Every year we have the same battle for supremacy. Call of Duty has, in the opinions of many, led the first person shooter genre over the last few years with its engaging campaign and incredibly addictive, fast paced and exciting online multiplayer mode. This year, however, DICE decided it was time to bust up the party, unveiling their Frostbite 2 engine and scaling online multiplayer FPS to relatively uncharted territory with an engaging campaign of their own. This year Battlefield 3 could very well bring an end to Call of Duty’s reign.
The single player campaign mode centers on Henry Blackburn, a Staff Sergeant in the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the United States Marine Corps. Blackburn has managed to get himself into a bit of a sticky situation and we find him being interrogated regarding his recent activity in Iraq, a terrorist plot and the death of his CO. It is these events and scenarios that you must actually play through as the campaign story progresses. Much like the Call of Duty franchise, you jump from character to character as you are given a clearer view of the overall situation. This adds a lot of value to the story and keeps the game fresh. Usually I would jump on the back of game makers for ‘adopting’ such a key aspect of another game, but they do it with such flair, style and detail that it’s difficult to fault them.
Sure, the storyline is cliché. You have your nukes, your Russians and your deceitful plots – but the story told in Battlefield 3 is thrilling, has you constantly on edge and, most importantly, is fun! You will do everything from commanding a squad of tanks, sky diving and blowing up more stuff per hour than Bruce Willis managed in the entire Die Hard quadrilogy. This is what the Battlefield franchise has traditionally been about: diversity, chaos on a grand scale, gigantic maps and ultimately attempting to be the most realistic and intense military combat experience in gaming… and the game does not, at any point, fail to deliver on these key ingredients. In fact, if you are finding that Battlefield 3 isn’t diverse enough for your liking then grab a buddy and jump into the co-op mode. There you will find six additional levels in which to cause mass destruction (albeit with a little more finesse). BF3’s co-op mode reminded me a lot of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory’s online co-op mode that I played on the original Xbox almost a decade ago. This was because it made me think and allowed me to be creative – but after all the cake and watermelon there was still a huge pile of corpses at my feet!
Just in case all that wasn’t enough to have you frothing at the mouth, wallet in hand, then the Frostbite 2 engine will certainly do its best to grab your attention and lead you to the local video game store. It’s sublime. I have never, in my 16 years of gaming, seen anything as detailed, smooth and aesthetically pleasing. There is one drawback though – the stunning graphics don’t come fitted as standard. Yes, I was initially confused as well. Basically, when you buy the game you will find there are two discs: one for online multiplayer and one for the campaign mode (which includes the co-op campaign). On the two discs is also a 1.5GB graphics pack which is classified as an “optional extra”. However, the only part of the previous sentence that’s true is the size of the graphics pack, because it’s certainly not optional! If you have any self-respect you will free up the space on your hard drive, by whatever means necessary, and install the pack. If you don’t have a hard drive for your Xbox 360 then while you may have already forfeited your self-respect, redemption is available as close as BestBuy or any other retailer for around $40. Note that if you have a 4GB hard drive for your Xbox 360, this is considered a memory unit and as such the graphics pack cannot be installed onto it.
Without the graphics pack installed Battlefield 3 looks like it was released in 2009. Why bother buying the game if you’re not going to unleash its full potential? Just trust me on this one and install it and/or buy a hard drive for your Xbox 360 as required. I would strongly recommend that a spare set of underwear is kept on hand for the first few days though as you adjust to it all.
DICE is a company that just keeps on giving. In addition to the stunning graphics, engaging campaign gameplay and general polish that we have covered so far, they have also taken the time to focus on a generally overlooked part of game development – the sound. You will hear bullets zipping past you, grenades ripping through the environment – and if you’re a little too close, ripping your ear drums as well! Every weapon has a different (and pretty accurate) sound as well. It’s truly exceptional stuff and levels off a superb effort by DICE to deliver a great ambiance. You may think I am exaggerating, but once you hear an enemy jet fighter fly overhead in the game you will appreciate exactly what I am saying. By the way, when you inevitably hear that glorious sound, be sure to run. Fast! If you have a surround sound system, make sure it’s hooked up; that said a gaming headset will also deliver an equally pleasing experience.
As with its campaign mode, Battlefield 3’s online multiplayer mode offers plenty of diversity, exceptional levels of detail and almost endless entertainment. One drawback though is that the Xbox 360 version of the game can only handle 24 players per game. In contrast to the PC version’s staggering 64 players per game this is more than a bit of a let-down. That being said, 24 people are still sufficient to have loads of fun. I was both a closed and public beta tester for the PC version of Battlefield 3 (much to the dismay of my girlfriend) and I can honestly say that 64 players was a little too much at times. The game was far too busy on some maps and action hot-spots were extremely congested. The loss of 40 players on a 24 player map allows for a more strategic game. And it is in these situations that one skilled and patient player can turn the tide of a battle, offering an experience that I was not expecting.
The Battlefield series is known for its online multiplayer mode partly because it breaks the mold and partly because it’s simply great entertainment. Many developers have tried to implement the “class” system, but ultimately it would just end up as “another set of weapons”. While you do get an entirely different set of weapons with each class in Battlefield 3, you will find that there is a little more depth than that. The most “popular” class is the Assault class, which I refer to as the “Rambo Class”, as it is usually played by the heroes who run in and try to take down as many of the opposition as they can before biting the bullet themselves. The Engineer class (a personal favorite) is the unsung hero. A tank with a skilled Engineer can literally tear through the entire opposing team without even breaking a sweat. We also have the Recon class who can whip out their binoculars, spot the enemy and mark them for the snipers, infantry and artillery to take out at their earliest convenience. The final option is the Medic’s role. A Medic’s priority is to follow the infantry in and bandage their wounds, but don’t worry – a Medic has an immense amount of firepower – usually dragging around a M249 SAW, so you won’t be out-gunned any time soon.
While the maps in Battlefield 3 are (and I’m being conservative here) truly massive, only portions of each are used in the smaller scale battles. Spawn areas are fairly dynamic so you’ll never spawn too far away from (or too close to) the action. I could dwell on the maps for all eternity and go into excessive detail on how they take Battlefield 3 from being a good online game to an awesome one, or how Operation: Firestorm could possibly be the most entertaining map I’ve played since De Dust in the original Counter Strike, but I won’t because there is a much more important factor in online multiplayer that Battlefield 3 brings to the table. It’s not just innovative, it’s revolutionary.
Land, Sea & Air. Yes. Battlefield 3 gives you access to all of them. Your opponents may come at you with an M16, but that’s not gonna bother you when you’re 36,000 feet above them! Battlefield 3 delivers an entirely new dimension to your experience. I really can’t explain the feeling you get as you fly over a small group of enemy infantry and drop one well-placed bomb at their feet, nor the stomach churning feeling you get while driving a tank towards a hot-spot when suddenly a gunship swoops down behind you. In brief, this feature alone is enough to warrant purchasing BF3.
Overall it is extremely hard to put the game down, in more ways than one. I had a great time testing it on the PC, where I only got to experience the chaos that was online multiplayer, and enjoyed the Xbox 360 version of the game even more so. If you want a fast paced, strategic, well-polished and exciting first person shooter then I honestly don’t think we will see a better candidate for the next 6-12 months (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 included), and this title would make an excellent addition to anyone’s game collection.