Review: Battlefield 3
By Joseph Christ on November 7th, 2011 (28 comments)
They say you should always follow your heart. That we can do no greater service than being true to ourselves no matter the odds, and no matter the affinity we may have for another. The premise is quite simple. No amount of replication, even when attention is paid to the most minute details, can ever mimic an original to perfection. The process is doomed from the start, and it wouldn't be long until the realization is made that we'll never make as good of a 'someone else' as we can make of ourselves. Fakers are spotted right away, of course. Upon first pronouncement they may seem to stand on a firm foundation, but the roadways of that Uncanny Valley stretch far and wide. Mimics always fall apart, and do so fast. And as that veneer slides off like so much of a melting mask, that inkling of true mastery usually begins to shine through from underneath.
Battlefield 3 (Xbox 360)
Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 25, 2011 (NA)
This, of course, brings us first to the single player campaign of Battlefeld 3 which is a prime example of how imitation through pressure has caused a franchise to be what it is not, and lose its way in the process. I can only guess that the perceived 'battle' between the Modern Warfare series and Battlefield reached dizzying heights at the DICE offices who felt an overwhelming pressure to hit their nemesis head on. Unfortunately as far as the single player goes, instead of doing what DICE does well, developing open worlds created specifically for combined arms combat, DICE decided to try to do the opposite; creating a completely linear, squad-based, combat story that is as open as an 80's year old Nun's vagina. And much like that vagina, it turns out to be dry, ugly, empty, and lifeless.
The problems with the single player range from small bugs to sweeping design faults that serve to rip the player out of the experience with an almost obscene force. Enemies appearing out of thing air, dead bodies disappearing, AI partners running through walls, are all found in bounty, wrapped in a narrative as cohesive as a badly made burrito. The main plot revolves around an interrogation scene acting as a catalyst for flashbacks which hold the gameplay (haven't we seen this before), but without the spice of visiting grandiose passages of time a'la Call of Duty and Quantum Leap. Instead we go back a few months at the most, get pieces of the convoluted story, and get thrown back to the interrogation scene. One never really feels like they are playing a part in a grand arc, no matter how obtuse it may be. There is one part of the story which, I suppose, is supposed to be especially dramatic. However, the narrative is so poorly put together that one never really get's a sense of any enormity to the event. It simply slides past, another signpost in the darkness within a story you can hardly see.
Even a shoddily cobbled narrative can be excused if the gameplay is solid, right? You don't watch Commando for the well-crafted dialogue (quite the opposite actually, and therein lies the charm), and I would think that even most devoted COD fans would be hard pressed to give you that story in intricate detail. Unfortunately, DICE has stumbled here as well. Instead of doing what they do best, and creating an open world for the story to unfold, they have instead created a completely linear corridor-shooter slog with area after area to shoot the bad guys, move forward, and shoot the bad guys some more. It is completely foreign to what DICE is known for and it shows. Even the much touted jet section is little more than an uninspired turret sequence.
Then there are the bugs mentioned above which appear full tilt. Enemies drop into the world from nothingness, or continue to flow out of a door continuously until you reach some secret checkpoint in the level. Things which probably also appear in COD games, but are much better hidden by a developer who has mastered the tricks used to obfuscate them. DICE, however, is like an amateur magician who can't stop dropping the cards out of his sleeves.
The world itself is one of the main offenders. Even places that look open constrict you to areas directly around your battle, greeting you with a blazing “YOU ARE LEAVING THE BATTLFIELD” and threatening you to a death within 5 or so seconds if you don't return. If you were pinning your hopes on shooting holes in a building and going the long way to flank an enemy in single player, then think again. There are even times when this invisible wall is literally 5 feet around you as the game decides that you simply cannot miss the dialogue amongst your squad mates. Not that you'll actually remember who any of your squad mates are. Unlike Bad Company 2, which had a plethora of funny, memorable characters, the characters in Battlefield 3 are lifeless, bland and completely forgettable. There is not one moment that you ever feel like you are part of a cohesive team, and not even a flickering of emotion is able to be conjured during the duration of the story. It's quite amazing, especially since one of the main plot lines revolves around the supposed relationship between you and your squad.
