Battlefield 3likePEGI16 Developer DICE Publisher EA Genre First Person Shooter Platform Xbox 360, Playstation 3 Release 28th October 2011 Note: This review reflects the console versions of Battlefield 3. The game was played on Xbox 360 with both discs and the additional 1.5GB HD pack installed to the hard drive.

I wont beat around the bush, it's been a very long, uneven path for EA trying to find that property which could rival Activision's mega-blockbuster video game franchise; Call of Duty, perhaps more specifically the "modern" instalments of that particular franchise. Last year's Medal of Honor (a sequel to which is teased in the inserts included with Battlefield 3, by the way) wasn't quite the game everyone wanted, with a buggy, lacklustre multiplayer component just about making up for the game's plain and rather boring single player campaign. Personally, I care not for the petty rivalry between Battlefield fans and the Call of Duty fans and I'll be trying to keep the comparisons between CoD and Battlefield 3 to a minimum, mostly because they are two very distinct games angling for two different sections of the First-Person-Shooter genre. I'll also, shock-horror, be including the game's multiplayer component in this review which is a first for this site, I can tell you.

Elevators are so last gen.
Battlefield 3 is, from the outside, just another military FPS game based in a modern day setting... Well, kind-of. Stop me if you've heard this one before but the whole premise of the game is that America, following the invasion of Iraq is having some problems with their old pals; the Russians. Well, the "PLR" to be specific, which is one of those generic "evil-dudes" paramilitary organisations led by some crazy, unstoppable, powerful dude. During the single player, you're primarily interested in stopping the aforementioned evil-powerful dude: Solomon. In multiplayer, it drives a weak narrative towards your objective-based shooter sessions as you try to capture flags, blow up weird computer-things or just firing sporadically at people not on your team. The parallels between this and the FPS-series-which-shall-not-be-named are quite striking to say the least, not that that franchise was the arbiter of all-things-original by any means.

So to the campaign then, it's interesting. You start the game pretty much near the end of the story itself and the bulk of the game is carried out through jumbled-up, out-of-sequence flashbacks to events which the main protagonist of the story, Sargent Harry Blackburn, helps the American Department of Defence evaluate the validity of a terrorist threat against the United States. It's a fairly predictable tale but not one which you'll walk away from feeling hard done-by. You'll sometimes find yourself joining other soldiers as the game varies gameplay, putting you in the cockpit of a jet or in the gunner's seat of a tank, but the bulk of the game will be of the typical First Person variety. You also have your staple First-Person segments including the obligatory sniper mission which also doubles as the sneaking mission, the chase mission where you're after a VIP and many others. There is moments of ingenious and frankly brilliant ideas interwoven into the generic mission types, however. This might spoil something of the game for you, so just skip past this paragraph if you don't want to hear it: You still here? Good, well, there's a moment in the campaign where a jet flies overhead, spots you and makes a U-Turn to start shooting you up. The way the scene builds up and the panic that follows it is amazing and was one of the stand-out moments of the game. Also, character deaths, regardless of how much we knew of that character are lamented on in such a fantastic style.

Vehicles are playable in the campaign, but highly restricted. Can't control jets, for instance.
Perhaps the most annoying and frustrating part of Battlefield 3 is the scripting. Soldiers talking amongst themselves casually during the missions are so out-of-place and annoying. I get the distinct impression, given that later into the game there's no more dialogue like this, that it was a last-minute change to the game. Like DICE suddenly realised they needed more dialogue or needed some humour and character depth to make these two-dimensional soldier characters seem more real or believable to us. Though I think the scripting department wasn't too happy about this, as the occurrence of "dawg" in the game's subtitles clearly shows. There's also repeated dialogue in the game's main script, which happens far too close together not to be noticeable. The game also descends into more of a Battlefield: Bad Company game in terms of story-telling mid-to-late set through the campaign, putting more emphasis on the small task-force you're a part of, rather than trying to tell a broader story but focusing on a handful of main characters, the rest of your squad being disposable cannon fodder. It does however make the game's story feel jumbled and confused, we go from not needing to know about our squadmates to them being central characters in the space of a mission. Perhaps a slower burn into this narrative change would have been more effective.

