Battlefield 3 Xbox 360 Review – Who Reigns Supreme?
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: Single, Co-op and Multiplayer Online
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2011
Rated: M – Mature
EA and DICE want Activision’s first-person shooter crown, badly. The Medal of Honor reboot was a pathetic attempt at emulating the successful formula Infinity Ward established with the Modern Warfare series. Knowing that, EA and DICE sought to dethrone Call of Duty with Battlefield 3, the direct sequel to Battlefield 2, not to be confused with Bad Company 2. It features an original story, co-op missions, and the Frostbite 2 engine which focuses on environmental destructibility and all new lighting effects. Multiplayer features brand new maps and the return of fighter jets. All of these series innovations and revamps were designed to put EA in the position of becoming the new FPS king. They talked a lot of shit leading up to the release of Battlefield 3, two weeks before Modern Warfare 3. Were they able to back it up?
That’s a tough question to answer. Comparisons are always going to be made to a game’s contemporaries in the genre and Battlefield tries to be Call of Duty on so many levels it is hard not to make those comparisons. The campaign is mostly forgettable and borrows too heavily from movies or *gasp* Call of Duty storylines. Thankfully, the multiplayer is a different animal and makes up for the campaign. As is the case with these shooters nowadays, it is the true focus on the longevity and popularity of the game. Battlefield 3 is a very good game in its own right, but it feels like it is in second place trying desperately to come out on top.
Battlefield 3 opens with you as Staff Sergeant Blackburn on a train in New York rigged with some serious explosives. This level functions as the tutorial and is probably one of the two most exciting moments in the entire campaign. Upon completion, you are taken back in time eight hours to a scene with SSGT Blackburn as he is being interrogated by a couple of CIA agents because he claims a terrorist attack on New York is imminent. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The campaign will put you in charge of different characters as you progress through the levels, primarily Blackburn and a Russian operative named Dima. The game’s storyline plays out through the interrogation cutscenes and the missions are flashbacks to various moments in time in question. Didn’t I do that in last year’s black operations Call of Duty game?
The characters are fairly dull and it seems like most of the Marine supporting cast are modeled after characters seen in HBO’s Generation Kill only not as cool as Sgt. Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert or idiotic but lovable Cpl. Josh Ray Person. Hell, none of the characters are as remarkable as Preston Marlowe and Bad Company. DICE failed to hit the target with the emotional investment in the story or the characters. I don’t particularly care about Blackburn or Dima or what it is they are trying to accomplish. I didn’t care much about Alex Mason in Black Ops either, but his supporting cast more than made up for his shortcomings, especially Reznov.
The levels play out in a fairly linear format. Go to point A and accomplish objective. Move on to point B and accomplish objective. Sound like another series you know? The on-rails shooter only slightly deviates in a mission where you get to be the gunner of a fighter jet. No, you don’t get to pilot it. You do get to drive tanks around a couple of times and arguably the best sequence of the entire game is over far too quickly. Playing as Dima, you get to parachute out of an airplane and direct your character around the sky as you freefall with a remix of the Battlefield 1942 theme playing. I get chills even typing that. There should have been WAY more to that sequence as I loved it.
One of the things I’ve always liked about Battlefield games are the sounds. There’s plenty of shock and awe to go around. I’ve always appreciated the staccato of rifle fire and explosions in the distance. The atmosphere is more than just being about you. Unfortunately, there is an area that DICE falls way short in the campaign. Part of the “theatrical” experience of Call of Duty is the music. It adds to the story, just like a movie would. Battlefield 3 is completely devoid of anything like that. Sure, there’s a little music here and there, but nothing that runs in the background for most of the game. That’s too bad because an epic score is just as important to the gaming experience as anything in my mind.
