Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: DICE (Digital Illusions CE)
Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA)
Rating: “M” for Mature
Review by: Nick Cohen
Platform reviewed on: PC
After months of hype and an uneven multiplayer beta, Battlefield 3 is finally here. EA and developer DICE have been promising the most realistic, best looking, and best playing first-person shooter (FPS) on the market. EA hasn’t been coy in marketing this game; they’ve promised that Battlefield 3 was going to be the “Call of Duty killer” when it was released. The game is out, I’ve played tons of it, and I have to say””EA wasn’t lying. Battlefield 3 is the best looking, best sounding, and best playing multiplayer shooter out there (key word here being “multiplayer”). Battlefield 3 really is the “Call of Duty killer.”
I’m going to spend the next few paragraphs gushing over what Battlefield 3 does right, and trust me””it does a lot right. The first thing everyone wants to know about Battlefield 3 is how the graphics look; can it really look as amazing as the videos EA has released? If you’re playing on a decent gaming PC, prepare to be stunned; Battlefield 3 actually looks better than it did in those videos, even on moderate settings like my PC runs it on. I can’t even begin to imagine what it looks like running on Ultra settings, but the Frostbite 2 engine puts out the most amazing graphics I’ve ever laid eyes on. Lighting is insanely gorgeous, textures are extremely detailed no matter what distance they’re viewed from, environments are massive, character models look great, the framerate remains steady (of course, this depends on what hardware you have); I don’t care what you’ve played before (Uncharted 2? Pfft. Gears of War 3? Not even close), Battlefield 3 makes all other games look pathetic by comparison.
It’s not all peaches and cream, of course””you’ll need a pretty beefy machine to run it at even moderate settings (see my PC specs at the end of this review to get an idea), and the console versions don’t look as good (though, they still look great, from what I’ve seen). This game is worth upgrading your PC for, though; show Battlefield 3 to friends and have them all stare in disbelief. The best part about the game’s graphics, though, is that they are universal to every game mode. A lot of games lose graphical fidelity in multiplayer, but not Battlefield 3. Every second of this game is a visual masterpiece on PC. Frostbite 2 pumps out what are far and away the best graphics anyone has ever seen.
Battlefield 3 not only looks much better than every other video game, it also sounds better. The dialogue is well-voiced and the minimal use of music is much appreciated, but the true star of Battlefield 3‘s audio design is the sound effects. Every gun and every vehicle sounds incredibly realistic, to the point that I think DICE literally spent tens of hours recording the sound of every single weapon and vehicle in the game. It’s hard to put into words how much this amazing audio adds to battles; step out onto a 64 player Conquest map with vehicles and you can hear every little thing that’s going on around you. Try not to be amazed by the way each weapon sounds when fired and how you can hear jets and tanks blowing stuff up hundreds of feet away; I promise you won’t be able to. Take the stunning graphics of Battlefield 3 and combine it with the incredible audio design and you have the recipe for the most immersive gaming experience out there.
Now it’s time to talk about what really makes Battlefield 3 special, the multiplayer. This is absolutely the best multiplayer game you can buy right now. Call of Duty and Halo play like ancient relics after you’ve sampled the complete Battlefield 3 multiplayer experience. Take the fast-paced action and deep unlock system of Call of Duty, mix in the near-perfect balancing of Halo, add in the team dynamics of Battlefield: Bad Company 2, throw in the massive scope of Battlefield 2, and blend them all with the best graphics and sound of any game and you have an idea of what Battlefield 3‘s competitive multiplayer is like. There’s so much in this game that I honestly don’t know the best place to begin.
I guess I should start with maps? There are nine (9) multiplayer maps in Battlefield 3 at launch. That might not sound like much when games such as Call of Duty and Halo typically pack in around 15, but every map (even the much-hated Operation Metro from the beta) is so huge and so much fun to play on that you won’t be thinking about the number of maps. There’s a great variety here; everything from close-quarters focused maps such as Operation Metro and Grand Bazaar to wide-open environments like those found in Caspian Border and Kharg Island are represented. The maps vary greatly aesthetically””Tehran Highway takes place at night, while Grand Bazaar takes place during a storm and Caspian Border features sweeping valleys full of vegetation””and change drastically based upon which mode you’re playing.
