Inside Pulse 12

Review: Battlefield 3 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Battlefield 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: DICE
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: 10/25/2011

There were a handful of games that I eagerly awaited the release of this fall, such as Dead Island, Gears of War 3, and Dark Souls. But I don’t think any of them measured up to the anticipation that was built up for Battlefield 3. I don’t play a whole lot of PC games, but I had played Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2 and I thought it was great what they brought to the FPS genre. However, it wasn’t until Battlefield: Bad Company and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 that I could really consider myself a fan of the franchise.

These games were almost the total package to me: they had interesting single-player campaigns laced with humorous characters and dialogue, as well as a competitive multiplayer mode that was both fun and addictive and didn’t leave me cursing “most” of the time. So when Battlefield 3 was announced to not only have another epic campaign, a co-op mode, and more of the addictive multiplayer I so enjoyed, I was understandably ecstatic. The bar was set high by this point, you could say.

So now that it’s out, does it deliver on all of its promises? Well, yes and no.

Let’s Review

Story/Modes
The single player campaign really starts off on an exciting note. It simultaneously gives you a tutorial on the controls and throws you into the shoes of a U.S. Marine trying to stop a terrorist from escaping by train with a nuke. The story then rewinds to explain the events leading up to that dramatic conflict, which is disappointingly less interesting or engaging.

Sergeant Henry Blackburn, the marine who you control during the opening sequence, is being interrogated by the CIA in between each mission of the game. As such, the missions are essentially either Blackburn recounting his experiences during those missions, or the CIA explaining to him what happened to other soldiers during that same time. It’s a very good storytelling method and I think that figuring out why Blackburn is being treated as he is is the one thing keeping your attention until the conclusion of the campaign.

Outside of that one story element though, the rest of the experience is very forgettable and uneven. One character that is introduced early on, Jennifer “Colby” Hawkins, is deployed on an aerial operation in one mission and is then never heard from again. Her significance was really played up in the interrogation scene leading up to that mission, but nothing further was ever done with the character. And she wasn’t even the pilot!

In a trend that lasts throughout the other modes of the game, the campaign tries desperately to copy the experience of the Call of Duty games, but ultimately fails to provide the same kind consistent quality or “shock” value that games such as the Modern Warfare titles can provide (such as the controversial airport mission). That isn’t to say Battlefield needs to do something to purposely land itself on Fox News, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to do something to keep people talking about your game. Or at the very least, they could have reduced the amount of the ridiculous active time sequences that they included. Even when you do find out what’s really going on, the tale has already run out of steam by that point and the epilogue is ultimately disappointing. The Bad Company games knew how to tell an entertaining story, and Battlefield 3 could’ve taken some lessons from those.

The co-op missions are just as disappointing. They have no relevance to the story told in the campaign and are instead just standalone scenarios. This would be fine, except there are only six missions and only a few of them are all that interesting. I would rather have been able to play the campaign with a buddy to be perfectly honest.

All that leaves us with are the multiplayer modes. There is more variety here than the Bad Company games, though since the only modes I really care to play are Rush and Conquest, it’s kind of a moot point. For newcomers of Battlefield, Rush is where the defending team gets two M-COM stations that must be destroyed by the attacking team. If they are destroyed, the defending teams’ base gets moved to somewhere else on the map. This continues until all stations are gone at all bases, or the attacker’s reinforcements are depleted. Conquest has you capturing checkpoints in order to deplete the opposing teams reinforcements. The more you have captured and held, the faster you’ll reach victory. There is also Team Deathmatch, where two teams of 12 square off to see who can score a set number of kills first. Squad Deathmatch is similar, except there are four teams of four, and each one is alotted one vehicle. Squad Rush is almost exactly like standard Rush, except it is two teams of four and takes place in a smaller area.

Rating this section is difficult for me, since the older Battlefield games did not have a campaign in the traditional sense, nor co-op modes. So do I hold the latest one accountable for failing to deliver on these? If you’re here exclusively for multiplayer, you’ll likely not care. However, as someone who enjoyed the campaigns in the Bad Company games, this one feels like a major step back, so I’m going to have to answer “yes.”

Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre

Graphics
When I had played the Battlefield 3 Beta, I thought it was a graphical mess. I don’t know how they did it, but DICE managed to do a complete 180 and deliver some of the best looking visuals on a console. It’s important to note that it is required that you install almost 2 GB on your hard drive or other memory device unless you want standard definition visuals. For a game built from the ground up on the PC, I would say that’s a fair trade off to get as close to the original experience as possible.