Either way, the campaign is very nice and doesn't feel repetitive while giving you the basics for how the game plays and delivering you a few good solid hours worth of gametime for your troubles. Is it enough to sell the game on it's own right? Probably not. The fact EA has bunged the Single Player component onto the second disc on the Xbox 360 version is a heavy indicator how they feel about it. But it's not bad in any way, it's your typical modern FPS story mode with your typical modern FPS storyline. If it makes anyone feel better about it, it's a damn sight better than Medal of Honor, that's for sure. The main story also consists of a few big plot-holes and "why did he do that?" moments, but nothing too major.

One soldier wishes the instructions weren't written so small on the launcher.
So now let's jump to the main course of Battlefield 3, it's multiplayer. I passed up the opportunity of playing the game at the various UK gaming conventions earlier this year, mostly because queues for it were huge. I did get some hands-on time with the multiplayer with the open Beta test earlier this month and as was many, were pretty underwhelmed with what we saw, especially on consoles. The beta didn't show off many of Battlefield 3's bread-winners like vehicles and used the Rush gametype instead of a more lenient team-objective gametype like Conquest mode. There were also a multitude of bugs, many of which were pretty large for a game which was bound for release in under a month's time. Thankfully, most of the game's bugs have been squashed and the whole experience is better polished. Although how much of that is due to the huge 200mb day-one update for the game is up for debate. Either way, by the time you read this review and play the game, you're in for a fairly smooth experience.

What I find infuriating about a lot of FPS games is that while they normally tout an expansive multiplayer component with lots of gametypes, customisability of these gametypes when using public servers is often lacking. So I for one love how Battlefield 3 offers you not only the normal settings for each gametype but also a "Hardcore" and "Infantry" gametype. Hardcore, as the name implies, makes everything more hard around the core. Your HUD doesn't show you ammo or life remaining, friendly fire is on and generally anything which makes the game just that bit harder for the sadomasochists out there. Infantry removes vehicles from the game. The core gametypes consist of Rush; a game mode where Attackers push forwards towards defined "capture points" in which you need to demolish, once both capture points are destroyed you move onto the next set of objectives further down the map for two more rounds. Defenders must hold off the enemy, defuse any planted charges on the objectives and run down the enemy team's "tickets" down to 0. Tickets are used when players are forced to spawn or are revived on the battlefield.

Conquest is a gametype where you are given a set number of flags which you need to control. By staying in that area, you "capture" the flag, hoisting your team's flag or pulling down your team's flag so you can "neutralise" the area and then hoist your colours. Both sides have tickets which they must run the other team's tickets down to 0 to win. Just by capturing the points doesn't necessarily mean you win, tickets are depleted if players are killed, so even teams controlling all the points can still lose. However if the one team controls more than half the control points, the other team's tickets run-down automatically. Squad Deathmatch: Your squad (team of 4 players on the same team) must kill a defined number of the enemy squad in order to win. Pretty simple. There's also Squad Rush and Team Deathmatch which are smaller/larger variations of the aforementioned gametypes with team size and map size varying depending on what game mode you're in.

Battlefield 3 is also one of the few console multiplayer games keeping the ol' Server Browser alive-and-kickin' and anyone who plays online multiplayer bit more than casually will really appreciate this feature. Of course, the classic matchmaking hold-your-hand style is still present in the form of "Quick Match". The server browser is very good for jumping into matches on maps which are to your liking, however there's the down-side that often when you jump into a match (regardless of if it's a Quick Match or not) the chances of you entering a game at the very start of the match are very, very slim. Matches in Battlefield 3, since they're not time-constrained can go on for a long time if the teams are evenly matched. Most decent matches last around 15 minutes.

