Review: Battlefield 3 Shows it's All About the Multiplayer
At a Glance
My evidence is purely anecdotal, but going by what readers and gamer friends (who work outside the industry) tell me, almost no one plays the single-player campaigns of shooters like Battlefield or Call of Duty. Honestly, I couldn't find anyone outside of the people I know who review games for a living who actually bothers with the single-player campaigns. I know that, after playing through Battlefield 3's single-player campaign, I may never want to again either.
Generally, I like single-player campaigns in big military shooters. A little story makes the murder of hundreds of faceless henchmen go down a little easier. And their scripted nature gives the game makers a chance to create big dramatic set-pieces that show off their awesome graphics or sound or both at the same time with heart-racing battle sequences that make for such compelling television commercials. Oh hey, maybe that's why they bother making them!
But sometimes developers can get a bit carried away. Admittedly, the graphics in Battlefield 3 set a new standard, even on consoles. The lighting is amazing, and the level of details and textures you see on characters is very impressive. But I didn't really need the constant water spots that were supposed to be on my goggles (I guess, I'm pretty sure I wasn't always wearing them) -- they actually block a lot of the action. The same goes for the kind of over-scripting of some sequences, complemented with some dreadful quick-time button press mini-games. How many times do we have to tell developers to stop it with those?
I used to really like the Battlefield: Bad Company single-player campaigns because they were charming and featured characters I got invested in thanks to some snappy writing. Oh, and the action was still pretty awesome, even if it remained centered around one well-traveled little squad. Battlefield 3 has got its serious face on though, and is making a really strong attempt to be a Modern Warfare game. Notice I didn't say "like" a Modern Warfare game.
But DICE seems like they weren't really up to the task. The plot has all the requisite stolen nukes, shifty Russians and dusty Middle Eastern alleyways you could ask for. But the script is unbelievably tone deaf when it comes to portrayals of members of the U.S. armed forces. I don't know how they do it in Sweden, but no way is a Marine, on active duty, going to get questioned by two civilians (I don't care if they're supposed to be Homeland Security or what) about sensitive, probably classified field operations without a senior officer or Judge Advocate General there. I know that American media permeates foreign television, but you guys mixed up your cop drama with your military procedurals.
There's another plot point later that's even more egregious in its unbelievably, which is truly the sign of writers who really don't know how to construct plot devices for a thriller. But I think I'm digressing from what most of you really care about. I guess if gamers don't care about plot and story, then neither should the people making the games. Ultimately, Battlefield 3's single-player campaign is simply dull, with a handful of potentially thrilling set pieces (I'll just say "Russian paratroopers" and leave it at that) tied together by boring-as-hell corridor runs. The single-player campaign feels rushed, and tacked on, and it's a drag on the rest of the experience. I guess next time I should do what everyone else does and ignore it?
I guess if I spent that time I wasted playing single-player and instead committed it to leveling up my character in multiplayer, I'd probably be an officer by now (but probably not, as I've only had the game since yesterday). That leveling, by acquiring experience points from more things in a match than just killing the other dudes, is what always attracted me more to the Battlefield multiplayer experience than the Modern Warfare multiplayer experience. Well, that and the vehicles. But I'm the kind of guy who isn't a stone cold deathmatch-style assassin who seems to just appear out from behind every corner, seemingly overpowered pistol in hand. I'm the guy who likes to use tactics, capture flags and give my teammates health and ammo packs. Some may call me a wuss, but Battlefield letting me advance that way makes the game a far more enjoyable experience.
There have been some changes to the Battlefield multiplayer concept, but nothing too huge. Well, huge in the sense that the maps are bigger and you can play in 64-player maps (both of those on the excellent PC version, by the way). But the inclusion of fighter jets and the tweaks to the player classes only seem to improve on what has been good for the series before.
I seriously considered reviewing the two components of this game - single-player and multiplayer separately, since the disparity between the level of quality seems so vast and because it almost seems like the interests of two totally different audiences need to be taken into consideration. If I would have done that, I would have given the superlative multiplayer a 4.5 and the mostly drab single-player a 2.5, so what say we smash them together and give the game 3.5 stars out of 5? Now can we all just get back online? I've got some unlocks about to drop.
What about PC?
Many people argue that the Battlefield games have always been a better experience on PC than on consoles. That still holds true, though not by a huge margin. Not enough for us to feel the need to score it differently, though if GamePro were using a review scale of finer granularity, it would probably get a shade higher, Iike .15-.25 or so. But if you're still undecided about which way to go, and assuming that you have a pretty decent PC rig, these are the things you should consider:
The PC version obviously has a more impressive visual presentation, but you'll need a fairly powerful rig to take full advantage of it. If you have one, what you'll see is some serious next-level stuff in terms of realistic lighting and believably detailed textures; a true "next-generation" game before the next generation happens (which it does more gradually on PC's, anyway). Absolutely top of the line.
Huge Multiplayer Matches
Playing with 64 people on a lag-free server has to be seen to be believed. In the limited amount of online PC play I've had so far (I'd say about 2 dozen matches), I've been impressed with the minimization of lag times. Experiences will vary, based on location and your Interpipes of course, but Battlefield 3 does a pretty good job of staying smooth and only a few times did I experience any really serious lag. But playing with all those people, on even larger maps with a full cadre of tanks and choppers and jets, feels more like full-scale war than any other military shooter I've played.