Battlefield 3 essentially has three modes; Conquest, Rush, and Team Deathmatch. Conquest is the classic Battlefield mode that sees two teams fight it out for control of up to five territories on the map. Conquest is the only mode that supports up to 64 players on PC (24 is the maximum for all modes on consoles) and tends to get positively hectic with a ton of vehicles and players running around. Rush was introduced in Bad Company and supports up to 32 players here. One team plays the attackers, whose goal is to blow up two M-COM stations per wave, while the defenders have to stop the attackers from blowing up the stations by killing them until their tickets (lives) are depleted. If the attackers are successful, they move on to the next pair of M-COM stations, until they either do this successfully four times or are stopped at any wave. Vehicles also play a big part here, depending on the map. Team Deathmatch is a lot like Team Deathmatch in Call of Duty. Here, two teams try to kill each other until one team is the victor. There are no vehicles in Team Deathmatch.
There are variations on the three basic modes (Squad Deathmatch is a multi-team gametype where four teams of four players kill each other, while every mode supports options for infantry only and hardcore mode, which makes bullets do more damage and removes a lot of the HUD), but they are all kind of similar to the main three. Call of Duty players should start with Team Deathmatch, while people looking for bigger conflicts should jump right into Rush or Conquest. There’s something for everyone.
The realistic gameplay on offer in Battlefield 3 is the thing that takes the most adjusting to. Call of Duty is very arcadey in feel, with little in the way of weapon recoil and a ton of auto aim. Battlefield 3, by contrast, features a ton of weapon recoil, especially on high-powered assault rifles and machine guns””holding down the trigger won’t suffice in this game. Auto aim is also very minimal, so you’ll need to line up shots or find yourself wasting tons of ammo. If you don’t want any realism in your military shooters, Battlefield 3 isn’t for you. However, if you spend about an hour or so with the game and unlock some better equipment, you’ll most likely fall in love with the satisfyingly realistic gameplay.
Speaking of unlocks, there are a ton. Battlefield 3 takes a cue from Call of Duty here and then goes overboard with it. Each side (Russia and the United States) has its own set of weapons and equipment. You level up your soldier using a universal leveling system that has 100 levels, which unlocks weapons and equipment. Each of the four basic classes (Assault, Engineer, Support, and Recon; more on them in a bit) have their own set of weapons and unlocks. Each weapon has its own unlockable attachments (such as scopes and silencers). Each class of vehicles (tanks, jets, armored transports, etc.) has its own set of unlocks. Each player has customizable dog tags that can be upgraded with special designs and even your own stats if you rank up enough. You can steal other players’ dog tags by knifing them from behind. There are Service Stars that are similar to Call of Duty‘s Prestige modes, but there is one for everything in the game. You can also unlock the ability to use each faction’s weapons and equipment while playing the opposite faction. I’m probably forgetting some, but you get the idea””there are a ton of unlockables and ways to personalize your experience in Battlefield 3.
About the classes: the Assault class is your basic soldier. They get to use assault rifles and are useful in any situation. For Battlefield 3, they’ve also been given the abilities of the old medic classes, meaning they hand out health packs to teammates and can revive fallen teammates with defibrillators. Engineers are the same as they’ve been in past games; they get the best ways to take out vehicles and can also repair friendly vehicles. Engineers use close-range carbines. The Support class gets to use the heavy machine guns to lay down suppressing fire (a new mechanic that turns enemies’ screens blurry and decreases their accuracy) and has ammo packs to give teammates. The Recon class is the sniping class, but they also get things like motion detectors and portable spawn points for squadmates that make them good in a supporting role, as well. Going prone has been added to make snipers more accurate, but beware; all scopes in the game give off a glint that will alert enemies to a sniper’s presence, and holding your breath is necessary to stop sniper rifle sway.
