Developed By: DICE
Available For: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: October 25, 2011
ESRB Rating: Mature
Battlefield 3 brings a deep and involving multiplayer experience that FPS fans should not miss.
*Please note: this is a review for the PC version only. I have not played the console versions, and thus this review is not necessarily indicative of their quality.*
Electronic Arts' Battlefield series has been without an honest-to-goodness sequel to the franchise since 2005's stellar Battlefield 2. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was a decent enough way to pass the time for fans, but the golden goose was still the series' second outing. Not anymore.
Few games look as good as Battlefield 3, if any
Battlefield 3 is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous game. Thanks to my recently upgraded PC, I was able to run settings on "High" across the board, just one step below "Ultra,"a setting that would have undoubtedly introduced my video card to the realm of spontaneous combustion. Textures are smooth and 99% free of jaggies, character models are precisely detailed and the weaponry seems to be pulled straight from reality. What really sets this game on a pedestal though has to be the outstanding lighting effects. Many objects have their own source of illumination which dynamically alters objects and shadows around them, be it from a rocket's burner casting light on a soldier's helmet as it zips by or a tree shifting its weight in the wind, allowing the sun's rays through its branches and onto your rifle's barrel for brief moments. While this type of lighting has been done before, it has never looked as good as it does with Battlefield 3's Frostbite 2 engine.
It's fortunate that I recently upgraded my stereo system; Battlefield 3 takes full advantage of its audiophile horsepower and then some. DICE is the best in the business when it comes crafting sound bytes that spur physiological and emotional response from the player as they proved with 2008's brilliant (and vastly underrated) Mirror's Edge. The same sense of desperation and intensity you experience while running from law enforcement in that title translates into Battlefield 3 with equivalent success. Bullets whiz by your head, explosions leave your hearing temporarily impaired, and low-flying jets scream through the air. Finesse sounds coming from your hip-mounted gear shuffling as you leap over cover, water flowing through nearby pipes, and a pilot's stressed breathing as he climbs in altitude are just a few subtle touches that add tremendous legitimacy to the experience.
"First you herp around here, then derp"
Remember that '84 Ford pickup you got for your 16th birthday that didn't have power steering and handled like a brick? This game controls nothing like that. Instead, it feels more like driving some sort of futuristic air-powered luxury sedan. Battlefield 3 handles like a dream that you don't want to wake up from. Once you get in and fiddle with the key bindings (seriously, Z for prone?), you'll be treated to a silky-smooth navigation system that rivals most, if not all other first-person shooters on the market. Leaping from cover to cover feels intuitive and natural and an emergency swap from your primary weapon to sidearm is fluid and quick. Vehicle controls admittedly have a steep learning curve attached (especially those destined for the air), but once you wrap your head around them, you'll be a regular Maverick, barrel-rolling mere feet above the ground with ease. Helicopters are the biggest offender in this area, but still, the controls feel so smooth that you won't even mind nose-diving your first few choppers into the cold, hard earth.
The Battlefield series has traditionally been known for its stellar multiplayer experience, not the solo campaign. DICE promised a rousing, involved campaign mode for Battlefield 3, and as far as I can tell, someone made those claims a bit prematurely. If you plan on buying Battlefield 3 for its story mode, it would be akin to ordering filet mignon for the potato salad it comes with: you're doing it wrong. I love a great campaign as much as the next guy, which makes this next part so disheartening; Battlefield 3's single-player offering is just... bad. No, it's not the worst thing I've ever played by any means, but it feels like a graphics demonstration more than anything... which is probably not far from the truth. Featured locales are gorgeous and really show off what DICE's Frostbite 2 engine is capable of from a technical standpoint, but unfortunately, the innovation and excitement stops there. Every cliché in the book can be found in the campaign: stealth sequences, mounted turret shooting galleries, sniping, bombing runs, more mounted shooting galleries, Russians, poor voice acting and mounted shooting galleries.
You won't be seeing this in the campaign
Even the most impressive set piece where you dogfight with enemy planes over jaw-dropping ocean scenery is stifled by the game's insistence on not letting you fly the plane, instead turning it into yet another mounted turret shooting gallery. The sequence even sets itself up in an intense and intriguing way; you crawl your way through a battleship to reach your jet with the co-pilot, all while taking in the melancholy scenery. Once you climb on in, the game puts you through a tutorial on how to check your plane's systems, and you even accelerate the plane for takeoff... then you're cut off. No more piloting, no more interaction, nothing. Just the daft decision to limit the player to looking around and pointing the reticle at enemies. It's an extremely disheartening experience that would have been better off not being included, much like most of the campaign. But that's not why people buy Battlefield titles.