Battlefield 3 Review

By Matt Keil - Posted Oct 27, 2011

Battlefield 3, the first numbered entry in the main Battlefield series since 2005, comes in hot with a brand new campaign, co-op missions and the top-notch multiplayer action fans expect, this time on consoles as well as PC.

The Pros
  • Absolutely gorgeous
  • Exceptional multiplayer with improved interface
  • Deep unlock system that constantly rewards the player
  • New co-op mode with good level of challenge
  • Some of the best sound design ever
The Cons
  • Nonsensical, boring single player campaign
  • Campaign does little to teach you the basics for multiplayer
  • Can't set up private/bot games

Battlefield 3 Review:

While the offshoot Bad Company series has dabbled in Call of Duty’s territory in recent years, Battlefield 3 is clearly Electronic Arts going all in on the military shooter war. Battlefield 3 offers everything a Modern Warfare title offers, from a dramatic single player campaign to a mission-based co-op mode to robust multiplayer with a carrot-on-a-stick unlock system. It stumbles in some places, but EA DICE has offered up a game that has it where it counts, and is potentially the first true competitor to Activision’s 800 pound gorilla of a franchise.

Let’s start with the stumbling. For the first time in a main Battlefield game, Battlefield 3 includes a full-featured single player campaign, complete with story and cinematic setpiece moments and everything. The trouble is, while the campaign throws as much stuff as it can manage at you, none of it is particularly involving or exciting. The story revolves around a Marine named Blackburn, who is suspected of traitorous conduct and spends the game narrating flashbacks of his actions to two interrogators who are either CIA or Military Police (it’s never stated for certain).

The flashbacks are the individual levels you play, and the interrogators doubt every single thing Blackburn claims. It’s an odd framing device, in large part because the two guys hound Blackburn with doubts about things that would have been part of military record due to other witnesses being around to corroborate the story at the time. Blackburn is either unaware of this or unwilling to defend himself, and the impression I was left with is that whoever wrote Battlefield 3 is not aware of the level of record keeping that goes on in the U.S. military.


Bland of Brothers

So the campaign doesn’t make sense. Big deal, the Modern Warfare campaigns don’t make much sense, either, right? But Modern Warfare is big, loud, and crazy like a Michael Bay film. Battlefield 3 is somehow smaller and more folded in, sort of like a TV movie of a Tom Clancy book. Things happen, some of them very cool uses of the Frostbite 2 technology, like collapsing buildings and such, but they never hit the level of spectacle that the Call of Duty games routinely occupy.

Battlefield 3’s campaign exists in a strange grey area between a blockbuster action film and a ripped-from-the-headlines documentary, and ends up feeling flat as a result. The Bad Company campaigns suffered from this to a degree, but the likeable characters and snappy dialogue of B-company carried you through. Battlefield 3 has no characters to speak of, although an attempt is made to make your numerous companions stand out at times. Still, when the inevitable casualties began to mount, I felt nothing but confusion as to which mildly sarcastic guy we’d lost.

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There might be some redeeming value in the campaign if it helped teach you skills that would be useful in multiplayer, but it doesn’t even manage that. You never fly a plane in the solo game, you just ride along as a gunner in an F/A-18 in a level that plays exactly like a lightgun game. It even apes the famous AC-130 stage at one point, but instead of actively firing at your targets you spend much of the time pointing at them so other planes can take them out.

The only time you’re given actual control over a vehicle is in the tank sections, like the one shown off at E3 2011. These give some taste of the open nature of the best Battlefield maps, and are the only time the campaign manages to set itself apart from similar titles. Awkwardly timed QTE sequences are peppered throughout, as well, adding some insult to injury. It’s pretty to look at, and the sound design is second to none, but it’s a shame that the campaign didn’t play to the strengths of the franchise, namely the larger spaces and use of vehicles that have always set it apart from everything else on the shelves.

Battlefield 3

Where it counts

With all that said, any fan of the franchise knows that Battlefield is not about the campaign. The series is all about playing with other people in huge online skirmishes that involve every aspect of warfare imaginable, and Battlefield 3 is no exception. The multiplayer encompasses both the familiar competitive mode and a newly added mission based two-player co-op mode. Co-op is similar to Modern Warfare 2’s Spec Ops mode, but instead of numerous bite-sized tasks, Battlefield 3 offers six more involved and complex missions. They’re fairly length and highly varied in objectives, and have enough randomization to them that playing more than once isn’t a chore. Don’t expect them to be pushovers, either, because they do not skimp on the difficulty. Even on normal, you will not simply walk through them. Best of all, weapons unlocked in co-op counts toward your overall multiplayer profile. Given how important unlocks can be in the competitive arena, co-op can be used as a valuable place to XP grind a bit in relative peace.

Battlefield 3

Competitive multiplayer will be familiar to veterans of the series. Two teams go head-to-head on any of nine new maps. The classic Battlefield game type Conquest returns, in which teams try to control flag points in order to score points and deplete the enemy team’s reserves by “bleeding” their ticket count down to zero. The more points you control, the faster the bleed rate. Bad Company’s Rush mode has also been transplanted over, which sees the teams battling over pairs of M-COM targets. One team defends them, one team attacks them and tries to plant explosives on the M-COMs. If both are destroyed, the defenders fall back to a new pair until they either run out of fallback positions or they reduce the attackers’ reserves down to zero. Other permutations are present, such as Team Deathmatch and squad-based variants of Conquest and Rush, but you’ll find that the vast majority of players stick to the main two gametypes.

Battlefield 3

Finest Hour

Both primary gametypes are great, and at this point DICE has them honed to a fine art when it comes to designing their maps to support both. After many hours of play, I have yet to find any real bottleneck points in any of them, and they all feel nicely distinct from one another. The phenomenal Frostbite 2 tech lets almost any structure be damaged to the point of just leaving a skeleton standing, and there’s little more satisfying than blowing the wall out from in front of that sniper who’s been harassing your squad for the last few kills.

As always, vehicles of every kind litter the maps (with the exception of Operation Metro), from Jeeps to Infantry Fighting Vehicles to jet fighters. Most of them are easy to use, but Battlefield 3 continues the tradition of making the aerial vehicles extremely difficult to master. The jet fighters and helicopters take a high level of skill to fly effectively, and it would have been nice to have a way to practice with them. Inexplicably, the campaign lacks any piloting opportunities and there’s no way to create a solo game to tool around in, so you’re stuck trying to learn the ropes while under live fire.

Battlefield 3

If you’re just after the multiplayer, Battlefield 3 is a no-brainer. It has a scope and variety that simply doesn’t exist in any other multiplayer shooter. It can be tough to start out, and you’ll rage as you’re blindsided by players who know the map better than you and picked off by snipers in hiding places you didn’t even realize were there, but you’ll keep playing that “one more game” thanks to the sheer amount of things to do and the endless things to unlock for your soldier. The campaign is an all-around disappointment, but nobody in their right mind should let that stop them from picking up DICE’s finest multiplayer offering yet.