Grizzly Gaming

Friday, November 4, 2011

Battlefield 3 review: The preeminent military shooter series strikes back with best entry yet

“Battlefield 3” is without a doubt EA DICE’s finest effort to date. It looks and sounds incredible on the Xbox 360 and even better on a souped-up PC rig (I’m assuming, I’m not made of money). The multiplayer portions include Conquest, Rush, Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch and Squad Rush and though the console version can only support 24-player games, PC players get to experience huge 64-player games. The single player, on the other hand, has turned into something that could easily be a storyline from another popular modern war simulation game – that is to say that the level design of the single player portion of “BF3” is much more linear than previous games in the series and doesn’t show off nearly as much of the power Frostbite 2 engine as the multiplayer mode does.

I’ll be honest when I say that the multiplayer mode is pretty much the only reason to play this game. It also happens to be the most incredibly fun and well balanced competitive game I’ve ever played. With nine amazing and varied maps that are each playable across the games five modes, “BF3” presents an incredible experience that can’t be missed. Single player and co-op modes are also present but offer only a fraction of what you can experience online.

I’ll start off with the single player mode, if only just to get it out of the way. The solo experience follows Marine Sergeant Blackburn as he recounts/is interrogated about his experiences in a fictionalized military conflict in Iran. The narrative and level design are both very linear and it’s obvious that DICE used the “Modern Warfare” series as a template when crafting the single player for “BF3.” The plot revolving around rouge terrorists stealing nuclear weapons to destroy major cities is well-tread territory in this medium and while you can’t really expect much variation in the details of the plot itself, the progression of the single player and the design of the levels therein are very uninspired and do little to show off the power of the Frostbite 2 engine.

There is little use of the destruction and carnage that the new engine is capable of and also few instances where vehicles come into play. I’m left wondering why DICE chose to downplay the elements of their series that truly sets “Battlefield” apart from their competition. I’ve read about the co-op mode (though I haven’t tried it out myself) but it seems that there is only a handful of missions to complete and aren’t necessarily anything special. Otherwise, the single play campaign is short and isn’t as impressive or fun as the multiplayer portion of the game. For example, in “BF: Bad Company” and its sequel, single player levels were usually wide open maps that offered plenty of opportunity for destruction and use of vehicles. Single player levels in “BF3,” on the other hand, are linear and straightforward, leading players from area to area where usually the only goal is to eliminate every enemy. There are times where you hop into vehicles during the story, but these sequences are short and few.

Overall, I’ve found the single player mode only capable of keeping my attention during the times that EA’s servers are down and I can’t play online (which, right now, so soon after launch, is unfortunately often). That isn’t to say there is necessarily anything wrong with the single player – there isn’t. It’s perfectly serviceable and offers a nice distraction from the multiplayer component of this title but on the whole I found it to be uninspired. EA DICE missed a perfect opportunity to use the unique qualities of the series to set “BF3” apart from its competition and what gamers are left with is a single player mode that, despite the amazing graphics, could be a “COD” game.

Now – onto the real reason I and over five million other people bought this game in the first week – the multiplayer. First off, it’s glorious. There aren’t many, really any, huge changes to the “BF” multiplayer formula. If you’ve played “Battlefield” games before, you know what to expect out of the online mode. The two modes the series if famous for – Rush and Conquest – are still present, as are the four classes players can choose from (though their loadouts and gear have changed a bit). Vehicles still play a large role on many maps though some maps are primarily infantry-focused. Squad Deathmatch and Squad Rush, as well as a new Team Deathmatch mode, also make an appearance. Considering how each of the different modes use different areas of “BF3’s” nine gigantic maps, it’s almost like having double or triple the amount. In addition to the nine maps available at launch, the “Back to Karkand” DLC, which will be online in December, will add four new maps as well as new vehicles and weapons.

Utilizing the impressive power of the Frostbite 2 engine, “BF3’s” levels are not only beautiful to look at but incredibly well-designed and fun to play. Where multiplayer maps in “BF:BC2” were generally an assembly of the same few building models in wintery or desert climates, each map in “BF3” offers a distinct setting and flavor. For example, Operation Firestorm is set in a sprawling, desert refinery, Caspian Border is a huge, grassy area with rolling hills and perfect for large scale vehicle combat, while smaller maps like Operation Metro (set largely in subway tunnels), Seine Crossing (set in the narrow streets of Paris) and Grand Bazaar (set in a dense marketplace area of Tehran) allow for more infantry-focused battles. With the changes to the classes and improved destruction, the combat on these smaller maps is more tense than ever.