While you don’t notice as much during multiplayer skirmishes due to all of the chaos that’s going on, the character models really shine during the cutscenes of the single player campaign. I would even go so far as to say that the character movements and expressions rival that of last spring’s L.A. Noire. The environments are also quite impressive, bringing to life some very detailed urban areas that many of which can be blown apart with the game’s various vehicles and explosives. You’ll also notice little dust specs onscreen which make it seem like you’re looking through a pair of goggles (as someone who wears glasses, I can relate to this view). You may also notice a blurring effect on the sides of the screen when you are fired upon, making it harder to see until you take cover. This works in multiplayer too and you earn points for suppressing your opponents, as it is called by the game.

The only criticisms I really have are that you can’t customize your characters much in multiplayer outside of your uniform pattern. This means that there are only four basic appearances: one for each of the four classes. So many players will look identical to each other. Also, some buildings and environments don’t seem to be as destructible as they were in past Battlefield titles, which knocks the realism a bit. There were also a few times where I noticed frame rate drops, but this could’ve also been because I was experiencing lag with my connection.

Graphics Rating: Classic

Sounds
There isn’t much in the way of memorable music in the game aside from what plays in between missions and multiplayer matches. Though what’s here is unobtrusive to the senses, which is always a bonus when you are trying to look at stats and navigate menus. Most of what you hear is going to be the sounds of gunshots and explosions as well as the shouts of your fellow soldiers, which is pretty par for the course as far as military shooters are concerned.

The voice acting is quite top notch, both in the campaign and in other areas of the game. The actors really bring life to the realistic looking characters during the cutscenes, which helps in enduring an otherwise uninteresting story. While the co-op missions don’t really have much of a story, you are still fed orders from commanding officers, not to mention exchanging dialogue with non-player characters. And it is all played out in a very believable manner. There’s also the screams and shouts that come from the other players in a multiplayer game, such as when a grenade lands by your feet. None of this is particularly breakthrough in comparison to other games of the genre, but it’s still very well done and does its part to enhance the experience.

Sound Rating: Great

Control/Gameplay
If you’ve ever played any of the previous Battlefield games, you should have a pretty good idea of how this one plays. In case you don’t, it’s setup in the standard first-person shooter fashion. The thumbsticks are there to move and aim, the triggers to zoom in and shoot, and the face buttons to climb over objects, enter vehicles, reload, or switch weapons. The directional pad is used to switch between class specific items such as med kits or claymores. The bumpers are there to throw grenades and knife your enemies when you’re in melee range. You can also use the back button to mark enemy targets with a red triangle so that your teammates can see them. Clicking down the left thumbstick will allow you to sprint and the right thumbstick lets you kneel or go prone. Every button on the controller is used for something, but it’s all pretty straightforward, and much of it is covered in the campaign’s opening act. The vehicle controls are a whole other ball game, but again, many are covered in the campaign and even when you play multiplayer the game will display the basics on screen for you.

Despite being a very busy game as far as using all of the buttons on the controller are concerned, everything handles well and is very responsive. I didn’t once feel like I died because a button didn’t work or wasn’t responsive like I did with the beta, so kudos to DICE for getting all of their ducks in a row before launch. As I mentioned above, vehicles are a much different story, but only because there is such a huge variety of them and they all handle very differently.

Ground vehicles are probably the easiest to master. The tanks in particular operate much like being on foot except you’re controlling a much larger mass and move much slower. It’s the airborne vehicles that are the most troublesome, in particular, the helicopters and the jets. These vehicles practically require their own training course to master, and unfortunately, the game doesn’t provide any form of training aside from simply trial and error during the game. Not only is this a problem for you as the player who wants to learn how to use said vehicles, but it also becomes a problem for the other players on your team since your death can potentially drag their score down or even cause their own death if they happen to be riding with you.

The helicopter does have a co-op mission unlocked from the beginning that you and a patient friend can use to practice (which unfortunately is one of the missions required to pass before you can unlock the others). There is a single player mission that features a jet, but since you are just the co-pilot, you don’t actually fly the jet. You just shoot and drop flares when you are prompted to do so, resulting in one of the most uninteresting missions in the entire game. After you have attempted using the flight vehicles enough, eventually something will just “click” and you can at least get around with them without crashing. But since there are a limited number of vehicles that are spawned at one time, count on waiting for your teammates to be done with them before you get a turn.

