Battlefield 3 is the latest game from Swedish game developer DICE, building on a franchise started in 2002 with the seminal Battlefield 1942. Since the first Battlefield over a dozen games have been released, each with minor improvements from the last iteration. Battlefield 3 is the pinnacle of this continual evolution — it has almost all the multiplayer features of the older games, and a fleshed-out singleplayer story a la Battlefield: Bad Company 2. It’s definitely not perfect, but overall it’s a solid gaming experience that has massive long-term playability.
The single player campaign is formulaic and, to a cynic, largely indistinguishable from its Call of Duty and Medal of Honor counterparts.
Battlefield 3: Single player
The Battlefield franchise didn’t start with any kind of single-player storyline — for years it was strictly an AI-only version of the multiplayer game, for gamers with shoddy Internet connections and no willing family member for a lift to the nearest LAN party. The Bad Company spin-off changed this, giving traditionally multiplayer-hungry players a chance to settle down with some semblance of a plot and character development.
Battlefield 3, in its efforts to emulate and overtake its Call of Duty competition, has a fully-fledged single player campaign component. To say the storyline is like something out of a book you’d buy to read in an airport isn’t entirely inaccurate — think US soldiers in the Middle East, stolen suitcase nukes, Russian special forces, rogue spies, lots of angry bad guys — but that’s not to say it isn’t fun. It should come as no surprise that Andy McNab was a technical advisor for the game’s storyline; he’s also written a novel to accompany the storyline and build back-story for one of the playable characters.
Battlefield 3’s single player storyline plays like a McNab or Matthew Reilly novel, chopping and changing between characters, flashbacks, settings and assorted ‘intrigue’ (we use inverted commas because it’s really not that intriguing, to be honest). The fast pace of the storyline does mean the game comes off as slightly schizophrenic — although there’s ostensibly a main character in Sargeant Henry ‘Black’ Blackburn, you’ll spend half the story playing the three supporting characters. What’s most frustrating is that the majority of the story is built in pre-rendered flashback cutscenes, in thirty-second lumps — the missions you undertake in the game are tied together loosely under the guise of recalling the past few days’ events.
The single player campaign is formulaic and, to a cynic, largely indistinguishable from its Call of Duty and Medal of Honor counterparts. The missions are generally fun, but there are moments where you’re snapped out of the run-and-gun of fighting enemies — who do seem to pop up out of cover for you to attack, like a shooting gallery at a carnival — to partake in slightly frustrating mini-games: think ‘press SPACE repeatedly to climb up the side of this speeding train carriage’. It’s a console gaming convenience hangover that detracts from the immersiveness of the story.
Battlefield 3’s single player component is very short, too — we clocked it in just under seven hours on Normal difficulty, and this time includes retrying sequences where we didn’t mash the appropriate button fast enough (falling off the side of the aforementioned train a couple of times, for example). As an addendum to the multiplayer component it works well, but we definitely wouldn’t buy Battlefield 3 solely on the appeal of its single player mode.
Battlefield 3: Multiplayer
If you were one of the three million people who pre-ordered Battlefield 3 worldwide, chances are you wanted it for the multiplayer aspect, which has long been a hallmark of the series. A week-long open beta test for Battlefield 3 got our hopes up, and we’re pleased to say that, bar a few teething problems, Battlefield 3’s multiplayer aspect is excellent: it’s one of the best multiplayer gaming experiences we’ve had in a long time, and we’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best squad- and team-based multiplayer games that you could buy.
Battlefield 3’s new Frostbite 2.0 engine does an excellent job with the expansive maps of the multiplayer mode. Nine huge maps that can support up to 64 players in various gameplay modes are all incredibly richly detailed and remarkably versatile, lending themselves to a near-infinite range of play styles — skulk around the edges of the conflict as a long-range sniper, pilot an attack helicopter in the close air above combat, or keep your feet on the ground as an assault rifle-toting grunt. There are dozens of weapons and dozens of vehicles, each of which has plenty of unlockable add-ons, like heat-seeking missiles for a jet or a thermal scope for a machinegun — there’s an intense sense of satisfaction from getting one more kill and unlocking another perky extra. There are a number of different game modes — beyond the standard capture-and-defend-choke-points Conquest, there’s also the fast-attacking Rush and simpler Team Deathmatch (and a Squad Deathmatch mode for smaller conflicts). They’re all extremely well balanced and we’ve consistently had a ball in public servers, with random players, in every game mode.
