Launch bugs and connection problems can't dent Battlefield 3's sense of ambition. Call of Duty might have bagged the 'modern warfare' label, but Battlefield 3 shows us what a modern online shooter can really be. Developers DICE have tapped into the potential of modern PCs to create online battles on a massive scale, and with technology that makes its competitors look years out of date.
A 64 player scrap on one of Battlefield 3's largest maps creates a tapestry of war stories. Your experiences as a lone footsoldier form just one strand in that overall picture. You can spend half an hour in a tense sniper battle for control of an important ridge, while another player can spend that time in an AA vehicle hunting choppers in the skies above.
Battlefield 3 is at its best when these stories intersect. Fighting for control of a hilltop in the middle of the sprawling Caspian Border map, I found myself lying in a bush, taking fire from an attack chopper. There was a sudden hefty CRUNCH, and the flaming corpse of the helicopter crashed to the ground, only six feet from my head. A friendly jet blasted overhead, barrel rolled to celebrate the kill and then flew off to become part of someone else's story half a click down the road.
Battlefield 3 only fails when it tries to force these moments. The single player campaign's linear progression of scripted street battles disappoint somewhat, but online, the moments of drama the designers try so hard to shoehorn into the story mode happen organically, and they happen all the time. It's co-op on a massive scale. Quite reassuringly, the smart XP bonuses dish out the same rewards for supportive play and teamwork as they do for aggressive actions like shooting lots of men and blowing up objectives.
The squad system works beautifully, it is more important than ever on the biggest maps. Squadmates provide mobile spawn points that all but eliminate spawn camping. Squad experience bonuses encourage teams to stick together and fight as units, providing useful focus on maps that could all too easily become overwhelming.
They also give friends a way to stick together. It'll be hard to forget the fantastic round I spent with Graham, Owen and Rich riding around Tehran Highway in an armoured personnel carrier we dubbed the “battle bus.” We skidded up to each control point in turn, diving out, tearing apart defenders, capping the objective and then vanishing into the night. You can never single-handedly win a game of Battlefield 3 for your team, but there's just enough room to be a hero. In those moments, those rare, joyful, exhilarating moments, Battlefield 3 is better than anything else online.
Read our Battlefield 3 review for more.
Highly Recommended: League of Legends, Minecraft.