For any gamer who had anything to do with the last decade’s First Person Shooter scene, „Battlefield” suggests vast maps, populated by a lot of players who get tons of vehicles and an arsenal carefully modeled after whichever war the respective game chooses to illustrate.
The first game in the series, Battlefield 1942, was launched in a time when Second World War shooters carried the flag (2002) and relied on a complex multiplayer with wide, open spaces, in contrast to the more arcade and action-oriented Medal of Honor series that had reached its third sequel by that point.
Closer to the present, the series took a strong swerve towards atypical elements to extend their clientele. Such as adding a single-player campaign by way of Bad Company’s launch on consoles in 2008, or narrative elements typical to Call of Duty (multiple perspectives, the motif of the hero dying absent glory or quick-time events in critical moments).
The multiplayer largely kept the same pattern throughout the years though: plenty of vehicles, vast maps, sprayed out with vegetation and natural obstacles, while the most recent release reintegrated a mode that the series hasn’t had since 1942 (the game, not the year): Team Deathmatch. And DICE’s expertise regarding what a quality online experience means has greatly improved, offering a very wide arsenal in the battle against boredom.
The single-player campaign is endowed with a fairly similar storyline to that of the blockbuster The Peacemaker, in which a lunatic steals several nukes from the Russians in order to punish western states for being… so goddamn western. His reason is pretty ambiguous and there’s only one time throughout the game anyone even references it: a Russian agent mentions something about revenge. It’s not really clear what for. All you need to know is that it’s there.
The narration starts at the end and describes one of the four protagonists’ escape from the middle of a handcuff interview in which he is accused of something pretty serious, and the mission succession will explain the events leading up to Sergeant Blackburne’s arrest. The characters are somewhat blurry and certainly not as memorable as their CoD counterparts, while the story borrows elements from here and there, but ultimately proves itself too flavorless a pastiche to impress.
Visually however, while it’s not nearly as dense or overdosed with action scenes as Modern Warfare 3, there are moments in which BF3s campaign will be a feast for the eye: parachuting through realistic cloud formations, earthquakes breaking up street combat or sneaking through ruins, under patrols that try to draw you out by promising war relief efforts. The lighting and wetness effects help immersion by a lot, while the linear and restrictive level design looks a bit too much like the CoD series for its own good. True, you have more flanking space and open areas are considerably easier to find than the ones in Infinity Ward’s series, but the route is preset and every now and then you feel like a mouse trapped in a maze.
Either way, the campaign is short enough as it is and despite narrow corridors, the repetition of objectives and the awful AI of both allies and adversaries, you don’t get bored. Missions aren’t lacking in scenes where the player is put into vehicles or aerial bombing interfaces, while the sound design imbues the whole atmosphere with a degree of realism in terms of military communication. On the other hand, the trivial dialogue is pretty sterile and one dimensional.
The music is used scarcely and only to point out moments of maximum tension, but there’s an example that reminded me of a Michael Mann flick: in the nighttime mission, one in which you have to cover for a squad sneaking in a PLR-patrolled city, a few moments in which an orchestra of synths majestically illustrates the desolation and break point tension of an assassin past his bedtime. Every now and then, there are scenes in which the audio background convinces you that you’re really a marine and you’re there, by way of the Johnny Cash songs, but overall, the music is there simply to infuse B3 moments, not to render a continuous soundtrack. We have bullets, missiles and grenades for that.
The weapon variation covers pretty much all the multiplayer toys and, particularly on Hard mode, encourages the player to use his gadgets in order to overcome certain challenges without getting sprayed with bullets in the process – be it the nightvision sniper rifle with a silencer for a nocturnal mission or the claymores you use when defending a certain spot in a mall.
Co-op & Multiplayer
Battlefield 3 has a co-op component, similar with its counterpart in Modern Warfare 3. There are survival missions (or „horde mode”), piloting a chopper, sneaking, sniper range and assault. Six in all, with backgrounds provided by the single-player missions. The maximum number of players is 4, but ultimately these doesn’t provide more than three hours of extra game time, and the content doesn’t really shine when it comes to replay value.
Much more vast and rich when it comes to options is the competitive multiplayer. Akin to Bad Company, we get four classes to choose from: Assault, Support, Engineer and Recon, a distribution between two traditional teams (Russians and Americans), plus the experience points we get for each of them individually unlocks weapons, accessories and new equipment. In other departments, such as environmental destruction, Battlefield 3 appears to have toned down since BC2 because, even though you’ll chip the ground with all the missiles hitting the landscape every match, it won’t look like it’s the dark side of the Moon.
Understanding and appreciating Battlefield 3 takes a lot more time than getting into the fast-paced mayhem in MW3 and depends on a lot more factors. A public, chaotic, pub-ridden match may stamp a rather unimpressive mark in Electronic Arts’ shooter and it takes a much more tactical approach, in the same squad-split format that Bad Company put forth.