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Battlefield 3 (PC) Review

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Updated Wed, Nov 02, 2011 by Ethec

When you think Battlefield 3, you probably think of good guys with big guns and futuristic vehicles chasing terrorists through intriguing global hotspots. What you might not realize is that Battlefield 3 is perhaps the most MMO-like military FPS ever made. With a robust multiplayer progression, a substantial co-op campaign, an impressive community toolset, and - oh yea, an epic (if brief) single player campaign, Battlefield 3 aspires to take on the segment leader, Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty series, head-on. Does EA's latest contender climb to the top of the Military FPS leaderboard? Find out as Ten Ton Hammer reviews Battlefield 3.

Battlefield 3 review
Paris is picturesque, running gunfights and nuclear threat aside.

Cautions

Cussing aplenty and several rough cutscenes involving scenes like a PLR soldier slowly dispatched with a K-Bar, but no copious blood, gore, or player-initiated civilian massacres to mention.

Gameplay

87Very GoodThe depth of multiplayer unlocks, mods, upgrades, and achievements in Battlefield 3 helped me make peace with the 8-9 hour single-player campaign. It's tempting to call Battlefield 3's campaign - like most military FPS campaigns nowadays - a throwaway, but  I rather enjoyed pacing through the exploits of USMC SSgt. Blackburn and GRU operative Dima Mayakovsky as they attempt to track down a passel of briefcase nukes through Iran, some nameless Baltic nation on the Caspian Sea, and through the streets of Tehran, New York City, and Paris.

One thing CoD still definitively has on Battlefield is the ability to quicksave anywhere. Fortunately, BF3's checkpoint saves occur often enough that you'll seldom lose much progress when you die. Death is common enough even on normal difficulty, but on the whole the difficulty seemed about right. Though enemies fold under gunfire like they were made of wet cardboard, they made up in number what they lacked in initiative.

Battlefield 3 review
The campaign follows the experiences of suspected traitor SSgt. Blackburn.

Story aside, my primary gripe with the campaign is that it prepares you not a whit for the multiplayer game. It's a given that human opponents will be tactically superior than AI opponents, but there's a steep transition from the "cover, aim, and shoot" of campaign mode to the harried, barely coordinated Chinese Fire Drill nature of multiplayer mode for the casual player.  Since the lasting appeal of the game is entirely in the chaotic multiplayer domain, some concessions seem to be in order. Some points toward  an unlock, a better starting weapon than the ironsight trash, or some indication that the workday-equivalent amount of time you spent in Campaign was worthwhile would have been welcome.

One thing Battlefield has always had in its column is an extreme variety of weapons. In the campaign game, you almost have too much weapons variety and have far too little weapons info. The ability to build your own kit prior to each infantry mission would have been welcome, if for no other reason than to familiarize myself with the weapons and mods. Instead you're stuck with rather weak kits and are occasionally introduced to new weapons under heavy fire - i.e. boy oh boy, there's a tank blowing our cover to hell, maybe you should crawl over to the javelin and figure out how to use it... oh, heh, the thing requires a three second lock. Maybe if you'd found secondary cover  you could have stayed alive long enough to fire it.

The occasional heavy weapons is one thing, but a player's primary kit is another. Though the scores of enemies you face in the campaign will drop a bonanza of different weapons, even if you can tell what type the gun is by name, reputation, or silhouette, I usually had no clue whether it was better or worse than my current gun. The game lacked even a rudimentary damage / accuracy / rate of fire / ammo capacity comparison a la Rage or the Crysis series.

Battlefield 3 review
Nothing like fighting through a Russian paratroop battalion.

Battlefield 3 gets the core FPS gameplay mostly right.  Mouse and keyboard control of vehicles in multiplayer is still highly problematic. Seasoned BF players are accustomed to switching back and forth from something with an analog stick, which is no comfort if you get stuck piloting an attack helicopter without a stick in the second Co-Op mission as I did, pissing off my co-pilot until I hastily dusted off an X360 controller .  

