The majority of Battlefield 3’s campaign experience is unsurprisingly similar to that of other modern military shooter games, with infantry combat in linear environments and, usually, a group of squad mates and/or allies that join in the fighting but don’t really seem to be doing all that much killing… Where BF3 really sets itself apart though, as per the developers’ philosophy, is “pacing.” Basically, instead of designing a game that revolves around 6 solid hours of non-stop action, DICE decided to separate one firefight from another with some downtime: chasing the “FOLLOW” objective marker on your squad down an uneventful hallway, alley, or similar route before arriving at another skirmish. This happens a lot, and it almost always ends up with you or one of your buddies kicking a door down to get the next group of bad guys.
Thankfully, it’s not all so repetitive, as there are quite a few awesome moments, even though several were spoiled by pre-release trailers and other hype. You know the destruction of a building’s façade when taking out a sniper and calling in an A-10 warthog strike from inside your tank to knock out some pesky rocket artillery are coming, but they’re still cool. Of course you also get to spend a handful of missions inside a tank or jet, but unfortunately, the latter’s was a pretty big disappointment for me. You don’t get to fly, as a couple BF3 trailers might have implied; instead you just soar on a rail and control the strike craft’s weapon systems.
I don’t have anything against on-rails shooter segments in games when you’re given lots to do, but that isn’t the case here. In an effort to keep things “authentic,” you engage only a handful of targets over the course of the mission, and half that time is spent waiting for the bogies to meander in front of you so you can acquire a lock and click to fire a missile. It doesn’t get much better when you switch over to laser-guiding bombs toward targets on the ground, either. Perhaps my mood was exacerbated by the disappointment of the sequence being on-rails at all, but I found the whole ordeal to be rather dull. I can’t help but wonder if this level was designed with extra consideration for the average Joe console player, who would be so blown away by just being in the jet that he doesn’t care what he’s actually doing there.
Battlefield 3 looks gorgeous, and it runs pretty smoothly on the highest settings (‘Ultra’, but no anti-aliasing) for me. I have dual GeForce GTX 460 1GBs in this machine, but imagine my surprise when I found out that SLI had been disabled since I installed the newest drivers -- I played the entire campaign with only a single GPU! After turning SLI back on, the framerate has easily doubled, so now I’m considering the AA… The lighting effects in particular are fantastic, but the textures, particles, and overall level of detail in everything are very impressive, too. I’ll let you peruse the 70 or so screenshots I’ve uploaded to this article’s gallery to judge how it looks for yourself; some of them border on photo-realistic.
The only problem with the game looking so good is that I believe it provides an unfair advantage for the AI enemies you encounter throughout the campaign. As anyone who got a taste of the multiplayer in the open beta knows, the realistic visuals and lush foliage often camouflage players quite well; in multiplayer, everyone is on even footing, at least, but the bots seem to stare straight through tall grass or bushes. They’ll have no problem getting a bead on you, even though you can’t see them at all. It doesn’t help that you often view things through a “dirty” camera, with smudges or particles stuck on the screen that I guess are supposed to impart even more gritty immersion than the bloody haze that indicates you should duck and cover because you’re taking hits.