Gone from the four classes is the medic, whose weaponry and abilities have been redistributed amongst the remaining classes. The Assault class now distributes medkits and can revive dead teammates and, along with its selection of assault rifles, also supports a number of under-barrel attachments as well. The Engineer class is largely the same, utilizing launchers, submachine guns and can repair vehicles. The Support class now tote light machine guns and toss ammo boxes as well as being able to unlock/equip C4 explosives and the new mortar weapon (that users designate targets for individual strikes, rather than “BF:BC2’s” Recon mortar strike ability). The Recon class is also largely unchanged but now incorporates a number of semi-automatic rifles into its weapon scheme along with traditional sniper rifles. The biggest addition to the recon class is the mobile spawn gear, which, as the name implies, allows you to spawn where it is set on the map.

DICE has also addressed many problems that existed with “BF:BC2’s” multiplayer. For instance, creating and joining squads is easier than ever thanks to the much-improved Squads and Teams menu. Now switching teams, leaving a squad and starting a new one (“BF3” offers numerous squads to occupy) so that even if your party of friends gets split up by the matchmaking process, it’s (usually) easy to rectify the problem. Too often, though, I’ve been put on the opposing team when playing with 2-3 others and simply not allowed to switch teams (Really, game? The server would be unbalanced if I switched from this full team to the team with 10 people?).

Other welcome changes include minor (yet important) button changes, such as holding X to pick up a weapon, rather than B, to alleviate the all too common occurrence of trying to arm an MCOM station only to pick up a dead teammate’s kit. “BF3” now also keeps track of a wealth of stats for those who live and die by their kill-death ratio (though I’d argue that your SPM [Score Per Minute] is much more important than KDR in “BF3”), and can be seen on the in-game scoreboard this time around rather than having to wait for the match to end. You can now also spawn into vehicles (like choppers and jets) from the respawn menu. I’ve also noticed that you can spawn into certain APCs which basically act as a mobile spawn point.

Still – some minor annoyances remain. Snipers are still an all-too-common irritant and you won’t be getting any help from the kill-cam either. It’s zoomed in so far you’ll hardly ever be able to glean enough from it to tell where that sissy sniper killed you from. Choppers, and now jets, still seem to require some kind of black magic to pilot. I haven’t killed anything with either yet and trust me, it’s not from lack of trying. I’ll hop into a jet or chopper any chance I get but 4 times out of 5 (well, 3 out of 5 now – I’m getting a little better) my multi-million dollar harbinger of death winds up a fiery wreck within minutes of takeoff. And it’s usually nothing as exciting as being shot down, either. Usually it’s the ground (or buildings or trees) that spell my doom. Matchmaking can still be spotty sometimes (despite what EA says) and getting split from a squad of friends when being put into a match is pretty much a regular occurrence. I’ve also run into a bunch of annoying glitches on Rush and Conquest in terms of the objective markers. On Rush, sometimes the warning siren when an MCOM station is armed doesn’t play, leaving you unaware that you’re about to lose an objective. On Conquest, it’s really difficult to tell which objective is being lost/earned. The location icons over the minimap don’t denote which objective it is that’s flashing and often you can’t tell which point you’re losing until the enemy team has neutralized/stolen it from you.

Also, “COD” vets may find the system for unlocking new weapons and gear less-than ideal – especially those used to “COD:BLOPS’” points-purchase system. New weapons and gear are unlocked by upgrading your class (which is done by earning XP with that class) and all-class weapons, dog-tags, and other modifications are unlocked by increasing your overall level. Stats for each kit’s progression, as well as overall progression, are highly visible on the post-game scoreboard as well as on the respawn screen (represented by a bar below each kit’s loadout menu) so you’ll always know where you stand with each class. There are also a wealth of new weapons, gadgets and attachments – such as the tactical light which will temporarily obscure the vision of anyone it’s pointed at – that are unlocked as you earn kills with a weapon.

“BF3” is an amazing experience that has to be played to be appreciated. Screenshots don’t do the incredible graphics and lighting justice and the sound design will absolutely floor anyone with functioning ears (especially if you have surround sound). While the single player feels like a missed opportunity, the multiplayer continues to be the example of what all military shooters should strive for. EA DICE has stated they’ve shipped over 10 million copies after the first week and are already receiving orders for more. With the “Back to Karkand” DLC out in December (which will add four new maps, new weapons, vehicles and gear as well as a new “Conquest Assault” mode), the already impressive “BF3” is only going to be getting better.


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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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