The grand daddy is back! Battlefield 3 is the latest instalment in EA’s long running Battlefield series and a proper sequel to 2005’s multiplayer phenomenon Battlefield 2. Technology has evolved significantly since that era and with DICE having had plenty of time and opportunities to practice its art with the release of numerous Battlefield spin-offs such as BF 1942, and Bad Company and its sequel, there were pretty enormous expectations placed on this game; an aspect exploited by EA through the marketing campaign for the game. The final game has been out for quite a while now and having been tried and tested, does it fulfil its lofty promises?
It is very difficult to talk about this game without a discussion on its visuals. Simply put, BF3 is the most visually stunning game that has graced my humble PC. With the settings maxed out on a suitably beefy rig, the spectacle makes jaws drop to the lowest levels since Crysis Warhead. The clarity in the lighting and the detail in the textures and character animation combine to create an almost movie-like visual experience, albeit a CGI movie. There are ample options to tweak the visuals, allowing the game to run smoothly on a variety of mid and low end configurations that should allow a vast audience into the fracas.
The excellence in the visuals is matched on even keel by the sounds in the game. There is some serious audio tech on show here, with clearly detailed surround sound amplifying every explosion, bullet travel, vehicle sound and human scream to place you at the centre of the action. A good surround sound setup, especially headphones, is highly recommended.
This time around, the single player campaign exists and has had a fair degree of thought put into it. At first blush, it appears frightfully similar to the story arcs in the Modern Warfare series and this is because it is. In its dedication towards upstaging the Modern Warfare jugernaut, EA has seen it fit to shoehorn a dime store techno-warfare novel to walk players through the basics of the game’s controls and introduce them to the weaponry and vehicles that are available in the multiplayer segment of the game.
To be fair, the SP campaign does deliver a reasonably compelling experience, but that’s largely down to the excellent manner in which the campaign simulates larger scale theatres of war. Set pieces such as riding at the head of a tank platoon in the desert, engaging in combat as the co-pilot of a fighter jet, protecting a crippled convoy from vehicle bombers, combined with some well executed sniping missions and the varied environments keeps things interesting. The single player component is not a must-play, but most people will enjoy it if they do give it a go.
The bread and butter of the Battlefield series has always been the excellent multiplayer, and BF3 does the series proud with some of the best competitive online shooting you will find. Unlike many modern day shooters, BF3 chucks close quarters and trigger happy adrenaline doses for truly large-scale, involved multiplayer match ups that reward strategic thinking, team work and skill. Weapons have finely detailed individual characteristics such as recoil, time to aim, bullet trajectory and distance-based damage values. Novice players are expected to take the time to get accustomed to working in squads and gaining proficiency in vehicle and weapon handling. Maps are massive, with the PC version supporting 64 player matches that fully exploit the largest maps and the buffet of land, air and sea vehicles on offer.
Online game modes are restricted to Conquest (a King of the Hill mode), Rush (destroy/defend objectives), Deathmatch and Squad Deathmatch. The game also features a co-op mode with six missions that run in parallel to the story campaign, but are designed for team play. Due to this, the difficulty is ramped up considerably and relies on co-ordinated team work between you and another human player to get through each sortie. It’s a nice addition that yet again screams out EA’s obsession with the Modern Warfare series through its attempt at emulating something akin to MW’s Spec-Ops campaigns.
The thing that sets BF3’s multiplayer above anything else in the market is the way it is played. Two key factors play standout roles in this: vehicles and classes. The maps being as large as they are, require a significant amount of traversal to get to the hotspots of action. The vehicles scattered around key bases in each map provide a means of rapid transportation, but also play key roles in deciding the outcome of a round. In skilled hands, with adequate engineering support, tanks and jets can turn the tide of battle in Conquest and Rush modes. The vehicles are almost uniformly difficult to master, making each successful run that little bit sweeter.
Character classes are spread across four main types – Assault, Recon, Support and Engineer. Players are free to switch between classes on each respawn and maintaining the correct mix of each type in a team is critical. Points are awarded not just for kills, but for every deliberate offensive and defensive action. Spotting enemies, defending a capture point, rescuing or avenging team mates, disabling or destroying vehicles, healing allies, supplying ammo, repairing vehicles, etc. all keep up a steady stream of points. This system, therefore, encourages support and defensive play styles as much as killstreaks and emphasises the teamwork based gameplay that is the series’ hallmark. The points add up towards ranks and unlocks for not only different weapons, but also attachments for weapons, auxiliary gear and upgrades for vehicles.
Maps exhibit varied settings, ranging from claustrophobic urban locales to vast desert and forested areas to industrial settings. There is enough variety to keep proceedings from getting tired too quickly. You will frequently be awestruck by moments such as watching your team mate engaged in an aerial dogfight with an opponent; observing how a team mate’s quick thinking or selfless sacrifice helps your side win objectives or destroy a particularly bothersome enemy vehicle; seeing the entire map splayed out in a choatic frenzy of firepower as you parachute out of a burning jet; the list goes on.
Getting into games is straightforward thanks to the “old school” server browser with a multitude of filters that allow you to select the right type and size of game to tickle your fancy at any point in time. There is comprehensive friends support through Battlelog, EA’s web-based interface for all things BF3. Setting up games with friends, joining games and voice chat are a cinch. There are occasional bugs that will drop you out of games unexpectedly or keep you on the “connecting” screen for eternity, but those are steadily being ironed out through the patches being rolled out by DICE.
It really comes down to your preference for online multiplayer gaming. While the single player campaign is nice, it’s not worth the full price of admission, especially for gamers with rigs that can’t crank up the visuals. On the multiplayer side, however, it’s a pure winner. It is massive, varied, challenging and, dare I say it, addictive, and will satisfy online junkies for at least the next year or so. There are plenty of unique experiences every time you log into an online game. In essence, Battlefield as a whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Grab your buddies and get online!
Processor: Intel Core i7 920
Motherboard: Gigabyte X58A-UD7
Graphics: XFX Radeon 5970 2GB
RAM: 6 GB
Keyboard: Microsoft Sidewinder X6
Mouse: Saitek Cyborg