bit out of sorts and almost entirely unrealistic and, at the time, I wasn’t even hooked up to Xbox Live (for shame) so the multiplayer aspect passed me by completely. So when Bad Company 2 was released and I was initially put off by my experiences of its predecessor. How wrong I was is a story for another time.

Here we are then, Battlefield 3. A direct sequel to the PC only Battlefield 2, the aim is take everything learned from the previous games and produce the ultimate Battlefield experience across all platforms whilst appealing to as broad a demographic as possible. By and large, this is exactly what DICE have achieved (although some eagle-eyed readers noting my score will know its not exactly perfect). The new Frostbite 2 engine looks superb, even on the consoles, creating excellent lighting effects and shadows that actually change the gamplay.

Although, on the 360 at least, disc one is multiplayer, I feel I should first tackle the single player campaign relegated to disc two. Moving away from the rag-tag crew of B Company, we are given an entirely new plot arc centred around Staff Sergeant Blackburn’s efforts to prevent nuclear attacks on US and French soil. The majority of the story cutscenes are played out in a ‘present day’ fashion with all the action taking place in flashbacks while Blackburn attempts to explain himself to the CIA. It’s not exactly the most original story going, having only just been similarly tackled by Black Ops only last year. However, the resulting gameplay is mostly engaging and fun to play through.

I did manage to break the gameplay on several occasions. At one stage, my AI comrades were waiting for me by a closed door only to stand in silence for a good 15 seconds before they finally tripped into action and opened the door for me. At another point, just before a certain fight involving some Russians, I was idly standing next to my squad while they were talking about the mission when I literally died on the spot. I had been run over by the trucks on my own side! Add to this some truly horrendous quick time events that have absolutely no place in an FPS and you begin to understand why the campaign was relegated to Disc 2! The moments are easy to anticipate though as they are the only sections where your squadmates make you go in first. The real bread and butter of Battlefield will be found in the multiplayer.

Before the final release of Battlefield 3, there existed an air of discontent from the fanboys aided quite heavily by the Beta which I covered in a previous article. DICE released a statement soon after listing all the things they were going to fix by the time we would be unwrapping the cellophane on our shiny new obsessions, albeit in a day one patch *shudder*. From the first minute you play in-game it’s clear they have fixed the majority of problems, even if there are a few others rearing their heads.

Fans of the series will not be disappointed. The majority of the maps are gargantuan (maybe even a little too big). All the expected vehicular sexiness is present and correct (including the jet fighter!). And we now have the ability to go prone. There are a few close quarters maps that are more akin to similar shooters, but these shake up the gameplay adequately enough to alleviate any ‘mapathy’ you might other wise incur. It has the same mode set as Bad Company 2 (with the inclusion of the frankly pointless Team Deathmatch option) which will see you attacking/defending MCOM stations, fighting over control of flags and competing in 4v4v4v4 squad deathmatches. Everything feels very Battlefield.

Let me be clear, this game is NOT Call of Duty. If you try to play it like CoD then you WILL die and die frequently. Any keen players of other shooters will first have to adjust not only their play style but also their fundamental way of thinking. Acting like a lone wolf will only hurt your team in the long run, and so will caring about your K/D ratio. On one match I died 10 times and didn’t kill a single opposing soldier but still ended the highest scoring player of the round. I dedicated myself to capturing and defending objectives whilst healing and reviving squadmates. Team actions are paramount to achieving Battlefield greatness. Addionally, the squad member with the highest score is appointed Squad Leader and can dish out objectives to gain more points. It’s a shame as the old Commanders in BF2 could bring a world of hurt onto the enemy.

On your way to attaining glory, you will level up and level up frequently. It seems like you are forever unlocking something new, whether it be a simple upgrade to your weapon or game changing gadgets. There is always something to be working towards, adding to the desire of ‘I’m only 500 points from level 10, I’ll just play the next round’. Each weapon, gadget and vehicle has its own unlock tree, requiring a certain amount of XP to unlock the next item. Then each kit has its own unlocks when you reach XP milestones using that specific kit. Finally, all of the previous plus ribbons and medals are collated into your total XP used to level up, each level giving more unlocks!

The funny thing about this game is it may well have been a perfect 10/10 if Dice would have just completely sacked off single player and spent the extra time refining the multiplayer from the excellence that it is to the supreme greatness it could have been. Let’s face it, not a single person bought BF3 for the campaign and most of us only completed it when EA’s servers were down. It’s highly unlikely that Battlefield 3 will knock MW3 off its throne this year, which is a shame on global scale as its more than capable of it and better in almost every way.

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