November 22, 2011 by Paul Curtin
Another year, another Battlefield and Call of Duty. War. War never changes. Or does it? It’s been six years since Battlefield 2 hit store shelves and we’ve seen a new version or expansion to the series released every year since 2005. Electronic Arts’ latest Battlefield game looks to shake things up a bit in the gaming industry by making some big improvements to its graphics engine in an effort to dethrone the current king of entertainment, Call of Duty.
But does Battlefield 3 actually go “above and beyond the call” of Modern Warfare 3 like it claims in its $100 million advertising campaign or does is it just another rehashed yearly Battlefield game that’s trying too hard to be the next Call of Duty like last year’s disappointing Medal of Honor from EA?
Right from the start of Battlefield 3 you can tell that it’s going to be a more cinematic and better experience than previous games. You’ll jump right into the shoes of a character being chased down a New York City street, police sirens flashing in the distance, and your only option of escape is to jump off a nearby overpass in order to make a daring escape by landing on top of the incoming subway train below. Within seconds you’ll come to learn that the train you’ve landed on isn’t some random one you’re using to escape as you make your entrance by kicking a terrorist through the glass, taking his gun, and using it to kill other hijackers as you make your way towards a bomb set to go off. You’ll have no idea who you are, why you’re running, and who these terrorist-looking people are that you’re killing, but that mystery is what perfectly sets up Battlefield 3‘s story.
After its exhilarating opening sequence, the game cuts back 8 hours earlier to Sergeant Henry Blackburn, a marine who is now being held in detention by the C.I.A and being interrogated by two agents. This is where the game plays out very similarly to last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops as the rest of the game revolves around flashbacks as Blackburn explains to the agents the key events that lead up to his detention as he tried to prevent an attack on New York by the People’s Liberation and Resistance, or PLR, a fictional Iranian paramilitary insurgent group based largely in the Middle East.
The use of flashbacks is effective in the same way most Call of Dutys play out by allowing the game’s scenery to constantly change, but those changes can also be a little too jumpy when trying to tell a great story and just like in Call of Duty at times you can be completely lost as to who you are, where you are, and why exactly you’re making your way from point A to point B. But unlike Call of Duty‘s constant set piece after set piece action sequences, Battlefield 3 takes a much more realistic approach; think less Michael Bay and more Generation Kill. At times the story can be slow, but the overall experience is the best and most realistic war game you’ll ever play, and the end ties up the beginning perfectly by answering all the questions you’ll have from the start.
While it may have a good story, I doubt many people are buying this game for its campaign. Battlefield 3‘s selling point is its photo-realistic and absolutely stunning visuals. Dice has debuted their new Frostbite 2 graphics engine with this latest installment in the series, and there’s no question that the new engine has taken graphics to the next level. I honestly can’t say that I’ve ever seen a better looking game; everything from the brick and mortar buildings to the metallic vehicles and weapons to the trees and grass to the character movements and facial animations are more realistic than any game has ever been able to achieve without the use of pre-rendered cutscenes. There’s nothing about this game that looks ugly; it completely blows Call of Duty away in the visual department and even looks better than EA’s other graphics powerhouse series Crysis.
Not only does everything look great, but the Frostbite 2 engine also features destructible environments and allows most objects like walls, barricades, trees, and whatever else that can be used as cover to be completely destroyed. Even entire buildings can be leveled in both the game’s campaign and competitive multiplayer. Seeing an enemy run into a building for cover and just leveling the entire thing with a couple shots from a tank’s cannon or using the environment in other creative ways like shooting holes in walls and then throwing grenades through said holes brings an extra level of fun and realism to the gameplay that you won’t get in a Call of Duty.
My only complaint about the visuals would be Dice’s use of Quick Time Events. After just getting through Uncharted 3, which blew me away by blending cutscenes and gameplay together like no other game ever has, the more over-the-top action scenes and melee maneuvers in BF3 that can only be performed by pressing the correct button that pops up in a giant button notification when you’re supposed to do it ruins the cinematic feel that the game works so hard to create. It’s a shame that Dice couldn’t have integrated a little more of their technology used in Mirror’s Edge to make events like climbing on the side of a train or hand-to-hand combat as fluid as jumping over obstacles and finally being able to go prone. They could have at least come up with a better system than just flashing a giant button icon in the middle of the screen when you need to do it.
