FTG Review: Battlefield 3
One of the year’s biggest shooters , Battlefield 3, finally lands on store shelves this week, but after a disastrous demo, is the game able to recover and become a true competitor to Modern Warfare 3, or should this game have been quietly pushed to 2012?
A Serious Shooter Storyline
For storyline, there’s no sign of DICE’s infamous Bravo “Bad” Company anywhere near this game; no wisecracking Sweetwater or redneck Haggard chatting with Sarge about his confusing Africa with South America. The story from Battlefield 3 is more akin to that of a serious, no-nonsense Jerry Bruckheimer flim…or a similar “Global War on Terror” storyline you might find in Battlefield’s chief competitor, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series. Without giving too much of the storyline away, the game takes place across a variety of locations like the streets of Paris, downtown Karkand in Iran, all the way to Times Square in New York City. You play as a variety of different characters, even taking the cockpit of a fighter jet for a brief stint over Iran.
While I was under the impression that the main characters would be rather dispensable, by the end of the game, some of the characters did manage to elicit an emotional response out of me, surprisingly so. While DICE has really nailed the radio chatter and military jargon between troops, there was a surprising lack of emotion during certain parts. While you’re running through the streets of Iran and a technical zips by you with a truckbed full of insurgents, the correct response is “HOLY CHRIST, TECHNICAL! EVERYONE GET IN COVER!” Not to blithely ignore it. When you’re in the air and your wingman gets shot down, the correct response is “HOLY CHRIST, 4-2’s BEEN HIT BY A MISSILE, I DON’T SEE A CHUTE, DOES ANYONE SEE A CHUTE?”. When you’re in a tank battalion and your tank brother gets hit by a vehicle borne suicide bomber, resulting in a catastrophic tank kill, the correct response is “HOLY CHRIST, A SUICIDE BOMBER HIT 4-2! DRIVER, STOP THE TANK! EVERYONE OUT AND HELP 4-2!” These are folks have been in training and drinking beers together with one another for years; let’s at least pretend that battle buddies dying is meaningful when it doesn’t advance the plot.
There’s also a very strange plot twist at the end of the game that isn’t well explained. You’re forced to make a decision that I suppose makes sense, but at the same time, it doesn’t. I can’t get into details without spoiling things, but how you get from that scene into the final act is absolutely befuddling.
Multiplayer: The Gem in the Rough
Most people aren’t buying Battlefield 3 for the singleplayer experience; they’re looking for the next iteration of the extremely enjoyable level grinding multiplayer experience we got from Battlefield Bad Company 2. While I can’t really say there have been a huge number of improvements from the previous multiplayer, I had a great time playing.
First, playing on PS3, I didn’t have any of the server issues that were plaguing the 360, but then again, I didn’t start playing co-op day one. I finished the single player first, then transitioned over. I was also worried about the experience after the ridiculous problems that were associated with the Operation Metro beta/demo that was released a few weeks prior. Fortunately, they spent their time hammering out multiplayer bugs, and if you enjoyed Battlefield Bad Company 2’s multiplayer, then you’re in for a nice, shiny new experience with Battlefield 3.
Firstly, the addition of a co-op campaign is a nice treat, although not having the ability to choose which missions you want to go on from a list as opposed to the weird campaign progress map they had was a little strange. You and a buddy go through a single mission in the game; I jumped in, joined a random dude and we ran three missions together before he dropped out. The co-op missions reuse a lot of the same terrain and levels that you’ve been through with the single player missions, just with a different series of objectives. Overall, I had a great time here, although there was a joint helicopter mission where I spent twenty minutes flying around in what I thought was an on-rails shooting section of the game; turns out one of the player controls your movement and swarm missiles, while the other player controls guns and lock-on missiles. Strange they just didn’t give you two Cobra gunships to fly around, but it does stress the importance of working together (and having a good damn pilot).
From there, I jumped over to the multiplayer, and after about two hours of blowing up M-COM stations and taking dogtags, I had the distinct impression that the single player and multiplayer portions of Battlefield 3 were done by two separate developers. Maybe they were, but I had ZERO of the issues with the multiplayer I had with the single player (see below). I have always enjoyed the fact that if an enemy team is on the ball, they can push back an invading force all the way to their spawn points and lock them down with a few good shooters, and Battlefield 3 here was no exception. My first three matches, I was with a particularly boneheaded crew of shooters, so we found ourselves desperately trying to break out of the spawn point again and again. I tip my hat to both my enemy aggressors, as well as the developers for making it possible.
Okay, time to tear apart the single player portion.
Serious Single Player Problems
For a game that has been posturing itself in marketing as a direct competitor to the Modern Warfare series, I ran into frequent issues with the single player portion of the game and that’s apart from a pair of lock ups which I had to restart my PS3. The checkpoint saves would regularly freeze the game for 3-5 seconds, making me think the game had locked up. I would reach for the power button, and the game would jump back to life as if nothing had happened.
Multiple times, I would enter an area ahead of my squad or before an event would kick off. Because I was there before the rest of my team, I wouldn’t be able to interact with anything, including shooting enemy soldiers. I would lay my crosshairs on them, light them up, but only when the actual “event” started could I actually kill them, so I would sit there and stare down the crosshairs at an enemy clearly frozen as a part of the environment that I could only kill when they came to life.
Because I played through the campaign on hard, I would be forced to crawl between objectives slowly, taking my time lining up shots and desperately trying to stay behind cover. Meanwhile, my computer controlled allies would sprint past me by the dozens, either getting mowed down mercilessly like lemmings or actually able to proceed to the next checkpoint without clearing the way for me. During the mission Objective Guillotine, my squadmates were yelling at me to “Hurry up and clear this building” over and over and over again having run past all the enemies, while I was trying to clean up the mess they’d completely run past. There was even an area where the two Russian operatives I was working with ran up a flight of stairs in front of me, past an enemy soldier running down the stairs and allowing him to mow me down without even a backwards glance. I was so shocked, I reloaded after I died and let it happen to see if it would happen again. Guess what? It did.
AI scripting errors aren’t the only problem here. General shooting controls are wonky as well. I don’t know what in the hell the deal was, but I felt like the most incompetent gamer trying to line up shots. I spent the first half hour of my game in the controls tweaking the aiming sensitivity because it felt like the horizontal and vertical aiming were out of sync.
On top of that, the Battlefield series is best known for its destructible terrain, but even terrain was an issue. Playing on hard, you are forced to inch out behind cover to take shots. I would line up headshots on enemy targets I could clearly see in my crosshairs, pull the trigger to have nothing happen. I would re-line up my shot, fire another round that was clearly a hit, only to find out that it hit the sandbag in front of me somehow. I understand how rifle optics work, but I don’t think that the game was trying to mirror that effect.
I will leave you with one last “What in the hell” horror story: I was done with the game for the night, so I quit out as I was running up to a mansion in the game. When I jumped on the next morning and continued, I loaded up at what must have been another checkpoint further in the game. A major character who had already been killed was standing there, shooting directly at me at point blank range and very much alive. I couldn’t move. As the screen blacked out to go to a cutscene, the gunfire continued through the cutscene. Then the game loaded and I was where I was supposed to be. Woof.
After Action Review
If you couldn’t tell, Battlefield 3’s single player portion needed a hell of a lot of extra time in the oven before it came out. Electronic Arts single-minded determination to beat Modern Warfare 3 at its own game by releasing before the game was ready was a huge mistake, and the game as a whole suffers for it. Between the disastrous beta experience, the single player issues and the unacceptable launch week server issues, people won’t remember Battlefield 3 for the great multiplayer experience it is.