Developer: Digital Illusions CE / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language]
You’re manning the gun of an M1 Abrams tank, coursing down a hill towards a well-defended point you need to capture. Teammates riding a jeep with a rear-mounted gun scream past you, only to explode and spiral through the air seconds later. Jets chase each other across the sky, while a helicopter stocked with a novice pilot and three unfortunate teammates flips upside down and plows into a mountainside in your periphery, taking out a clutch of footsoldiers in the process.
This is a Battlefield moment, and you won’t find it anywhere else.
Battlefield 3’s multiplayer may not impress with massive lists of modes and maps, but what’s in the game works so well there’s almost no room for complaints. Conquest and Rush are the game’s main modes: Conquest works like classic Battlefield in which you capture and hold points, but Rush is slightly more novel. In Rush, the attacking team has to plant bombs on two different MCOM stations, while the defending team has to prevent them from doing so until they run out of respawn tickets. If the attackers destroy both stations, their respawn tickets are refilled, and they push further into the map to attack two new stations. This results in matches that offer immediate combat and constantly changing map conditions, which is a great complement to Conquest’s slower-paced strategic gameplay. You can also play Team Deathmatch and squad-based variants of all three modes, but these are more diversions for the sake of variety than particularly fresh innovations. This is also true for the game’s co-op, which is essentially Battlefield’s version of Horde mode – you and a buddy in a closed arena with waves of enemies spilling forth.
Those are the broad strokes of multiplayer though, so let’s dive into the nitty gritty. Battlefield is less complex in terms of classes, loadouts, and progression than other shooters–notably Call of Duty: Black Ops–but it finds a sweet spot between dishing out rewards and not overwhelming you with customization options. You have access to four classes: Assault, Engineer, Support, and Recon. Each operates as its name implies, filling a vital role on the battlefield. The game’s score mechanics reward playing your role over racking up kills. For instance, the Assault class comes with a medpack that, when placed on the ground, will automatically heal any team members in the area. Heals dealt from your medpack earn you points, which can rack up quickly if you put it in the right spot. By playing your role and capturing points, you can finish first on the leaderboard even with a K:D of 1:9, which I have totally done.
Of course, all those points have to count for something more than pride. Battlefield 3 has three tiers of progression. Your overall rank increases with everything you do, your class rank increases with actions taken in that class, and guns and vehicles level up with actions made specifically with that equipment. With a few hours of game experience under your belt, there will always be a class, weapon add-on, or rank unlock within reachor a new trinket to try out like C4 explosives, mines, or class perks. On top of that, there are about a million other smart ideas that I just don’t have the time to talk about, such as how the game encourages small-scale teamwork with its squad mechanics. Suffice it to say I’ve had more fun in Battlefield 3’s multiplayer than I have in any other online console shooter. The sense of scope and moment-to-moment action is unmatched.
Despite some anxiety about the relative visual quality of the console and PC versions of Battlefield 3, the game is an absolute beast on the 360. Whether you’re screaming through the sky in an SU-35 Flanker or dueling shotgun to shotgun with infantry in underground tunnels, the framerate is solid and the visuals are uniformly impressive. Lighting effects are particularly amazing, as tracers cause the environment to light up like the fourth of July. The orange/blue color scheme extends beyond the game’s cover art and menus. Fire, explosions, and muzzle flashes serve as eye-pleasing contrast to the cool blue of environmental lights and the game’s UI.
Control options in Battlefield 3 will alternate between exposing tons of customization and almost none. When it comes to button bindings and stick layouts, you only have two options with lefty versions of each. You can’t re-bind individual buttons, which means if you’ve sunk hours into CoD or another modern shooter, you’ll have to re-learn your controls. Oddly enough, Battlefield 3 exposes an exemplary amount of options in other areas. The game’s server browser is fantastic, giving you a wealth of server filter options and even allowing you to see every server variable. Switching loadout equipment and tweaking your gear is an absolute breeze as well, and I particularly liked how simple it was to change your equipment from the game’s spawn menu. That said, I don’t quite understand the mandatory 40-second wait after every match. Sure, you can peruse score screens and your unlocks, but it would be great to customize loadouts or quit out of the match during this period.
In addition to the game actively controlling well, I want to throw some extra praise to the game’s well-organized UI. In any match, it’s very easy to understand the state of the game at a glance. Even if you’re dropping into the middle of a match, you can grasp where you are and what you need to do. Maps are easy to read and HUD indicators are large enough to be easily readable, but not so big that they unnecessarily clutter the screen.
DICE is no stranger to coaxing awesome sounds from your 360, so it’s not surprising that BF3’s sound effects kick ass. Gunfire sounds incredible, and the attention to detail is astounding. Hearing shell casings clatter to the floor after squeezing off a few rounds always makes me smile, though partly because it reminds me of Vanilla Ice. Sounds have a functional use in the game as well. Incoming gunfire sounds drastically different depending on the type of weapon being used. Assault rifles produce the typical popcorn impacts but sniper rifles produce an identifiable whipcrack, which will help you respond appropriately.
The game’s soundtrack is implemented subtly and appropriately–the overblown bass synonymous with the game’s pre-release trailers will kick up as online matches near their end, another great way to build tension leading to the match’s conclusion.
While the game’s Multiplayer is all about wide open combat and spontaneous encounters, the single-player campaign is the opposite–tightly controlled and heavily scripted. The whole experience reminds me of those cheesy haunted house rides you might find at a state fair–you sit in a rickety car that bumbles down a set path while machine-operated Frankenstein monsters pop out of panels to scare you. If you look the wrong way, you’ll see all the machinery behind the facade as well as the creepy, chain-smoking carnie who’s probably drunk on the job. Only, instead of waiting for the ride to end so you can eat more funnel cake, you play as a handful of military guys that are chasing down errant nuclear warheads and a crazy man who wants to use them for no real reason. While some of the set pieces from the campaign are impressive, your input and expression of skill around those events is minimal. Skilled players will efficiently shoot all the enemies in a given hallway while death just teaches you that there was a guy in the corner with a shotgun you didn’t see, and nothing more. Ultimately, the single-player campaign is a fun but short diversion that serves as a good demo of DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine.
Battlefield 3’s multiplayer is brilliant, which is really no surprise for this series. It perfectly combines the absolute chaos of open warfare with the methodical, calculating play that makes modern military shooters so satisfying. That’s what creates those Batlefield moments–when you crash a plane into a tank, hop out just before it hits the ground, and skid to a stop right on the capture point. While some control customization issues and ultimately, a disappointing single-player campaign keep this game from being the ideal package, it’s still a damn good one. If you want your own Battlefield moments, get this game.