Story-wise, you'll find the occasional campaign-side confusion over what you're supposed to do or where to go when. Some of the mission objectives fall on the ridiculous side of heroic, such as taking out a speeding car with your lowly M16 in the 1.5 seconds said vehicle is in your field of fire. Fortunately the game makes allowances; in this instance, firing somewhere in the general vicinity of the car causes it to fishtail into a violent wreck.

Yet,  for delivering gritty realism in such modern warfare experiences as manning fire control on a Super Hornet, being strafed by a Russian Su-25 "Frogfoot" armored assault aircraft, or driving a lone tank on a one-way mission through the streets of Tehran, Battlefield 3 delivers the experience more convincingly than its contemporaries. And you won't even have to massacre your way through a Russian airport.

Graphics

87Very GoodIt's hard to find too much fault with the "Is it real?" ads heralding Battlefield 3's release.  Not only does the game look great, the environments are destructible to the point that I never really trusted even a concrete pillar to protect me for long. It simply chunked away down to twisted rebar under withering fire, and I learned quickly that the only way to stay safe for any period of time is to get aggressive and eliminate the threat. That feeling of constant engagement is something I've more often experienced in a stealth FPS, and it's nice to really experience it in a military shooter like BF3.

Battlefield 3 review
M1A1 Abrams on Thunder Run.

The detail of the game is fairly intense, right down to the weave pattern on USMC, the scrolling advertsements on the Paris bus stop shelters, and the Tehran rooftop signage that had a funny habit of coming loose when shot at. DICE could have cut corners on modeling  environments like the inside of an M1 Abrams or a F/A 18F Super Hornet, but you'll climb into cupolas and cockpits just like a real tank gunner or pilot would. Better yet, the game runs smoothly on my increasingly middle-of-the-road Radeon HD 5700 system - score one for PCs versus consoles and their finnicky BF3 framerates.

While the level of detail is impressive, it's about time a game got suppression effects right. Being pinned down by rapid fire or nearby explosions results in vision blur, slower movement, and sluggish, inaccurate firing. The effect lasts just long enough to add challenge and realism to the game without becoming an impediment to core gameplay.

I was mostly pleased with the interface, or lack thereof. The grenade indicator - a pulsing orange dot - is smaller than in other military shooters, and does a generally poor job of informing you whether a grenade is a real threat or an overgrown firecracker exploding on the other side of a barrier. Another annoyance was the severe amount of lens scratch and dust that seemed to constantly muddle the left half of my vision, but I'm willing to chalk this one up to the reality of fighting in desert environment.

Battlefield 3 review
Lens scratches are a little overdone.

Like CoD, BF3 forgoes any kind of enemy-revealing minimap or radar, but unlike CoD, BF3's interactive cutscenes  are incredibly unintuitive. More often than I'd like, the game prompts the player to hit [E] or [Space] when confronted with a knife-wielding enemy  or when, say, making a difficult jump between subway cars. The problem is, doing anything besides hitting the correct key - or pressing it once when the prompt is frantically dancing around telling you, as it turns out, to rapidly twitch it, results in a mission fail and a trip back to the last checkpoint.

On the multiplayer front, while every multiplayer FPS has had its exploits - from fast-scoping to nuclear shotguns - it seems BF3's contribution to the cheap-shot pantheon is the flashlight slung under the barrels of select weapons. Even in broad daylight, players use these to blind other players - and this tactic is enormously effective at short range. Skilled players will switch them on and off to avoid becoming a target to far flung enemies. Equally eye-ablating is getting laser-sighted by an enemy, even if the enemy is targeting your chest rather than, say, your inner retina. Either of these vision screwer-uppers could add a layer of fun realism if the effect were just turned down a notch or thirty.

Battlefield 3 review
Blinded by the flashlight.

Sound

95OutstandingEvery time I think the sound direction in these games can't get better, it  does. The ping of bullets around you, throaty background explosions, and the telltale zip-chunk  of a round hitting you; it all adds to BF3's already heady brew of realism. The soundtrack was forgettable to the point of me having to look up whether there's actually a soundtrack (mandatory apolocalypse-inspired Johnny Cash notwithstanding) and the ambient radio chatter is perhaps a bit overdone at times, but on the whole BF3's sound lives up to its top-tier status.

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