The multiplayer war FPS might be a dime-a-dozen these days, but believe it or not, this wasn’t always the case. When DICE released Battlefield 1942 9 years ago, these games weren’t the norm. Up until then, supernatural shooter franchises like Quake, Unreal, Halo, and Half-Life saturated the genre. Battlefield 1942‘s 64-player maps, strong vehicle content, and realism angle made an instant impact to the multiplayer landscape, and it has never been the same. While numerous iterations of the Battlefield franchise have seen releases over the past decade, the progenitor’s only true sequel in Battlefield 2 has stood alone since 2005. At long last, Battlefield 3 brings the series back with a vengeance, touting best-ever multiplayer gameplay along with the franchise’s first single-player campaign. And while the latter doesn’t break any new ground, the former delivers in one of the few occasions in which a game lives up to the hype.
Battlefield 3‘s multiplayer gameplay picks up everything that made the previous titles great and seems to have hit all the right notes in taking them a step further. Included with the game are 9 maps that vary in overall size, openness, environment, and emphasis on vehicles vs infantry. The necessary strategy truly changes from map to map, making each feel unique while still managing to be genuinely balanced. Operation Metro is an infantry-based map with an open, outdoor area that shrinks to a claustrophobic subway system, playing well with any number of players. But its similar namesake Operation Firestorm is a huge, sprawling landscape where you’ll often witness tank battles, helicopter assaults, and jet-fighter dogfights, perfect for huge 64-player matches. Each location requires a different line of thinking, and mastering each player class and vehicle type will keep you busy for hours upon hours.
The player classes themselves are relatively standard and will be largely familiar to players of Bad Company 2, with a few key differences. The Assault class is still your go-to mid-range, accurate infantry specialist, but now provides relief for your squad mates in the form of health packs and defibrillator-revivals. It’s the machine gun-toting Support class that is able to distribute much-needed ammo refills this time around. The Engineer and Recon classes still specialize in vehicle combat and long-range sniping respectively.
These classes are even more effectively balanced in Battlefield 3 than in games prior. While each one harbors combat options that lend themselves to any player’s shooting style, it’s the secondary abilities that make every class necessary for a team to be successful. Without the Assault class, you’d have no one to revive fallen teammates in key moments of battle. Otherwise-effective kill-getters are rendered defenseless unless there’s a Support class nearby to provide more ammo. Your whole team is screwed if they’re attacked by a skilled tank driver unless your Engineers come by to dispatch them, and active Recon soldiers can strategically place select-able spawn points that can go a long way to turn the tide of war. A team that doesn’t make liberal use of every one of these classes is going to have a hard time finding success, and playing each class to their potential offers a truly unique experience every time.
[pullquote_right]With so many avenues to explore, Battlefield 3 will stay fresh for a long time.[/pullquote_right]Even the vehicles themselves are accessible. Flying a helicopter in Battlefield 3 offers controls that are simple, responsive, and inviting. But at the same time, there’s incentive to practice, as learning the ropes provides a deep-enough experience to benefit experienced pilots. Jet-flying plays a similar role, since while flying them isn’t terribly difficult, learning to effectively release flares, fire on infantry, and engage in dogfights feels like a different game entirely. Tanks can certainly make that hard-to-capture point much more reachable, and every vehicle is more effective with additional teammates along for the ride.
Adding to the impressive variety already established between the great maps, player classes, and vehicle gameplay, there are five different game modes to play. Conquest is your standard capture-and-hold mode; Rush pits an offense against a defense in an ever-expanding map with mini-objectives; Team Deathmatch awards the win to the team with the most kills. Then there are Squad Deathmatch, a variation of Team Deathmatch pitting 4 squads against each other, and Squad Rush, a small-scale version of the Rush mode which places one 4-man squad against another. Each mode feels completely different, and every single map in the game is capable of hosting any mode. That’s a lot of gameplay variation.
As with Bad Company 2, rewards come about in Battlefield 3 with regular satisfaction. The moments when you feel like you are truly getting the hang of a certain weapon or player class often coincide with numerous presents in the form of promotions, perks, weapon upgrades, and new weapons altogether. Similar payoffs result from effective cooperation with teammates, as working within a squad to attack the same objective or provide each other with ammo and health will yield additional experience points. It’s almost as if the game is actively telling you, “You got it! Keep doing that!” And if you’re hitting a wall trying to get the hang of a certain strategy (or rather, if you’ve gotten bored mastering a particular skill), this game offers numerous other strategies to try your hand at, and you’ll find another way to begin the flow of rewards once more. Between all of the secondary skills along with the ever-helpful “spotting” mechanic, you certainly don’t have to rack up impressive kill counts in order to help your team and gain promotions. With so many avenues to explore, Battlefield 3 will stay fresh for a long time.
The teamwork-centered multiplayer experience also segues into 6 co-op missions. These plot-based missions allow you and another player to work together through missions that compliment the single-player campaign, complete with impressive scripted sequences. They’re certainly more difficult than the single-player campaign, but made all the more enjoyable with a buddy. There are even extra unlockables earned through these missions that can be used in the competitive multiplayer mode. The only minor gripe here is that there are only 6 missions, and you’ll be left wanting more.
The area in which Battlefield 3 displays a bit more tarnish than shine is in its single-player campaign. While the plot is interesting, it’s nothing new, serving mostly as play-throughs of flashback explanations provided by the protagonist Marine, who happens to be under interrogation – [cough] Call of Duty: Black Ops [/cough]. Many of the set pieces and scripted sequences, while impressive, often illicit a feeling of deja vu. And while enemy soldiers will run for cover, they’ll also pop out clear into the dangerous open with reckless abandon, calling the AI into question. At most turns, the gameplay in this campaign has been done before, and done better.
But it’s not all bad, as the 7-8 hour campaign is often rescued by the same glorious presentation that compliments all areas of the game. While it scales well on lower-end machines, Battlefield 3 is one of the most impressive-looking games released to date as it pertains to realism on a powerful PC. The lighting casts believable shadows and shines through windows into otherwise dark rooms. Several quick-time events in the single-player campaign are awe-inducing, and the voice/character acting is superb as well. And oh, the sound design. There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe its excellence. Gunshots rattle in the distance with astonishing believability. Indoor areas echo in perfect tandem with the size of the room. If you’re too close to an explosion, you’ll experience a period of sudden deafness, slowly returning and accompanied by tinnitus. From top to bottom, Battlefield 3‘s audio and visual presentation is among the best that the gaming industry has to offer.
While DICE may have taken a step back in the single-player world from Bad Company 2, they took a much bigger step forward in the expansive competitive multiplayer with Battlefield 3. Between the diverse maps and game modes, the varying strategies of the player classes, and the engaging vehicle gameplay, there is a ton of content to keep you busy for many hours. From 4-on-4 to 32-on-32, the possibilities are near endless in this mode, and it’s more than enough to warrant the purchase of the game alone. Enter in standard-setting visual presentation and sound design and you have yourself a deadly concoction. Years ago, DICE defined the multiplayer war shooter, and they have redefined it with Battlefield 3.
Competitive multiplayer is balanced, varied, and content-packed | Vehicles are accessible and effective | Top-notch presentation value
"Me too" single-player campaign has been done before, and done better
Matt is a lifetime gamer from his humble beginnings with the Atari 2600. He is also the host of the Default Prime video series, The Bowlingotter Show.
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