We have very few complaints about Battlefield 3’s multiplayer, with our chief one the amount of time required to comprehensively unlock a full set of add-ons for any weapon or vehicle. You’ll need to be a very dedicated player — we don’t think a week off work would be enough, although we’re willing to test that hypothesis — to unlock an ‘ideal’ kit for any play style. Similarly, features we enjoyed in other Battlefield games, like markers on the map for each control point, are missing and as yet unconfirmed to be added in in the future. There’s no voice chat, either, yet — an astounding omission from what is one of the gaming world’s best complex team games.
For less frenetic gameplay, co-operative gameplay also gets a look-in in Battlefield 3. It hits an uneasy compromise between the story of the single player game and the teamwork of multiplayer — although the gameplay is fun, the six scripted missions are largely based upon knowing the events happening in advance; you’ll need to know what to do before you do it in order to succeed. As confusing as that sounds, the end result is that you’ll need several play-throughs to be competent at each co-op level. The lack of voice chat is also a huge impediment for smooth gameplay in co-op mode, but if you’ve got a friend handy, some time to learn the levels, and a healthy level of disdain for large-scale multiplayer, it might occupy a couple of hours of your time.
Battlefield 3: Origin
As a necessary addendum to this review, we have to cover what is by far the least impressive aspect of Battlefield 3: the Web-based Origin software and Battlelog browser-based game launcher. Effectively a competitor to Valve’s Steam online store and game download service, EA’s Origin takes the reins of the company’s relatively unknown EA Download Manager in handling the downloading and install process for Battlefield 3. Subsequently, you’ll need to install Origin to play Battlefield 3... which is not as easy a process as it sounds.
On our reasonably capable test PC — a slightly tweaked Dell XPS 8300, with a fresh copy of Windows 7 and an upgraded Radeon HD 6970 graphics card — refused to run Origin (which is still a ‘beta’ release, shockingly) until we tracked down a pre-beta version online. After that, we had to download Battlefield 3 three times for it to install correctly — 35GB out of our meagre download limits to install an 11.4GB game. Reports of problems with the service are very easy to find all across the Internet, not only just in EA’s overwhelmed customer support forums. Anyway — once that’s out of the way and the game is installed, we were then confronted with EA’s one-size-fits-all approach to launching Battlefield games: Battlelog.
Battlelog is, in a simple sense, just a Web page with some convenient links to launch single player mode, co-op and a reasonably capable server browser for multiplayer. The functionality is all good, apart from the mystifying lack of a few filter settings (password-protected servers can’t be hidden, for example, and there’s no filter for setting maximum latency). The problem? Reliability. Over the past seven days that we’ve been playing, there hasn’t been a single time when we’ve been able to get into every server that we’ve tried. One night, after two hours of downtime for EA server maintenance, no servers worked. Even on a good day, up to half the servers we tried — which were not full, with no restrictions or queues — simply didn’t work.
We don’t think that Battlelog is ready for widespread use. It works OK but we really think a game of this calibre should be polished in every sense, and having a sloppy server administration service is surely going to drive away gamers. It’s not like EA doesn’t have the money. A couple of months should see major grievances fixed, we admit, but this should have been completed before the game’s debut.
Battlefield 3 is two distinctly different games -- chaotic, complex, world-class multiplayer with enormous replay value versus a pulp fiction singleplayer story that sometimes plays like a pop-up shooting gallery. The game's tacked-on co-op missions sit uneasily between MP and SP in terms of enjoyment. If you're an online gamer you're well catered for -- Battlefield 3 is undoubtedly one of the best multiplayer games we've spent time with in a long time, and although some features are missing from previous Battlefield games we're still happy. If you're an offline gamer -- well, you're out of luck thanks to EA's somewhat Draconian backend software.
Battlefield 3 has been launched in India by Milestone Interactive for Rs. 1,499. This is actually the "limited edition" of the game with the Back to Karkand expansion pack that includes four extra maps. Battlefield 3 is also available for download from the EA Origin Store for the same price but without the expansion pack.