Battlefield 3: A schizophrenic multiplayer wonder

We’ve waited a long time for Battlefield 3 and what DICE has delivered is a game of two halves: A multiplayer title with endless appeal and a single-player game so dire that it laughs in the face of modern gameplay. I’ll be your host for this review, welcome to the Battlefield.

Single player woes
From the moment you step out of your US Army Jeep, the graphics amaze. Dust clouds billow, and buildings creak with the scars of battle, all beautifully rendered in the Frostbite 2.0 engine. Facial and skeletal animations are incredible and while unable to reach the levels of LA Noir, it still leaves an indelible impression on the player.

Then the game forces you into one of its endless series of linear paths, intent on providing the most cinematic experience possible. To say that even the most binary of choices are removed from player input is putting it lightly. Battlefield 3 single player is nothing more than the world’s most expensive and gorgeously rendered shooting gallery. Bleeding-edge graphics mean nothing when predetermined events consistently play out.

An early and troubling example of how the game removes control from the player comes in the form of the visually stunning aircraft mission. As you are forced down the corridor of an aircraft carrier and eventually emerge into the stormy weather, the situation initially overwhelms. Graphics and audio have rarely combined to produce such a visceral scene. It’s only when you are placed in the seat of the gunner, not the flyer that the disappointment sinks in.

Control is limited to aiming at jets and shooting them down. A later section grates the senses with a Modern Warfare-like night-time bombing run and it’s as hideous and unplayable as it could possibly be.

So, the single player while pleasant on the senses is a mess of conspiracies, terrorism threats and clichés seen before in every war title ever. Thankfully, it is mercifully short and clocked in at seven hours on the hardest difficulty setting. A word of warning, finish the single player first before beginning the multiplayer if you ever want to complete it. After experiencing an “open world” first person online shooter, single player’s restrictive nature will be leave an unclean feeling in your soul.

It’s all about the multiplayer
From the moment you magically appear on the war torn streets of Battlefield 3, something feels new and different. The single-player walls are gone, replaced with endless levels of tactical options.

For the uninitiated, Battlefield 3’s multiplayer is based on four tactical classes and how the player decides to use them effects the ebb and flow of each battle. The four classes, assault, support, engineer and recon each have associated positive and negatives but the clever player can use each skill for success. Snipers, medics, soldiers and engineers, each class functions as a masterpiece of design.

Battlefield 3’s success hinges on player progression, which is as deep and varied as you could ever hope it to be. The designers say that it will take years to unlock every add-on, gun, badge and perk. For every action the player takes, be it a support or aggressive action, points are awarded and rewards are unlocked on the fly. As with Battlefield: Bad Company 2, weapon kits can be changed after every death but now, Battlefield 3 even lets the user change weapon attachments. If a strategy is not working then change it, says Battlefield.

Blow holes in it
The fully destructive environment, courtesy of the Frostbite 2.0 engine is more than window dressing, it is a tactical wonderland of beauty and destruction. Battles begin in “clean” environments and as the deaths pile up, buildings are slowly reduced to lattices of wire and crumbling bricks. It’s beautiful to see.

Imagine the scene: A sniper has your teamed pinned down across the alley. One by one, their tickets (Battlefield’s form of multiplayer currency) are slowly chipped away. Action is taken and the team leader blows a hole in the building, creating an ad hoc pathway into the snipers nest. The team rushes in, places explosives on the sweet spots of the building, legs it to a safe spot, detonates and caves the building in. A small victory, thanks to inventive thought and boundless freedom.

The cycle of upgrading, exploring, teamwork and unique gameplay modes combines into a winning formula with infinite appeal. This is a game you will play for years on end.

Co-op comes included
Hungry for some two player co-op action? Battlefield 3 has it, but it is crippled by the same problems of the single player mode and insultingly, is online only. Split-screen multiplayer is what made the Special Ops mode in Modern Warfare 2 so appealing therefore the online only offering is an appealing design choice.

Another issue presents itself in player choice. In one of the few co-op levels, the player is unable to select their role in the battle. The game decides if you will be the gunner in the sky, or the one on the ground. Again, choice is but a word.

Each level is a choke point of enemy spawn points which have to be memorised for success. Lazy gameplay, fun in short bursts and over in a few hours, co-op is a decent timewaster and nothing more. There is hope that DICE will release focused, creative levels in the future.

The best and worst of times
Come for Battlefield, stay for the multiplayer. It’s fast, fun, fluid and filled with years of pleasure. The single player is dire, the co-op is passable. It’s a game of two halves one juicy, one rotten. Bite into the succulent multiplayer and enjoy its meaty feast forever.

Who it’s for:

  • Multiplayer fans

What we like:

  • The incredible online multiplayer
  • stunning destruction engine
  • Incredible audio

What we don’t like:

  • Poor single player
  • lackluster co-op modes

Images from:

Steven Norris: grumpy curmudgeon


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