Something must also be said of the graphics, which DICE has used as a main selling point for Battlefield 3. My word of caution is this, if you are playing on a console be prepared to be disappointed. Cramming the intricacies of the Frostbite 2 engine onto a console surely had to take a bite out of something, and the graphics are probably the main contributor to the sacrifice having to be made. The main problem is simply the lighting engine which ended up on the consoles. Though much of the color palette in the game is the same, depending on the area, the superior lighting engine on the PC helped to make objects stand out. However, on the console the similar pallets, combined with much lower resolution, only serve to make all the graphics mud into each other. Finding enemies hiding in the rubble becomes extremely difficult, and you'll find yourself oftentimes guessing at what you're shooting at all.
Even the death process is bugged. Instead of asking if you want to continue after death, like many games do, the game simply reloads ad nauseam. Meaning that if you die, and were thinking of using the restroom in the interlude, your character will be caught in his own personal hell. A hell where he is killed and reborn again and again for all of eternity. And as you sit there on the toilet, you'll be the sole audience to the feast of his suffering.
Ultimately, the single player campaign is a pustule; an insignificance who's only worth is to teach us all that to be ourselves is the best we can ever be. DICE, forgetting their own value and success, tried to mimic what they perceived success to be, and in the process hobbled themselves by forcing on shoes that simply do not fit. The only conceivable positive is the merciful ending credits which will appear no more than 7 hours after you started.
It's telling that the single player campaign is on Disk 2 instead of Disk 1. I only wish that it was on Disk 3, and not included at all.
At least we still have the multiplayer.
It's almost as if the single player campaign and the multiplayer were created by two different developers. The multiplayer shines with all that is good within DICE's repertoire, with even more refinement and more meat to it. It is combined-arms combat at its very best, and stands as a glorious reprieve from the smaller tactics based gameplay in the Call of Duty games.
DICE has learned a lot since Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 2, and in many ways Battlefield 3 is an amalgamation of all those lessons mixed into one beautiful meal. Destruction is back and better than ever thanks to the Forstbite 2 engine, and though you won't necessarily be felling skyscrapers, you'll be destroying big parts of them. But it isn't really the big destruction which is as impressive as the small destruction. Walls no longer crumble in big, predefined pieces, but now can be chipped away by small-arms fire adding an ultra-realistic sense to the battlefield atmosphere and even tactics.
Levels are back, of course, but this time DICE has done a much better job at rewarding the player with gadgets and weapons over the long term. Previously, in Bad Company 2, you would be done maxing out your soldier in the mid-20 levels. Now DICE has promised to divvy out the weapons, attachments and gadgets throughout your entire career, and those additions seldom feel like filler. From flashlights that blind your enemy, scopes, mortars, anti-vehicle weapons, a host of assault rifles, pistols, and different camouflage, you'll be playing your own version of soldier-barbie with a vast assortment of accessories to create with.
Jet's also make a return, and this time in a much better state than they were in Battlefield 2. The flying feels appropriately heavy yet good, they have their own series of gadgets, and, thankfully, the maps for the air-vehicles is much larger than it is for ground troops. Meaning that even though you will still have to circle around, you'll have to do it much less than you used to. The same, however, can't really be said for the helicopters. Possibly to lessen the circle strafing found in Bad Company 2, helicopters are a much more delicate endeavor to fly this time around with an ultra sensitive dual-stick approach needed to fly them correctly. It still never feels bad, though. I can't imagine flying a real helicopter to be an easy feat, and part of me looks forward to mastering the process DICE has set forth.
Battlefield 3 will probably be known as both a great stumble and a great innovation. It actually pains me to think of how good the multiplayer might have been have they simply didn't create a single player at all and, instead, put those working hours into furthering the online experience. Instead, on one hand they created one of the best multiplayer combat games there is and, at the same time, one of the most shallow and dull single player ones we've been forced to endure. Maybe, DICE should have realized that the best competition they could have provided was to do what they do best, and show people why they are the best at what they do.
Joseph Christ is the Reviews Editor and a Podcast Personality at 4Player. Specializing in reviews, editorials, drinking, and saying inappropriate things about gaming franchises that are beloved by millions, his satirical and sometimes edgy style offsets a more serious and penetrating substance lurking below the surface. He is also the host of the Cocktail Time Podcast. You'll follow his Twitter if you know what's good for you.
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