Infantry classes are great and all, but it’s the vehicles in Battlefield 3 that really steal the show. There are something like 26 vehicles in Battlefield 3 out of the box (if you have the Limited Edition of the game, you’ll get three more in December with the “Back to Karkand” expansion, as well as four new maps, 10 new weapons, and some more unlockable equipment) spread amongst numerous classes. There are vehicles such as jeeps, tanks, boats, amphibious vehicles, helicopters, and jets. All of them handle well and are balanced extremely well with the infantry soldiers, but helicopters and jets are tough to fly at first and require practice to master.
Holding the multiplayer together is the love-it-or-hate-it Battlelog. The Battlelog (PC version only) resembles Facebook, but it keeps track of all of your in-game stats and acts as the method for launching every component of Battlefield 3“”campaign, co-op, and multiplayer. This means that you’ll be able to create Platoons (the game’s version of clans) and join a multiplayer match in the Battlelog interface. Quick match works great, but you can also surf the server browser (also on consoles, for the first time since the original Gears of War) if you’re looking for a specific game mode, map, ruleset, or combination thereof. In all honesty, I love the Battlelog interface and the way dedicated servers work, but it does hitch up temporarily from time to time. The only way to use voice chat in-game on PC is to form a party in the Battlelog before joining matches, too””a major oversight considering how teamwork oriented the game is (a patch should be released soon that will add in-game voice chat). Battlelog works flawlessly 98% of the time, but I wish it worked flawlessly 100% of the time.
Now that I’m done gushing about the presentation and multiplayer of Battlefield 3, here come the parts where I tell you about the things that aren’t so good, namely the campaign and co-op. The campaign is fine””it’s a lot like the campaigns in recent Call of Duty games. This means it’s short, action-packed, and extremely linear. It isn’t what we were promised, however; it isn’t very realistic (Medal of Honor has a much more realistic campaign) and features a storyline ripped right out of a Tom Clancy novel or movie. You play as Sgt. Henry “Black” Blackburn, the most generic of soldiers, as he is interrogated by a couple of forgettable captors and recalls events from the past few days. The story involves Russians and nukes (there’s the Tom Clancy-like elements) and isn’t memorable in the slightest. Call of Duty: Black Ops did this basic framing device better last year.
The levels themselves are extremely linear, but they do feature some very exciting moments involving tanks, a jet, and other setpiece elements I won’t spoil for you. Plus, let’s not forget about the amazing graphics and audio””they add a lot to the experience. It’s a shame that it also features a ton of quick time events (that are the only parts of the game that don’t support an Xbox 360 controller, my preferred input method) and is over after only six to eight hours. It also doesn’t teach players how to fly helicopters or jets, so it’s not a particularly good tutorial for multiplayer, either. It’s not bad for a military shooter campaign, but it could have””and should have””been much more.
Undoubtedly the worst part of the Battlefield 3 package is the co-op campaign. This mode feels like a complete afterthought; it’s as if DICE had grander plans for the co-op that were cut when they realized how much more time those plans would have added to the game’s development cycle. Co-op supports only two players and features only six missions. The missions themselves are okay (one actually lets you fly a helicopter!), but they are very linear like the campaign and feature no checkpoints””if both players die before they are revived, it’s game over. The story is only told through brief before- and after-game text and doesn’t have any tangible bearing on the gameplay. This barebones co-op is extremely disappointing; I wish DICE could have included a Horde-like survival mode or even Bad Company 2‘s Onslaught mode. Maybe more will be added later via DLC?
