Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3 review

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Graham Smith at

Senior gamers must beware of Battlezone flashbacks.

This suggests they shouldn’t make a big difference to the game, but they do. The spectacle they add completely changes the way battles feel, turning small skirmishes into all out war. They’re a constant fixture in the skies above the maps that include them, and after playing Caspian Border and the few others that also harbour them, the smaller maps begin to feel like they’re missing something.

The multiplayer is always at its best on the larger, or at least more open maps. I’ve rolled across Tehran Highway in a tank, levelling buildings and capturing bases in Conquest mode. I’ve rattled across Operation Firestorm in a jeep with a friend riding shotgun, and swerved as enemy jets have divebombed us. I’ve bailed out of helicopters hundreds of feet in the air and parachuted onto enemy sniper’s nests atop cranes. These are the moments Battlefield was made for.

My favourite moment so far was when I saw an enemy helicopter taking off at the other end of Damavand Peak. I paused, I crouched, I readied my sniper rifle, and I shot the pilot through the head with a single bullet. The helicopter fell from the sky.

I’ve experienced the same thing in three Battlefield games now, and every time it feels incredible. It feels heroic and badass and looks amazing. It’s also completely unscripted, born dynamically from giving every player control, options and then letting them play. It is completely the opposite of the singleplayer game’s design philosophy, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the campaign is so frustrating.

Night vision makes it feel like you're sniping The Simpsons.

Unfortunately, not enough of the maps are large and open, and too many force everyone into the same chokepoint, halting all progression for ten minutes until one team gets lucky. Operation Metro is the worst offender, but Grand Bazaar and a few others do the same.

The Medic and Assault classes have been combined, under the Assault name. For some players it requires some tough decisions, forcing you to choose between whether you want to carry the traditional Assault’s grenade launcher or the Medic’s healing medic pack. For me, the choice was easy. I’ve loved the Medic since Battlefield 2, and even here it’s still my favourite class in the game.

The best change to the medic since Bad Company 2 is how much more quickly you can now unlock those precious defibrillators. It’s the first item you’re likely to get from playing the Assault class, and in a squad with friends, they make you utterly essential.

The progression and unlock system still won’t be fast enough for some, especially players who are used to Call of Duty’s temporary killstreak bonuses. You’ll earn unlocks and ribbons in every round of Battlefield 3 – from gathered experience points, your kills for each weapon, or for performing helpful actions like reviving teammates – but the unlocks are paced to compel players to play for a hundred hours. It’s still enormously rewarding in the early stages to get, say, an M-COM Defender ribbon at the end of a match, or a new scope for your primary weapons, but the best unlocks don’t come for an awfully long time, and it’ll take an eon if you want to get the greatest goodies for all four classes.

Hop in and rain down some rotor based panic.

All of your stats and progress are tracked on Battlelog, a website which acts as Battlefield 3’s social network, server browser and menu. It is brilliant, bizarre and broken.

I love that it tracks everything I do in the game, including weapon accuracy for individual weapons, my unlock progress, and how many kills, wins and losses I have compared to friends. The little bit of context it provides to each individual around you play makes your actions feel just a little bit more important.

But I have no idea why Battlelog also had to be the game’s server browser and menu. First of all, why isn’t the server browser part of Origin, EA’s digital distribution service, where it could have been brought up in-game as an overlay? Right now, in order to change servers, you have to quit out of the game and head back to your web browser – which is a bit of a faff.

It’s also absurd that it acts as the game’s primary menu. When you launch Battlefield 3 within Origin, it opens Battlelog in your server browser, and from there you launch either a multiplayer server or the campaign. If the website is down for maintenance – as it has been frequently during these past two weeks – you need to switch Origin into Offline mode in order to launch your singleplayer game. That’s an easy thing to do, but I don’t even want to think about a website in that situation. Nothing was wrong with plain, uncomplicated menus.

Whoa! Hang about! Who tipped the world up?

Yet both of these are small qualms when compared to the ridiculous number of stability problems. Tom Senior’s game crashes to desktop every five minutes. Rich gets disconnected from every server after a round-and-a-half of play, without fail. Tim can’t connect to servers at all, most of the time. In over a week of playing and trying to play Battlefield 3 online, I’ve had all of these problems. There is a slight glitchiness to the singleplayer, including character models that occasionally fail to load, weapon models that vanish, and soldiers who run through walls, but the multiplayer simply does not work at all for some of the people, some of the time.

Given that this is the eleventh game in a series that started in 2002, a guaranteed huge seller, and a tentpole game for EA, why is it acceptable that it has had a clumsy, broken launch?

It’s not. For all its similarities to the previous games in the series, Battlefield 3’s multiplayer is still fresh and exciting. There’s no other game out there that can provide the same chaotic spectacle, or the feeling of lying in the grass with friends, watching a battle roll towards you from the horizon. Even as the singleplayer is everything I hate about games, the multiplayer is many of the things I love about them.

That means it gets a good score, but it would have been higher if the game was more polished and less rushed to hit the Christmas games rush. I’m going to play it to bits – eventually. Right now, it’s broken, and I’m going to wait. Buy it when it has been patched.


Verdict

80

Brilliant and unrivalled multiplayer makes it a game worth playing, despite bugs and crappy singleplayer.