Cover? Who needs it when you have a tank?
The game bases most of its own success on it's multiplayer component, and it's a keeper. Vehicles alone are a huge game-changer, even when you are not in a vehicle, their presence on the battlefield adds another level of depth to squad and team-based tactics. They could perhaps make a larger impact on the PC version which has up-to 64 player matches, where as the console versions are limited to only 24 player battles. Still, even without the extra numbers the game is insanely fun. Running into an enemy tank is still a frantic moment regardless of how many matches you play and that one moment where you're climbing ladders when a jet or two pass close overhead, knowing it's not a scripted event, is something pretty special. The vehicles and team-based mechanics run deep into the core gameplay of Battlefield 3 as you're required to "spot" enemy players, letting your team know where enemies are by highlighting them on the mini-map and showing a clear visual indicator above their head when they're in line-of-sight.

When you join the game and between each spawn, you can select one of four classes: Assault, Engineer, Support and Recon. Each class has its own unique abilities, weapons and gadgets which can be customised from a wide array of unlockables. For instance, Engineers can repair vehicles, Assault has heavy machine guns as well as healing and reviving items, Support carries light machine guns and can use C4 to destroy heavy artillery and blow holes in walls through destructible environments and Recon uses long-range weaponry and has the ability to throw down mobile deployment areas. As you unlock new weapons and gadgets, these items will automatically be added to weapons so you don't need to fiddle around in the menus to sort out your loadout while your team continues to battle, however you can use the rather awkward between-spawn menus to alter your loadout on the fly if needs be. From the spawn menu, you can also spawn on vehicles. Only just be careful when spawning on jets or helicopters... Those things are difficult to fly if you have no idea what you're doing.

Destructible scenery is pretty impressive.
The unlock system itself is pretty straight-forward with one huge caveat. You unlock items as you progress through the levels of each particular class and will always be informed -- even during a firefight -- when you unlock a new item. Rewarding long-time players is a nice way of keeping people attached to the game, but on the other hand it is rather daunting for new players. The ever-present cynic inside me feels that this is a shallow attempt to make people buy the game at launch so they wont have an up-hill battle against players with the best equipment on-the-go already. And now the caveat. Regardless of how much you play the game, the unlock system is already broken by EA's push to include codes to enable unlockables in the various editions of Battlefield 3, much like Medal of Honor there's the standard and "Limited" editions of the game, both going for the same price, however to go one further, there's even variants of the "Limited Edition" as well, with UK retailer GAME selling the "Limited Edition Physical Warfare Pack" which includes a bunch of unlockable guns, there may be other variations of the Limited Edition depending on region as well. Not sure how I feel about people buying their way into the best equipment from day-one, doesn't seem all that fair to be honest.

From a visual point of view, Battlefield 3 is gorgeous even on consoles... With the 1.5GB HD texture pack installed, that is. There can be a few shaky moments of the game, like when you're prone on the ground with long grass, you just get a face full of blurry green blocks. Otherwise, the game looks great. There's no texture-popping like a lot of modern games suffer from, the smoke effects in the game are amazing as well as the lighting in the game. Character movements are so fluid, with a lot of the base ideas taken from earlier DICE games like Mirror's Edge, most evident when you try to vault obstacles (you can see your legs as you shuffle over, for example). It's doubtful that games will get prettier than Battlefield 3. It's the little touches like the subtle "dirty" look of the camera and how it becomes apparent when light hits you at certain angles. All these little things add up in the end. Only thing that seems unnatural and out-of-place are the characters themselves, the pre-rendered campaign mid-mission story scenes look particularly bad, so it's not so much of an in-game issue you need to concern yourself with.

