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Battlefield 3 (PC) Review

Pretty much every one I know thoughts highly of the past two Battlefield iterations.  And by this I mean Bad Company  and Bad Company 2.  IF you push a little further some might even be able to tell you their thoughts on the original Xbox and PS2 versions of a Battlefield title.

What a great number won’t be able to tell you is what they thought of the original Battlefield titles.  The ones that captures millions of PC gamers the world over and invented the whole perks/mod system that most attribute to Call of Duty 4.

Having spent a ridiculous number of hours in Battlefield, 1942, Vietnam and Battlefield 2 I think it’s high time I took a look at the first true sequel to the Battlefield franchise since 2005!  (And no I’m not counting BG 2142.. sorry!)

The game splits down in to two sections:  the single player portions and the online multiplayer portions.  Previous Battlefield games had nothing more than a tutorial for the online portions as a single player.  The Bad Company titles introduced a rag-tag bunch of soldiers who you couldn’t help but feel an attachment for.  So I had reasonable hopes that DICE could bring the multiplayer behemoth of Battlefield 2 and mix it with a good paced single player from Bad Company.  I was mostly wrong.

The single player portion of the game – which seems to have been the main focus of the rather questionable advertising campaign – is mediocre at best.  The plot mechanics are pretty much lifted straight from Black Ops. You listen to the stories of Sgt Blackburn whilst he is being debriefed on his actions to bring down atypical power crazed madman Solomon who was hell bent on nuking the planet.  As these debriefs take place you slip in to the flashbacks and play them.  Black Ops did this incredibly well and it lead to the game being a series of action set pieces strung together by a reasonably cohesive narrative.

Unfortunately the narrative in BF3 is lacking any real drive or engagement.  The missions are varied enough most of the time but those cut scene elements in between them do nothing to draw you in to the world and make you care for the action taking place.

The campaign does server as a reasonable tutorial for the online portion of the game and will cover most of what you need to know to get started on the online battlefield.  The campaign does a few things right though and introduces some varied open spaces during the tight spaces combat.  This allows you to flank your enemies a lot of the time – but it also means they can pick you off with incredible accuracy from literally anywhere in your surroundings.  This is not helped by an AI squad that leaves you feeling like you’ve been saddled with the dumbest sons of bitches in the US army!  I lost count the number of times a squad mate would be emptying a clip in to a wall of obstruction.

As well as the single player and online multiplayer there is a very well implemented co-op mode.  This mode is for up to 4 players and uses maps and areas taken from the campaign mode.  There really is no story to speak of, it’s more about objective based gameplay.  These little snippets really help hone your skills for the upcoming online experience.  I would recommend hooking up with friends of at least known players to take these objectives on as otherwise things can devolve in to anarchy a little too rapidly.

Now the real reason DICE made a BF 3 – the multiplayer.  This is where the game soars above almost all the competition.  Battlefield has always offered something different to the Call of Duty franchise.  Sitting somewhere between a strategy shooter and a balls out franchise like COD these games are more slower paced and rely far less on instant gratification.

This is also the area that the PC version shines.  Being able to battle on maps housing 64 players is always a thing of beauty if handled correctly.  Luckily DICE have years of experience in this department and everything just works as it should.  The initial quirky introduction of using the BattleLog webpage to arrange and launch your games soon become an essential tool as you paw over stats pages from your conquests.

The maps are once again pretty large but thanks to spawn on squad and way points you never have to do the Battlefield 2 chore of walking for 5 minutes across the map only to be killed and have to start again.  Vehicles play an important role in the Battlefield experience and this time is no exception.  Most are easily located and driven but as ever you will need to put in some practice to take to the skies.  I lost count of the choppers I ended up ditching!

Using one of the  limited selection of character classes (Medic, engineer etc) you can slowly build your perks and unlocks through the now standard use of XP points.  These have been intelligently spaced and paced and offer a real challenge and goal compared to previous COD titles where unlocks can be erratic and come in droves.  Medals and ribbons for in-game actions also help give you a sense of achievement and purpose and keep you coming back for more.

Graphically Battlefield 3 pretty much sets a whole new bar on the PC.  The texture and lighting work is at time phenomenal.  This means you need a reasonable machine to play the game and even on the base system requirements (nVidia 8800GT and a dual core PC) the game looks fantastic but struggles in places.  The Frostbyte 2 engine does manage to scale well though and you should get a reasonable experience if your machine exceeds these specifications.

Pretty much most aspects of a battleground can be damaged and destroyed using the new engine and this really adds to the tension of the game.  This means that a safe haven can quickly become your deathbed as munitions soon tear the place apart.

Sound design is also very well managed.  Music is used very sparingly throughout the game, even the campaign.  When used it is well produced and rousing but a little more of it would have been nice.  Sound design is on par with the graphics engine for delivering an explosive experience and covers all the bases well indeed.  The only audio let down is the voice action with, even with the poor script, still falls short of the bar the rest of the game sets.

Final Thoughts
Battlefield 3 is a triumph of multiplayer gaming.  Designed for the people that get sick of the insta-death of titles like Call of Duty you can play round after round, ranking up, and never fire a bullet by being a valued team member in engineering or medical.

The campaign is 5 hours of mediocre and easily is the worst part of the package.  That said it at least offers entertainment and still looks gorgeous thanks to the advances in the Frostbyte 2 engine.

The PC version, with it’s enhanced graphics and 64 player online maps, is the definitive version of the game.  The massive online following and hours of play that aspect will yield are priceless and I can’t recommend you play it enough.

 

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About Zeth

Zeth
Zeth is our EU Senior Editor and has been writing about video games since he joined BG back in 2008. He's pretty old and has been a gamer since he played Space Invaders as a young boy in the 80's. His genre tastes lean towards platformers, point-and-click adventure, action-adventure and shooters but he'll turn his hand to anything.

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