In years past many titles have been marketed with the specific intention of competing with Activision’s phenomenally popular Call of Duty franchise. While they may have been developed with the best intentions, their market positioning has been nothing more than jumping on the bandwagon. Battlefield 3 is this year’s competitor, and while long times fans of the franchise would contest that DICE’s latest is in no way a market aggressor, they’d be hard pressed to explain the proximity of the videogame’s release date to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Of course, launching at the tail end of the year, and practically going head-to-head with Activision’s industry leading franchise, Battlefield 3 has to pack plenty of content to compete. Name alone might be enough for some, but there are plenty of gamers new to the franchise that may find migrating away from Call of Duty a bigger challenge. That Battlefield 3’s single-player campaign is relegated to the second disc is indicative of DICE’s intentions for Battlefield 3. The series built its fanbase based on the multiplayer aspect of the videogames, and were it not for Battlefield: Bad Company’s insistence on characterisation it’s highly unlikely that there would be any campaign to speak of even today.
There’s no denying that Battlefield 3’s campaign has been heavily influenced by the Modern Warfare arm of the Call of Duty franchise. It’s a rip-roaring rollercoaster that takes players on an adventure spanning the globe. It’s a non-stop adrenaline rush, motivating the player with a plot more akin to Apocalypse Now than Full Metal Jacket. It’s a Hollywood affair, more concerned with heroics and bullets than hearts and minds. Cast as Sgt. Blackburn, a decorated marine in 2014, the player is thrown into an operation to locate and rescue a US squad whose last communication came while investigating a potential site of chemical weapons development deep in PLR territory. Completing this mission, Blackburn and his squad are sent to Tehran to apprehend a high-value target named Al-Bashir. While investigating an underground vault in a local bank, Blackburn and his team learn that the PLR acquired Russian portable nuclear devices, and that two of the three devices are missing. Of course, this is not good, and nothing less than Hollywood heroics will save the day.
The action varies drastically, and rarely is the player involved in a firefight that outlasts it’s welcome. By the same regard however, the player is rarely directly involved in the action for more than a few minutes, as a ridiculous amount of the campaign is spent watching the most exciting sequences. Control is wrestled away from the player far too frequently, with close combat scenes and alternate movements relegated to QTE’s, and all the tactical considerations presented by your AI teammates: a thinking man’s videogame Battlefield 3 is not. Unfortunately, what we are left with is a limp offering clearly playing second fiddle to the online gameplay: a disappointment, to say the least.
Thankfully, once taking Battlefield 3 online things improve dramatically. The state of play will be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to online first-person shooter (FPS) videogames over the past decade, with team based base capture modes being the crux of the matter. There are other gameplay modes – DICE would’ve been foolish not to offer more from day one following the backlash of Battlefield: Bad Company’s light weight offering – but core to the experience remains the Conquest mode. Players can utilise any one of four different classes online (with the idea being the team as a whole operates with a mix of classes) and accurate play with a specific class will not only up your overall level, but also boost your class level, allowing for class-specific bonuses to unlock. It’s a formula we’ve seen many time before, but one that is still very effective.
Where Battlefield 3’s online multiplayer excels is in its confident delivery. This is Battlefield, after all, a franchise which made its name with competitive online warfare. It’s telling that DICE has not only outdone many of their own previous efforts but also the efforts of many competing titles which have based their design on the studio’s output. The likes of MAG and even Call of Duty owe a considerable debt to the Battlefield series, and unsurprisingly Battlefield 3 is showing them how it’s done all over again. For some it simply won’t be enough to justify the asking price, but for gamers who lost their lives to Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 3 will feel like a just evolution.
Visually Battlefield 3 comes into question only occasionally. While refusing to install the high-definition (HD) content will leave you with a considerable mess of a videogame, with it Battlefield 3 is simply stunning. Many of the characters are arguably as well presented as L.A. Noire’s cotton mouthed detectives and the particle effects are simply unparalleled. Near the start of the Battlefield 3 single-player campaign the player is given an RPG and a target on a building; hitting this target leads to what is undeniably the most realistic plume of smoke every seen on a videogames console. The multiplayer mode frequently demonstrates collision glitches between player avatars and scenery, and often detail will be late to load or inconsistent, but on the whole Battlefield 3 is one of the most realistic looking videogames available to date.
To suggest that Battlefield 3 is a groundbreaking videogame production in any sense would be misleading. The disappointing single-player campaign couples with the enjoyable co-operative mode to offer a worthwhile, if malnourished, scripted combat presentation. Online however, Battlefield 3 comes into its own. With the competitive multiplayer gameplay Battlefield 3 may not be pushing in any new directions, but it has taken the essence of DICE’s critically acclaimed franchise and reinvigorated it with modern convention. It’s not the genre leader many were hoping for by any means, but with Battlefield 3 DICE can confidently say they’ve created more than just a simple distraction from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.