To anyone with even a modest history in virtual online warfare, the name Battlefield carries a weight of expectation. Few other games reach the heights of pure slumber-crashing addictiveness, delivering genuine cooperative satisfaction, while still finding time to present periods of inescapable challenge and frustration that merely serve to add to the whole.
And while Battlefield 3 leading the charge from 2011’s Modern Warfare 3 release may be of anecdotal interest, veterans know they shouldn’t be considered rivals. Yet the first thing to witness here is the traditional Hollywood-style campaign mode, replete with flashback mission gameplay that – surprisingly – never features the line, “It was carnage. The squad supplied some half-hearted covering fire, while I took out the sniper (or avoided being stabbed) on the third respawn… And another thing: they always sodding bustle me through doors!”
The fragmented but gravitating story, and the ‘recounting past events’ plot-lines are en vogue for both BF and MW franchises it seems, and Battlefield 3 duly delivers. We’re treated to the actions of select protagonists while learning that EA has been busy working on the absolutely gorgeous Frostbite 2 engine: a creation which, but for the foibles of this tried and tested campaign delivery, produces locales that are almost scarily detailed. The technical reasons are full support of DirectX 11 and of 64-bit processors (farewell DirectX 9 and Windows XP support). But essentially, Battlefield 3 has a license to look damn fine.
And look damn fine it certainly does. But the level of engagement in the single-player never quite matches up to what you might feel should be possible. Aside from quick-time events, and their compatriot instructions to hit certain keys at certain points – along with the standard, if still enjoyable, battling your way through positions – we’re left with little else to get our teeth into.
Never is this made more clear than in the third mission of the campaign, Going Hunting. Here you find yourself foisted off of a wet and windy aircraft carrier and into the sky of the Persian Gulf in the position of co-pilot. You sit behind the main man and (I’m sure this is no purposeful comment on gender) as a female pilot. You have fun with flares, rockets and laser guidance, but never really feel as integral to the mission or plotline as you could be. You’re not the one in control and you’re not the one that’s dogfighting and at the forefront of the action.
Not only is this a shame, but it also sidesteps a bit of potential fighter-jet training that would come in more than handy for the online multiplayer. Although, in defence of EA, controlling the jets is such a steep learning curve that it is perhaps best confined to the hours that are dedicated to online. Nonetheless, campaigns truly need innovation year in and year out, and Battlefield 3‘s feels like a pint, only three quarters full.
Luckily, because the very name Battlefield resonates with it, we know that the campaign mode isn’t BF3‘s reason for being. The cooperative missions are a worthwhile if hit-and-miss distraction (you need to play through them for all the game’s weapon unlocks, but there are only six missions), and the franchise is essentially about epic online warfare.
That means soldiers from each side working together, supporting each other and attacking and defending on the game’s nine maps, using all of the mechanics that secures the series its many superlative descriptions. Here DICE, arguably the king of online multiplayer, has confirmed its skills once again, and produced the experience players crave.
Taking inspiration from Battlefield: Bad Company 2 not too much appears to have changed, but look a little closer, and you’ll see that a few tweaks have really propelled the experience towards excellence. Back in 2008, we learned that the first Bad Company wouldn’t allow you to go prone due to balancing of the Recon class. You couldn’t in BC2 either. But you can now. Yet to combat that, you can lay down suppressing fire, which will disorientate targets, if not kill them, and gain rewards for it.
Other tweaks place the focus on… well, actually achieving the objective. So, in the Rush game-type, you can no longer destroy a building rather than set the charge in side it, making events far more tactical and somewhat more sensible than merely bombarding from afar with artillery and tanks.
Vehicles, too, have had a few spanners tinkering inside them: damage slowly repairs over time without the need for someone hovering with a tool, and vehicles can be disabled as well as destroyed, a state of purgatory where they are vulnerable, but not irrecoverable.
Classes have also been tweaked, and loadouts carefully considered, with unlocks drip-fed at a smart enough rate to ensure you keep coming back as your rank and capabilities improve. You may wish to focus on one class and specialise, which is far easier if you play in a regular party, or spread your bets, but both approaches are rewarding enough, and will have you praising DICE’s work. And not just because all things BF3 are now catered for in the slick and stylish Battlelog system, but also because, in the latest online battles, if not in the CoD-like campaign sequences, you will struggle to not be completely enthralled.
Whether attempting to flank the main thrust of an enemy’s attack, carefully lay mines, spotting enemies for a coordinated defence or – eventually – piloting aircraft to perfection, it’s remiss to think of future versions, or even apparent rivals, as anything other than unnecessary distractions. Battlefield 3 is where online warfare lives.
Yes, it’s true the whole package isn’t without its missed opportunities, but what it brings to the online party will certainly keep luring back. And what’s more, you’ll remember what brought you to reading this in the first place.
You can rent or buy Battlefield 3 at Blockbuster.co.uk.