Summary: One of the most highly-anticipated PC games of the year is upon us; Battlefield 3 is now available in North America! EA/DICE have finally delivered a sequel to the core Battlefield franchise, a proper follow-up to BF2. Having played through the game's single-player campaign already, ahead of the multiplayer festivities kicking off around midnight, I figured I'd share my impressions ASAP. Is it really a worthy addition to the core Battlefield series, or just another bullet point on the back of the box? Read on and find out!
One of the most highly-anticipated PC games of the year is upon us; Battlefield 3 is now available in North America! EA/DICE have finally delivered a sequel to the core Battlefield franchise, a proper follow-up to BF2. As you may know, the Bad Company games were experiments, console-oriented spin-offs that the developers admitted were never really meant to replace existing games in the series. They threw the PC gaming crowd a bone by porting the second one over, providing the first new Battlefield experience on the platform since 2142 was released four years earlier. It offered a pretty fun multiplayer experience to help tide us over, but now we’ve been graced with the next evolution of the modern military shooter, BF3.
Like BF:BC2, Battlefield 3 offers a full-fledged single-player campaign to go along with its trademark multiplayer action, a prospect that is relatively new to a franchise that has historically consisted only of online battles. I was able to start playing this segment of the game yesterday morning, ahead of the game’s official release at midnight. The bad news is that it was over relatively quick, but the good news is I can now tell you all about what I thought. Is it really a worthy addition to the core Battlefield series, or just another bullet point on the back of the box? Read on and find out!
While most of the campaign takes place in the Middle East, in and around Iran, you will visit several locations across the globe. Some of them even serve as a setting for one of the BF3’s multiplayer maps, such as Paris, Tehran, and ‘nameless desert with burning oil fields off in the distance.’ The mixture of urban locations, sprawling open landscapes, building interiors, and everywhere in between serves to keep things fresh, especially when around half of the time spent playing is at night-time. Environmental destruction is used to dramatic effect throughout the campaign, although you almost never have a direct hand in it, so it’s not near as awesome as it could be.
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.
When all was said and done, Battlefield 3’s single-player campaign lasted me around 6 hours on ‘Hard’, the highest difficulty setting. Playing that way probably made me die many more times than I otherwise would have because the bullets hit a lot harder; I just didn’t want to struggle with any aim assist, which is apparently enabled even on ‘Normal’ difficulty. I did come to rue that decision at a few points, where frustrations reached heights only made possible by endlessly respawning enemies (only in one particular instance, thank jeebus) and already overwhelming odds made seemingly insurmountable by the AI’s lightning reflexes and dead-eye aim. In the end, though, success is determined by your ability to smash ‘E’, ‘Space’, or ‘LMB’ when the game prompts you to…
The premise of the plot is pretty generic, with terrorists buying portable nuclear bombs from a Russian arms dealer, and then attempting to blow up big cities like Paris and New York while you try to stop them. I will give DICE some credit for attempting to put a morally-ambiguous twist or two in there, but I don’t think it’s enough to overcome the clichés. For example, the most glaring involved one of the bad guys plainly divulging critical information just seconds before his death, despite the fact that he hates us and hopes we all burn in hell… BF3 also falls into the trap of trying too hard to evoke emotion from the player when you real reason to have such feelings… Regardless of my character supposedly being the best of friends with his squad mates, they’re wholly-interchangeable with any other disposable AI teammate as far as I’m concerned, which just makes it seem silly when part of the story is shaped around these non-existent sentiments.
As was the case with Bad Company 2, the only other Battlefield campaign we PC gamers have ever seen, BF3’s single-player made for some decent afternoon entertainment in anticipation of the title’s multiplayer component kicking off last night. You get a good amount of practice with a variety of weapons from both the American and Russian factions, and the globe-trotting storyline shows you some interesting sights. Sadly, that’s about all it’s good for, so I doubt I’ll ever be revisiting it. The infantry combat that comprises the majority of the game is unremarkable at best, barring a decent amount of sniping in certain levels, which I’m a huge sucker for. Otherwise the most enjoyable portion was driving a tank in line with your battalion and dueling with enemy armor, but that was much too brief for my liking. If DICE was trying to make the campaign a substantial part of the Battlefield 3 experience, I’m afraid they’ve failed. At the very least, it didn’t hold a candle to the hype they built up, like a Hollywood film that shows all its best parts in the trailer (see below).
Be sure to keep an eye out for the rest of the Battlefield 3 review, including multiplayer discussion and the final verdict, later this week!
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