Battlefield 3 looks utterly amazing in most areas and a little puzzling in others. The character uniforms and weapons are incredibly detailed. New animations make them run smoother too. The buildings and environments and their destruction look sharp, especially when you knock the side out of a building and all that concrete comes cascading down. But, what in the world is up with the shading and facial textures? They can be so grainy that at times I had to go online and compare screenshots to make sure that I installed the 1.5gb texture pack. Shadows and close ups on faces just don’t look smooth. On top of that there’s a good portion of the game and cutscenes where it looks like the screen has liquid or dirt spots on it. I’m not sure what DICE was trying to accomplish, maybe some level of griminess, but it just looks weird. It takes you out of the moment too often.
The control system is the same as it always has been with the added ability to prone and an upgraded knifing animation. Like Call of Duty, if your controls work, don’t mess with it. If you play both games, the knifing with the right bumper can be awkward, but it becomes second nature soon enough. The main issue I’ve had is that aiming always seemed a little imprecise. I’ve always wondered if Battlefield ran at a slightly lower frame rate than its contemporaries. Vehicle controls are simplistic and though I’m not the best pilot in the world, with a little practice, you’ll get the hang of jets and helicopters. The ability to change perspectives helps immensely with vehicles. I prefer to drive in a behind the vehicle view, switching back inside when I want to fire weapons like a tank’s cannon. You can run almost infinitely, which may not be realistic, but with multiplayer maps as big as they are and no vehicles handy, it’s all you have.
How does Frostbite 2 compare to the original? Another tough question. Things still blow up and look fantastic doing it. Trees still fall. Explosions rock you to the point your vision is blurry. And yet, you can’t level landscape quite like you could before. There’s plenty of concrete to shred with munitions and entire sides of buildings may tumble down. It just doesn’t seem the same not being able to flatten buildings, crushing the enemies inside them. Lighting effects took a huge leap in Battlefield 3. It adds a dimension to multiplayer I haven’t seen before. A map that takes place on a sunny day can play hell with sighting down enemies because of the sunlight or whites of buildings whereas a map at night can mean plenty of places to monitor (not camp) an area. Laser pointers and tactical flashlights actually blind you if you look at them head on. That’s cool, except when the enemy is standing twenty feet away from you and the flashlight encompasses the entire screen (single or multiplayer). I also noticed that headlights on vehicles shine bright vertically. It seems like I’m picking this apart, but you would think they react more like the flashlights and shine in a radius rather than just mostly up and down. It’s not a huge deal until you’re fighting in a parking garage with headlights on everywhere. There was a few times where characters would glitch through walls and/or the ground. Of all of the things I didn’t expect to see in a game of this caliber, glitches like that would be at the top of the list. Frostbite 2 has its good and bad, but it seems like the focus was less on destruction this time around.
There is a co-op mode that is only available to play online. You better have a good buddy to try these with. I jumped into a few games with some random players and I think they do all right for a while and get bored. This means if they are piloting in a helicopter mission and you are the gunner, they tend to just crash the damn thing into the ground. It’s a good concept, but probably not as good as COD’s Spec Ops mode.
If the review has you flip-flopping so far, let me push you in the direction that will satisfy you immensely if you are the FPS multiplayer lover. Multiplayer is just as addicting in Battlefield 3. Yes, the quirks still carry over into multiplayer, but it is so addicting and fun, it doesn’t matter. I know that might seem like a copout, but you are seriously going to be running around too much to notice.
There are three primary game types to choose from, Conquest, Rush and Deathmatch. In Conquest, players must take capture points and hold them. Rush requires a team to attack while the other team defends bomb points. All of the maps on these levels are massive. They have to be. You need room to fly aircraft and drive tanks and armored vehicles around. They are scaled down perfectly when playing Deathmatch which wasn’t my favorite gametype in the previous Battlefield games, but is a great distraction when you want a smaller environment to earn kills in. Battlefield 3’s pacing feels similar to Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam. There are plenty of places to camp, but not quite as much as the core Bad Company 2 multiplayer. Then again, flattening buildings always prevented that. The maps feel a little more fluid to allow players to move around. The city based maps are extremely well designed and force you to watch your corners. While it is debatable that Battlefield forces a player to focus more on teamwork than kills per death, I will say that winning consistently will require more strategy and makes for more fun.
