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Battlefield 3 review: Pure multiplayer beauty

Battlefield 3. A lot is riding on the release of this one game this year, and whether it will really be a true opponent to the long running Call of Duty series. I’ve played a lot of Call of Duty, and I’ve played a lot of Battlefield as well, so I was really excited to get my hands on the game and see just how good, or bad, Battlefield 3 really is. Will it be better than Modern Warfare 2, or even 3?

Now for future reference I played this game on Xbox 360, as my PC is simply not powerful enough to run the game with reasonable graphics. That said, I was astounded by the graphical quality of Battlefield 3 after I installed the high-resolution texture package, even on a relatively old console like the Xbox 360.

The lighting used in this game is simply beautiful. Objects, scenery, people; everything simply pops and shines with the fantastic lighting engine used in the game. Shadows are really good, dark scenes look fantastic, bright desert environments are highly detailed and even faces and guns look outstanding. The textures and fidelity of the scenery helps as well, but I truly believe the lighting engine is out of this world.

Of course, this is all thanks to the brand new engine used in Battlefield 3: Frostbite 2. I loved the destructibility that was present in Bad Company 2, and to a degree this is back in Battlefield 3. While it’s not as destructible in singleplayer, I think this is made up for by stunning visuals that match, and then outstep what I regarded as the best looking game of this year: Crysis 2. You definitely won’t be disappointed in the graphics department with what DICE have concocted in BF3.

On to the actual gameplay, and first off I tried the single-player campaign. There is some story going on here that I don’t really want to rehash, but it’s not particularly good as you would expect from a multi-player focused game. It’s not bad, and I am glad there is a story, but it’s pretty clichéd with the whole “terrorist/WMD threat” type scenario.

Despite this, on the whole I found the campaign to be enjoyable. When I say it’s enjoyable, that’s due to both the fantastic gunplay and the variety of tasks you have to complete. There is a wide variety of guns to play around with, all that act and feel different to one another which give you a sense that you are actually using different weapons. They sound great too, which is always a bonus.

It’s the difference in tasks, however, that I enjoyed more out of the two great components. In one seen you might be defeating a sniper on foot and through buildings, the next you might be driving tanks in an open environment, followed by a stealth scenario. It keeps the campaign flowing and you on your toes as you progress, along with preventing boredom from repetitive tasks. You have to try it out to see what I mean.

I played through on hard, which is hard, and it took around 8 ½ hours to complete with numerous scene failures of mine; I reckon it’s easily doable in 7, however, as long as you play on an easier difficulty level. It’s too short, damn it. I wanted more when I got to the end, which was the same feeling after I finished Modern Warfare 2. The campaign was intense, just too damn short. Please, first-person shooter developers, make your campaigns at least 10 hours.

Unfortunately there is one other area I have to complain about, and that’s the bugs. I downloaded a whopping 167 MB day-one patch as soon as I put in the disc, but even that didn’t fix everything. At first I couldn’t even play the campaign and I spent a frustrating hour trying to work it out. One I achieved success I still found occasional out-of-sync audio in the campaign, weird collision things like NPCs walking through walls and even flying bodies. Oh, and there was also some noticeable framerate issues at specific points in the game, no doubt due to the amazing graphics engine taking its toll.

A final mention before I move on to multiplayer has to be to the sound. I have a surround-sound setup, and I was immersed in warfare as quickly as the first scene. I heard bullets flying from one speaker to the next, earthquakes that rock the subwoofer, people shouting from all directions and a dramatic orchestral score where appropriate. Needless to say I thought the sound was very, very good in Battlefield 3.

The singleplayer I generally found to be good, but the multiplayer is where Battlefield 3 really shines. You start off with basic weapons (depending on your team) in four classes. As you use each different class for different uses (eg. the engineer class has a rocket launcher; medics can revive people) they level up, rewarding you with new guns and equipment.

The levelling up doesn’t stop there. You also level up your main level to gain new ranks and dog tags to show off your rank; you level up weapons and equipment to gain new attachments and modifications to the weapons. It seems like every match you are unlocking something new, like a holographic sight for your SCAR-H or a silenced pistol. How far you level up weapons depends on how much you use them, which is a great system.

Having so much levelling can get confusing, especially as you start with different weapons per team, but when you unlock weapons you can use them on both teams. It’s also initially unclear what exactly you need to do to get weapon mods, but again you eventually figure it out. As you don’t get a manual in the box and most people won’t read the online version, I think DICE should have incorporated basic in-game instructions for newcomers to multiplayer.

What I found particularly awesome about Battlefield 3’s multiplayer is that you can switch classes, change guns in your class and even add modifications to your guns while playing a match. When you die you are presented with the option to do this, and depending on the match type you can choose where you spawn: again, an addition over Call of Duty that I really like. Oddly you can’t modify classes or exit the game between matches, but this isn’t a killer.

When it comes to match types, they are as follows. Team Deathmatch is your basic team play, with teams of 12 pitching against eachother for the most kills. Inside these teams are squads of 4, which can consist of your friends or random players, and are highlighted on the map. Conquest makes use of these squads as you attempt to capture various locations on the map. In this mode, you can spawn directly to your squad-mates and you really need to use tactics to avoid campers and things like that.

Rush is a bomb-type game where one side attempts to destroy the others control panels, while advancing up the map; there is also a Squad Rush where instead of 12 v 12 you play 4 v 4 in intense and shorter battles. Finally, there is Squad Deathmatch which pitches four teams of four against eachother and is perhaps my favourite game-type.

Unlike the Call of Duty series where there are some terrible gametypes like Sabotage, I found all of the Battlefield 3 types to be fun once you get the hang of how they work. I thought initially I might be disappointed by the small selection of game modes but the opposite ended up being the case.

As I kept playing Battlefield 3’s multiplayer and kept getting addicted, the one thing that struck me as being the major attraction are the huge, destructible maps. Where Call of Duty feels like you’re playing in confined scenarios, Battlefield 3 has you playing in expansive war zones that give you the sense you are in a real battle rather than a small replication.

What’s even better is that if a player is annoying you, continually sniping from a building or something along those lines, simply fire a rocket launcher into the building and watch the walls crumble, revealing your enemy. This is really more like what a war would be: you can’t expect to hide behind a wall or in a tower without the chance of it getting blown up. Bad Company 2 used destruction to great effect and Battlefield 3 again makes fantastic use of a great engine to provide dynamic, gigantic maps.

Along with multiplayer you do get a co-op “campaign” of sorts, which uses some environments from multiplayer maps and the campaign to deliver short missions you can play with a friend. It’s not a fully-fledged storyline, but it does deliver some satisfaction and if you play it enough you unlock some guns to use in the standard multiplayer.

If someone asked “would you like to play Call of Duty: Black Ops or Battlefield 3?” I would hands down choose the latter. As it stands right now, Battlefield 3 is so much better than Call of Duty. It feels more like a war should feel like and the levelling dynamics are just top-notch. Singleplayer is good, if not a bit short; co-op is included if you like; but again it’s the multiplayer that will keep you coming back for more.

Modern Warfare 3 has yet to come out, and in all honesty I don’t think it will be better than Battlefield 3, so as it stands right now this game is the multiplayer experience everyone should be having.

Thanks to BF3blog for the images. These are real, in-game screenshots that I couldn't take because I don't have a capture card. I'm working on getting one for the future though.

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