What’s even more impressive than the visuals during the game’s campaign is how amazing the game still looks during multiplayer despite massive battles taking place online. Battlefield 3 allows for 16 vs. 16 matches (32 vs. 32 on PC) to play out on some of the best looking and biggest multiplayer maps ever. Not only can you take the fight to your opponent on the ground with traditional guns, but there are plenty of vehicles that stay true to the Battlefield series which allow multiple players to drive and ride in like tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets.
Battlefield 3‘s multiplayer literally takes the modern war experience to new heights and at times you’ll have to just step back and watch from a distance as epic realistic warfare takes place right in front of you with tons of players storming one another on the ground and dog fights taking place up above in the sky. There’s even one map where players must jump off the side of the cliff in order to get to the area below, and it will single-handedly justify an HDTV upgrade. But don’t splurge on the extra 3D option yet because sadly while Dice had promised 3D for Battlefield 3, it’s not an option included in the game and is currently a feature they’re working on patching in.
Also worth noting is how well the vehicles are balanced, which is always very important when mixing vehicle combat with regular ground combat in games. Although vehicles like tanks can be extremely powerful, a good player can easily take one down individually with the right tactics and weaponry. And just like previous Battlefield and Call of Duty games, you’ll have a full arsenal of primary and secondary weapons, attachments, and special class-based kits to unlock as you level up online and that allow for complete customization based on your preferred playstyle. It would have been nice to have more customization in terms of how your actual character looks, but I doubt the early version of Frostbite 2 could handle 64 players all looking totally different with the game already having to produce such high quality textures and so much action taking place throughout each map.
Like previous Battlefield games, you’ll have the typical Rush, Conquest, and Deathmatch modes. Call of Duty players will find the game’s Deathmatch boring when compared to their faster-paced in-your-face smaller maps, but there’s no question that Conquest and especially Rush are where the multiplayer truly rises above the call. Conquest consists of players fighting for control of various points on the map while (my favorite) Rush forces players to rush forward and capture objectives by planting bombs that the defending team must prevent or force being pushed back further into the map. While other impressive games like Homefront and MAG feature similar concepts, the way the Battlefield maps expand as the attacking team pushes forward amidst all-out war is an unmatched experience that doesn’t get any better.
My only gripes with BF3‘s online experience is the lack of variety in game modes and its less-than-stellar party/squad system. Although I loved Rush, there’s still only three main modes which doesn’t feel like enough and even just one extra mode like Capture the Flag would have been perfect for the Battlefield setting and a reason to continue playing even longer. The matchmaking system is also nowhere near as simple and easy as Call of Duty. I’m a big fan of allowing players the option to choose which game server they join, but the Call of Duty matchmaking style has become a standard because of how easy it is to use when trying to quickly play games with a couple of friends and works far better than Battlefield‘s.
It can be a pain in the ass trying to find games even with just one other friend if you’re trying to get into a game that’s packed with players but isn’t already full. What’s worse is when you do manage to get into a packed game with friends, you can sometimes get put on separate teams and if the other team is full, you won’t be able to switch. Matchmaking should always try to at least put the first five people in a party/pregame lobby together on the same team. What’s the point of joining games with friends if you can’t play with them? And if you get BF3 on PS3, you won’t even be able to voice chat with them after you get split up.
There’s no question that Battlefield 3 is a great game, so the main question that everybody’s dying to know is: Who wins the war for superior game, Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3? And unfortunately, like with any war, there really is no winner. Battlefield 3 absolutely blows Modern Warefare 3 away visually, but its slower campaign that offers a more realistic view on war is nowhere near as exciting as the faster-paced Call of Duty. While Battlefield‘s multiplayer also offers the better looking and more realistic online experience with massive maps and vehicles, its multiplayer matchmaking setup is nowhere near as fluid or well-designed as Call of Duty. The question of which is better really comes down to what type of modern shooter you enjoy to play more. If you like a completely unrealistic yet action-packed joyride with tons of Michael Bay explosions and a multiplayer experience that’s just as quick, go with Modern Warfare 3. But if you want the true feeling of being on a vast battlefield in the middle of a war in both a singleplayer campaign and competitive multiplayer, go with Battlefield 3. Battlefield 3 gets 4 out of 5 stars (Great).
- The most impressive photo-realistic looking game ever
- Great shooter mechanics and tons of customizable weapons
- Multiplayer is an absolute warzone with a great mix of ground and vehicle combat
- Solid story that plays out well and comes together in the end
- Some parts of the story can drag on and feel slow compared to the Call of Duty constant action format
- Multiplayer matchmaking could use some work, especially the lobby system and joining games with friends
- Only three main competitive multiplayer modes
- Quick Time Events ruin big cinematic moments