Classes have been revamped. The assault class can now carry defibrillators and health packs, support class offers ammo, recon can set mobile spawn points, and the engineer is still the king of repairs and vehicle destruction. All of the classes are fully customizable down to the weapons, the attachments, gadgets and specializations (think perks) which are unlocked as you level up. You can even set new unlocked character skins. Playing as any of the classes makes you more useful to your team. I’ve always been big on the engineer (I love blowing up vehicles) or healing, now with the assault class. Healing and reviving teammates is a great way to earn points for leveling up. Some weapons are interchangeable with classes so the recon class can run with a sniper or a shotgun. I do love the idea of the laser sights and tactical flashlights. Turning a corner and getting a red beam in your face, warning you that a sniper is about to take your head off is so cool. You might even see the glint of their scope in the distance if you live long enough.
Vehicles are still a blast to play with. Fighter jets are tough to pilot and shoot things on the ground. They’re excellent for air to air combat though and they’re damn hard to bring down from the ground. I can never get enough of the sounds of the miniguns on the helicopters or running over opponents with a tank. If you’ve ever played a Battlefield game, you’ll know the exhilaration that comes with vehicle kills.
DICE has implemented the Battlelog for Battlefield 3. It is similar to most of the social networking feeds you see in EA games now, like Need for Speed. You and your friends’ updates will go into the Battlelog showing everything from weapons or equipment unlocked to new ribbons earned at the ends of your matches. One of the coolest features that I’ve seen, if you are online, you can actually view the results and stats of the most recent matches you participated in. Click on your profile and a window pops up with all sorts of nifty stats. Time played with specific kits, accuracy, win/loss ratio and a host of weapon stats can be viewed. This could be useful as you figure out exactly which weapons you have the best results with. Check out your dog tags and see what you’ve unlocked and which ones you’ve taken from opponents when knifing them. Battlelog is a pretty cool feature and may not have all the perks that Call of Duty Elite does, but still provides plenty of options as a free tool for Battlefield 3 players.
EA wanted Battlefield 3 to reign supreme and become the standard for first-person shooters across the board. They may have backed off some of that shit talk coming up to MW3’s release, but DICE created the better multiplayer experience. Yes, that’s right. I think Battlefield 3 outdoes Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in the multiplayer arena. Both are fun and addicting, but MW3 just feels like MW2.5. Battlefield 3 has a few unique ideas and the overhauled Frostbite engine. I believe that it relies on skill as much as using your equipment to your advantage. Objectives in Conquest and Rush modes mean that it’s about more than kill/death ratios. Frostbite’s physics is something I’ve always enjoyed and some of the finer points of the game require more than just point and shoot. Sniping someone from across the map requires leading them and factoring in a little bit of gravity. After all, bullets don’t really travel in a straight line forever. The action can be fast paced, or you can slow yourself down a little. It isn’t a twitch shooter like MW3 has become.
Battlefield 3 is an all encompassing multiplayer extravaganza with a mostly forgettable single player and co-op tucked inside. Sound familiar? Frostbite 2 and the graphics engine are absolutely stunning in most areas, a little quirky in others, but it doesn’t feel like a reskinned version of the previous game. Sales will never match Call of Duty. It’s time for EA to back off and settle for Battlefield being great but not the greatest, especially when you launch a game and can’t even support the server overload in the first week. Plenty of DLC will be on the way to keep the experience alive until the next form of Battlefield and I’ll be right there with it. Battlefield 3 has won me over. It isn’t perfect, but the multiplayer has boots planted firmly on ground.
+ Stunning graphics and physics
+ Excellent multiplayer, especially as an alternative to COD
+ Tanks, Jets, and Choppers, oh my!
- Lighting effects are overwhelming (this is receiving a patch in an update)
- Server overload was completely mishandled by EA
- No originality in single player, completely forgettable