Video Game Review: ‘Battlefield 3’ Sets New Bar For Multiplayer Shooters

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CHICAGO – It takes some time to truly appreciate the accomplishments of the development team behind the multiplayer portion of the highly-anticipated “Battlefield 3.” At first, it’s total chaos. Running, explosions, buildings breaking, planes crashing, more running — in the moment, the multiplayer of “Battlefield 3” is such an adrenalin rush that it can be difficult to truly assess it critically. You’re too busy trying to not to get killed again. Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0

When one considers the elements that go into that adrenalin rush, there’s no other conclusion to be reached than the fact that this is the best multiplayer shooting game in the history of the genre. Whatever critical angle you approach the game from — map design, engine response, upgrade system, player customization, etc. — it comes out with perfect scores. This is flawless multiplayer that deserves to be the model for future shooting games.

Battlefield 3
Battlefield 3
Photo credit: EA

The true tragedy, however, is that the thing that could hold this title back from getting the recognition it deserves is what used to be the driving force of all games — the single-player experience. After a reasonably strong campaign in “Battlefield: Bad Company 2,” the single-player portion of “Battlefield 3” is a monumental disappointment. It’s frustratingly designed with weak storytelling and horrendous enemy A.I. Honestly, if the game was purely single-player, it would be filling bargain bins at your local used store within weeks. The campaign is that frustrating. And yet the multiplayer makes the title a must-own for anyone interested in online play.

Battlefield 3
Battlefield 3
Photo credit: EA

The anticipation for “Battlefield 3” has been growing steadily since the last game in the franchise turned the series into the first real competition for Activision’s “Call of Duty” series. Finally, there was a Pepsi to fans who didn’t like the Coke products that “CoD” had been putting out. (Personally, I drink ‘em both and don’t see the need to pit one against the other, but I also like both The Beatles AND The Rolling Stones…call me crazy.) And as new information was revealed about “Battlefield 3” — more destructible environments, larger multiplayer maps, an incredible graphics engine for the single-player campaign, etc. — fans started counting the days to this game’s release. If the server response in the first week is any indication — they’ve been slammed to the point that the company keeps having to take them down for upgrades — sales for this title should put it high on the year for units shipped. There are gonna be a lot of kids blowing things up this holiday season.

What will you find if you sign up for “Battlefield”? For me, a good shooter goes about as far as its map design. Variety, depth, quantity, size — there are so many elements of map design that can go underappreciated. We’ve all played multiplayer shooters in which all the maps feel interchangeable. We’ve all played multiplayer shooters in which the maps are too big, which typically favors snipers and reduces the action level. We’ve all played multiplayer shooters in which the maps are too small (the most common “CoD” problem), which leads to “twitch” mechanics. The first person to twitch their trigger finger wins.

What’s so stunning about the map design in “Battlefield 3” is the full, committed detail of each one of the initial nine arenas. It will take some time to learn the ins and outs of them but they all have their own unique personalities. None of them feel interchangeable. Whether it’s the sometimes-terrifying dark of a nighttime map like “Tehran Highway,” in which you’re often shooting at nothing more than shadows, or the massive scope of a map like “Caspian Border,” in which your expertise with vehicles will be a required asset, each map feels distinct and much more than a slightly tweaked copy of the one before it. A close-combat map like “Operation Metro” plays to different shooter strengths than a wide-open map like “Kharg Island.” Personally, you’ll find me happiest on “Metro,” “Noshahr Canals,” and “Grand Bazaar.”

Battlefield 3
Battlefield 3
Photo credit: EA

The game ships with nine maps and those who buy it new will be granted access to the “Back to Karkand” expansion pack released in December, which will include four maps. For the standard purchase price, players will have 13 maps, playable across all five multiplayer modes, by Christmas. There’s no denying that value.

The modes are “Conquest,” “Rush,” “Squad Rush,” “Team Deathmatch,” and “Squad Deathmatch.” Across these modes, players can choose from one of four classes — Assault, Recon, Support, or Engineer — all of which becomes deeper and more customizable as each level upgrade unlocks new weapons, attachments, and specializations. The upgrade system is the most impressive yet produced for a multiplayer game as it constantly keeps the game fresh by offering the player new options and new ways to play it. If you’re not being challenged enough in one class, try upgrading another. If you get bored with one aspect of combat, the game is deep enough to support a very different style of play.

Of course, map design and upgrade systems don’t matter if the game doesn’t play well once they’re in action. The Frostbite 2 game engine is simply remarkable as multiple events can be happening in the field of vision simultaneously and the game always runs smoothly (except for the first-week server problems, although that’s not related to the engine). The constant action of multiplayer can often lead to games that feel choppy or incoherent but this is the smoothest operating shooter game yet produced. The game runs seamlessly from one-on-one close-quarter combat to total chaos. And the sound design is quite simply the best ever produced for a war game. Turn it up loud.

Battlefield 3
Battlefield 3
Photo credit: EA

The sad thing is that all of this praise for the multiplayer portion of “Battlefield 3” falls away when one gets into the single-player campaign. We’ve been seeing footage for weeks now and the game looks undeniably amazing, but the campaign is disappointingly linear and filled with some pathetic enemy A.I. In some sections, bad guys pop up in predictable places and wait for you to shoot them while in others they have telekinetic powers and snipe you while you’re still in cover. The difficulty is inconsistent and the storytelling doesn’t help. The single-player of “Battlefield 3” simply isn’t fun even if it looks amazing.

What doesn’t work about the single-player almost makes the multiplayer more notable. In the former, emphasis was clearly placed on the appearance of the game but actual gameplay was diminished in favor of a greater concentration on the realism of debris than that of an actual enemy soldier. Multiplayer could have been a similar “this or that” argument where one aspect of the experience worked while another was ignored. That didn’t happen.

Ultimately, if the single-player campaign of “Battlefield 3” was engaging and consistent, then this would be one of the best games of not just the year but of all time. On one hand, you have the best multiplayer shooting experience ever. On the other, you have a disappointing, frustrating campaign. I can’t deny that the disparity between the two makes this a hard review to write. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed a multiplayer shooter simply must play it. But, more than ever, ignore the campaign. If you do, this will easily be one of your favorite titles of 2011.

‘Battlefield 3’ was released by EA and developed by DICE. It is rated M (Mature). The version reviewed was for the PS3, but the title is also available for the XBox 360 and PC. It was released on October 25th, 2011. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Anonymous's picture

I love the multiplayer

I love the multiplayer of this game, probably the best I have seen. The single player story line could use some help. I did face problems as the servers are being over run by obnoxious pros. I took a risk and bought a guide. Casual players like me will benefit a lot from a guide.

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