While not looking so great on consoles, it still looks pretty damn good.
The game's audio design is, hands down, the best I've heard in any game. Not so much the subjective tastes of music, but just the accompanying sound effects. Utterly mind-blowing. This becomes most apparent when jets fly over your head in multiplayer, it's hard to explain, but the sound changes completely depending on your distance to the jet at any given time, just as it would in real life as the sound begins to echo the more it moves away from you. Another neat touch was footsteps, again, small touch but makes such a big difference. Each step feels weight-y, and not just the generic footstep and "gear shuffling" sound which many other FPS games settle for. DICE have done an outstanding job at these details and should be applauded very much for it. There's very little in terms of music in the game, whatever music there is, is heavily stylised in the distorted electronic sound which all the trailers have used for the game. Most the time music is used as multiplayer "fanfares" to signal the end of a game is approaching. Brilliant.

Simply put, Battlefield 3 multiplayer is, without a doubt, technically best in class. There's a few bugs that need to be ironed out and they most likely will with subsequent patches, but the game doesn't feel rushed or like the game's cut many corners to make it's release ahead of that other franchise's upcoming title in November. The single player needs quite a bit more work, though. The enemy AI is pretty dim, you can easily flank the enemy without them really caring, most seem to be on a set path and will not deviate. Saying that, however, your friendly AI isn't much better. I've had occasions where your team will stop firing, leading you to believe all the enemies in the area are dead and we can move on, but no objective change, no voice cue to signal we're moving on, no waypoint change... Turns out, there's one enemy left alive and the AI either can't take out the last guy to trigger the next event or these occurrences were just glitches and the friendly AI didn't realise an enemy was still around. Either way, this is annoying on Hard difficulty as sometimes they can be in-between friendly AI just waiting to shoot at you, rather than other AI. A very strange bug. There's also the occasional frame-stutter in the campaign, very noticeable but not off-putting at all. Would perhaps like having that fixed, though.

Campo the sniper... I see what you did there, DICE.
Other more non-game issues with the title, like the aforementioned "buy your way to better stuff" problem is the fact the game requires an "Online Pass" to play the multiplayer portion of the game. An Online Pass, if you're unfamiliar with this, is an extension of the "Project Ten Dollar" scheme which big publishers are trying to roll into their games as a means of revenue generation on used game sales. While it's a highly political issue I wont dig deep into in this review, I do know that putting in a 16 character redemption code after waiting a good hour and a half to install both game discs, the 200mb update and the 1.5GB HD texture pack was quite frustrating. The Online Pass comes with the game if bought new, however it's a one-time-use code to deter people from buying the game used as they will have to buy the pass for £7 (800 MSP). Just a heads-up on that one, since you can't lend your game out to friends or rent the game and hope to experience the multiplayer aspect of the game. All offline parts of the game are A-OK, though.

Overall then, Battlefield 3 is an amazing game. Technical issues are pretty few and far between considering all the amazing stuff DICE has been able to pack into the game. It's a unique experience which doesn't push the boat out too far in the modern FPS genre, but does offer some new and interesting features which other developers and publishers will have to take heed of for their next iteration of their respected FPS games. If you're after a rewarding, team-based multiplayer experience full of difficult-to-drive vehicles and lots of objective-based gameplay, Battlefield 3 is your game. If you're after a more arcade-style run-and-gun experience, Battlefield 3 will do nothing but frustrate you. If you're after a single player experience, this game's primary focus is and always will be the multiplayer, so perhaps wait for a price drop before investing in the title. If you're fine with the campaign being the orderve to the three-course multiplayer, you'll love Battlefield 3.
The campaign story isn't bad, just a little generic with dialogue which feels like a definite after-thought.
Amazing, perhaps one of the finest FPS games I've ever played.
It's no surprise that Battlefield 3 is a pretty game and while not quite as pretty as it is on PC, it's still very, very good on consoles.
Hearing is believing, it's brilliant.
Not quite sure how much time I put into this game. All I know is that a couple of long nights and evenings in were spent... So far.