Much like the prior Battlefield games, you have access to multiple classes each with their own loadouts in multiplayer. Medic is no longer an option, and its abilities are instead given to the Assault class. They can throw out health kits to heal teammates as well as use a defibrillator to resurrect fallen allies (which is especially helpful in modes where you have limited tickets to spawn with). Engineers’ primary role is to both build up and break down the game’s many vehicles. They can repair those that have been damaged in battle, but they are also supplied with rocket launchers and stingers to take out the ones piloted by the enemy. The Support class is exactly as it sounds, as they supply ammunition to teammates, though they can also make use of C4 and claymores to blow up soldiers or vehicles. Recon is your classic sniper class, though they can also set down items that allow their teammates to spawn closer to a particular target. Each class plays a valuable role in battle and although the Engineer is slightly less useful on maps without vehicles, it’s pretty safe to say that you can play a particular role exclusively and stick with it, or play them all evenly, and still be effective in combat.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Good

Replayability
While both the single player and co-op modes have three difficulty levels each, you will likely play through them once or twice to get achievements and be done with them. However, the multiplayer is what will keep you coming back for more and rightfully so. Depending on your performance in each match, you will earn experience points that will allow you to rank up and unlock guns, specializations, or small rewards like dog tags and new camouflage.

Each class can rank up separately too, allowing access to exclusive guns that only those classes can use, as well as abilities that are not unlocked from the start, like the C4 explosives for Support. Even the guns themselves can be leveled up depending on how often you use them, giving you access to bipods to steady your gun when you go prone, scopes to shoot from longer range, or even tactical lights to blind enemies that look directly at you. In short, there’s a lot to do and should keep competitive first-person shooter fans coming back for hours on end.

Replayability Rating: Classic

Balance
As mentioned previously, the campaign and co-op modes offer three difficulty levels, though even on the easiest setting the AI still behaves pretty intelligently. They utilize cover and even if they have more than one target to shoot, it will usually be you (unless there is someone/something you are supposed to protect then they will shoot at it too). So playing against the computer provides a reasonable challenge which is all the more impressive for a franchise that relies mostly on playing against human opponents.

The one downfall it does have, which one can argue is a similar problem for the Call of Duty franchise, is that players who have been playing longer are always at an advantage. Since leveling up gives you more access to new guns and upgrades, not only will veteran players be better at the game just by simply practicing, their gear helps widen the gap even more. Can you really consider it fair that someone just starting out can be blinded by tactical lights when they don’t even have access to that equipment themselves? Unfortunately, it really does come with the territory, but luckily you don’t necessarily have to have a high kill death ratio to earn a lot of points in this game. Simply helping to capture checkpoints, assisting in kills, or dropping ammo for your buddies will earn you points and subsequently upgrades, so there is that. Also, the quick match function will try to match you up with similarly ranked opponents (though this function has been broken for the majority of the time since the game launched).

Balance Rating: Above Average

Originality
Let’s face it, military shooters are a dime a dozen. Call of Duty releases an installment every single year and although Battlefield does not, don’t be fooled by the three in its title. This is the eleventh installment of the Battlefield franchise. If you make what is pretty much the same game, it ought to be the most polished version of that game that you can possibly do. And while the multiplayer does have that polish to an extent (if you disregard the server instability), it was disappointing that the rest of the package couldn’t follow suit. It may be true that most people do not buy Battlefield games for its campaign, but the fact remains that it was done much better in the Bad Company games, and so it is a shame that they couldn’t do that here as well.

Originality Rating: Bad

Addictiveness
When you sit down for a session of Battlefield 3 multiplayer, it’s safe to say you’re in it for the long haul. “Just one more game” becomes the quote of the session when you realize that next unlockable is just around the corner. And when you finally acquire it, that’s when you discover that one more kill will earn you that next crucial upgrade for your gun. This can go on for hours, and the problem only gets worse if you are playing in a squad with friends.