I debated for a long time about how I’d score Battlefield 3 in the end. Is a game that I can’t universally recommend to every player worthy of a perfect score? Ultimately, I decided it isn’t. If you don’t plan on playing Battlefield 3 online for whatever reason, I’d recommend you give it a rental so you can play through the campaign once or twice and marvel at the stunning presentation. However, if””like the vast majority of video game players””you plan on taking Battlefield 3 online, the game is a must buy. This is the best looking, sounding, and playing multiplayer FPS experience on the market. While it won’t outright kill Call of Duty“”Modern Warfare 3 is sure to outsell Battlefield 3 at first and will be a good game””Battlefield 3 is selling well enough and is so clearly the superior multiplayer experience that it rightfully deserves to be called the “Call of Duty killer.” Battlefield 3 has brought out the big guns and claimed its place as the king of multiplayer games. Call of Duty needs to take some time off and be completely reevaluated if it’s going to be at all competitive with future Battlefield games and even with Battlefield 3, especially if DICE can figure out a way to make a better all-around package next time. Other big-budget developers””with few exceptions–should frankly be ashamed of themselves for not pushing technology, gameplay, and multiplayer forward like Battlefield 3 has.
Sound: Battlefield 3 sounds much better than any other shooter on the market. The voice acting and sparse use of music are fine, but the weapon and vehicle sound effects are the true standouts. Everything sounds so realistic and immersive that you’ll find yourself sucked in to the world of Battlefield 3 for hours at a time. This is truly groundbreaking stuff.
Storyline: The plot of Battlefield 3 feels like a generic Tom Clancy imitation. It’s filled with generic soldiers, evil Russians, and a plot to detonate nukes in major cities. I’ve seen, read, and played through similar stories hundreds of times before.
Gameplay: Battlefield 3 features the most realistic-feeling weapons and vehicles I’ve ever used in a game. It’s not going for ultra-realism since that’s boring (go play Red Orchestra 2 or ArmA 2 to see what I mean), but guns feature plenty of recoil and jets are hard to control at first. The ratio of realism to fun is perfect. Multiplayer gameplay is easily the best in the industry, but the campaign and co-op are too linear and feature too many quicktime events.
Graphics: Battlefield 3‘s Frostbite 2 engine actually exceeds the hype, especially on PC. There’s no other game that’s even in Battlefield 3‘s league graphically. This is easily the best-looking game ever made; your jaw will drop to the floor and stay there. I’m still shocked by how fantastic this game looks.
Overall Fun Factor/Replay Value: Battlefield 3 features a mediocre campaign and co-op that feels like an afterthought. You won’t care, though. The multiplayer in Battlefield 3 is gorgeous, plays great, and is perfectly balanced. There’s a ton of content to unlock, a plethora of map and mode combinations, tons of ways to support your team (or lone wolf it if that’s your thing), and a flawless pairing of infantry and vehicle combat. Battlefield 3‘s multiplayer will keep you hooked for years; once you’ve played it, there’s no going back to any other game. In fact, why aren’t you playing this game instead of reading this review right now?
Final Score: 9.5/10 (fantastic)
(My PC specs and a note on running this game properly on PC: I use a custom IBuyPower gaming PC setup with an Intel Core i7 quad-core processor overclocked to 3.5GHz, 8GB of RAM, and a DirectX 10-compatible 1GB BFG Tech Nvidia Geforce GTX 285 overclocked. I am able to run the game at a constant 60 frames-per-second or better on a combination of medium and high graphical settings at the highest possible resolution. Optimization is better than it was in the beta; I’m able to throw on things such as 4x anti-aliasing and low anisotropic filter, whatever that is. Still, if you want to run Battlefield 3 decently, you’ll need a dedicated gaming PC, not a Dell or HP you bought from Best Buy. If you want to run the game on Ultra settings, you’ll want to spring for either an Nvidia Geforce GTX 590 or two Geforce GTX 580s running in SLI mode, both of which are extremely expensive options. Don’t use ATI cards because they don’t run the game as well as the Nvidia cards do. If you want to make the game look great but not spend an arm and a leg, buy a quad-core processor and a midrange DirectX 11 card, maybe a GTX 570 or even 560. Always run the game on the recommended settings; turning up the graphics will result in severe performance hitches.)
Here’s a cool infographic that takes the XBox Achievement Unlocked concept and uses it to show what people in the US Army are able to achieve in the form of badges, ribbons, awards, etc.