Battlefield 3 also has a service called Battlelog that lets you track your achievements and stats both through the game and on their website. You can also form a platoon with your friends, which is similar to how clans work in games like Halo. Unfortunately, this requires you to create an Origin account. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to only have to have one login when I play online or track achievements, such as Xbox Live, and not multiple. Especially since I’m not interested in anything else Origin has to offer. Still, it’s a neat little service and one you don’t have to pay for, which is always a bonus.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor
As of this writing, Battlefield 3 has already sold at least 5 million copies. That’s nothing to scoff at and proves there is a significant interest in the game. I’m willing to bet that Modern Warfare 3 will manage to top that, but who cares? EA and DICE have taken great strides to “compete” with the Call of Duty franchise this winter and I don’t think it’s really necessary. I think the curious will give Battlefield a try to see if it truly is better than the alternative, but the franchises are so different, I think they appeal to a different crowd. Battlefield has a greater emphasis on vehicles and the team deathmatches are not as popular a game mode as they are in Call of Duty. It’s more objective based, and the rewards given to players who function as a team further enforce that idealism.

The campaign and the co-op mode, on the other hand, seem way too influenced by the franchise they are trying to dethrone. Co-op might as well be called Spec Ops like it was in Call of Duty, and I swear the campaign was written as a fan fiction for that franchise. It’s very frustrating coming from someone who doesn’t particularly care for the way the Call of Duty series does things. If I wanted to play a game like Modern Warfare 3, then I would play Modern Warfare 3. It’s okay to take an idea that your competitor has and do one better, but these particular modes seem slapped together.

Appeal Rating: Great

Miscellaneous
I had a number of gripes with this package as a whole that didn’t really fit in anywhere else, so here we go. First and foremost, this game requires an online pass that is included with new copies of the game. If you buy the game used and the pass is already spent (which I 99% guarantee will be the case), you’ll have to purchase a new one for $10. Since this pass is required to play multiplayer and will be the biggest reason anyone plays this game, you can see how this might be a problem for gamers on a budget that might want to pick this up from GameStop or someplace similar. This also makes it difficult for anyone who borrows the game from a friend or rents it to see if it is something they would even be interested in buying. They claim they don’t want people using their servers who aren’t paying for them, but newsflash: someone DID pay for it. The original owner’s copy switched hands with someone else, you are not adding more people to your servers.

And speaking of servers, ever since I picked up the game they have been under constant maintenance. At the midnight launch, it seemed to be working just fine, but less than 24 hours later they went down on multiple occasions. And they’ve been continuously brought down ever since. Yes, I understand that it’s hard to anticipate the amount of people you are going to have logging in at once. But isn’t that why they had that broken beta awhile back? To prevent this sort of thing? Many people overreacted in the forums and I didn’t behave nearly as venomous as those that claimed that they were going to “return this game if it’s not fixed immediately.” At the same time, it’s a very poor showing for a game that is played primarily online to have this many problems for so long. If this isn’t straightened out before Modern Warfare 3 goes on sale, Activision will have the leg up on the competition and might steal potential sales away from EA. Even the co-op mode relies on these servers to be played, as you cannot play this mode split screen.

I will say this much though, DICE has been very open in communicating when the servers go down (whether they go down intentionally or not) so props for that. I understand that things don’t always go as planned and that servers will ultimately be brought to their knees whether you like it or not. So as a consumer, despite how frustrating that may be, I’m glad they are at least open and apologetic about it.

I don’t know if it has to do with the server instability or what, but since launch I have had issues with joining games as part of a squad. Often times my friends and I will be split among the two different teams, and while you can switch teams in the midst of battle, you can only do so if it doesn’t unbalance the game. So then you have to wait until the following game before you can jump ship, but only if someone on the other team has left. Playing with friends should not require this much legwork.

Miscellaneous Rating: Dreadful

The Scores
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Classic
Sounds: Great
Controls/Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Dreadful

Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Battlefield 3 is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have a single player campaign that while tolerable, is not nearly as entertaining or well written as the Bad Company games or even some of the Call of Duty titles. The co-op mode does little to help with that, lending only six missions that can only be played by two players and are overall not very fun and overly lengthy. On the other hand though, you have the competitive multiplayer, which is made better by the impressive graphics (that need to be installed to get the full effect) and a wide variety of guns, vehicles, and locales. There is a little bit of a learning curve to get the hang of the vehicles and as a new player you suffer a slight disadvantage in not having all of the equipment and abilities that veteran players do. But as long as you are a team player, the unlocks come swiftly and give you a reason to keep coming back to the game time after time. If you’re looking for a total package, fun for both single and multiplayer, the Bad Company games were better products overall. However, if you want a military themed first-person shooter that excels in competitive multiplayer, then Battlefield 3 is an excellent choice by far. Just be wary if you buy it used, as there will be an added fee to acquire the online pass you need to play online.

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