When Battlefield: Bad Company 2 came out last year, I overheard some classmates talking about how they spent the whole weekend playing the game’s multiplayer, telling the usual gamer war stories of close matches or about how some weapons were overpowered or how the other team was filled with cheap bastards. For their entire conversation they talked exclusively about the multiplayer aspects of the game until I finally interjected.
“What about the single-player?” I asked.
“What? Single player? Nobody plays the campaign in these games anymore.”
They went back to talking about the game’s multiplayer, not even stopping to consider that they hadn’t even touched the other half of the game on the disc. Maybe my classmates were right. Maybe nobody does play the campaign mode anymore, and maybe I was just being a crotchety old man who still thought that a good campaignmattered as much as the multiplayer. Now that I’ve played Battlefield 3, I can’t help but feel that the game’s developers felt the same way that my classmates did, because BF3 combines an incredibly intense, satisfying multiplayer experience with one of the most half-assed, forgettable campaign modes in recent memory. For people who only care about multiplayer, the lackluster campaign won’t be a problem, but I can’t help but feel that the substantial gulf in quality between the single and multiplayer modes, as well as a host of technical issues, keep Battlefield 3 from offering the same amount of value that other shooters (including previous Battlefield: Bad Company games,) offer.
There’s a part late in Battlefield 3’s campaign where you engage in a gunfight in the middle of a target shooting range. As you walk through the training course, both real terrorists and cardboard cut-out targets pop out from behind walls, and this almost seemed like a tounge-in-cheek admission by the game’s developers that their game, in single player at least, was basically just a very pretty shooting gallery; the only difference between the real terrorists and the paper cut-outs on the gun range were that the terrorists shot back, but in terms of how they behaved, they were the same: I’d walk down a hallway and shoot the targets, both human and cardboard, as they conveniently moved into the sights of my rifle.
But while this sly self-deprecating and self-aware joke shows that BF3’s developers apparently knew that their campaign was just as limited and simple as a target shooting range, that doesn’t change the fact that BF3’s campaign really is just as limited and simple as a target shooting range. Whether you’re running down war-torn streets in Iran or fighting your way through an office building in Paris, the gameplay basically boils down to you doing one of two things: running to a specific spot when the game tells you to, or shooting at (the very dumb) enemies when, and only when, the game tells you to. You are literally following other characters’ orders or on-screen prompts the entire game, and the game never gives you any sort of freedom; try to rush an enemy before the game tells you to, or stray from the scripted path even a little, and the screen goes black-and-white and tells you to get back to playing your role unless you want an instant game-over. Even when the game tries to be original, such as a level where you’re a co-pilot of an F-16 fighter, it still retains the same disappointing, on-rails feel; the F-16 section is barely interactive, with you doing nothing more than point a cursor at targets when the game tells you to do so. Games in this genre have traditionally been linear affairs, and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with linearity, BF3 doesn’t allow any sort of deviation from it’s script at any time, and at times the campaign’s gameplay barely felt more interactive than your usual quick-time event.
Speaking of quick time events, this game has plenty of them, and they’re all as bland and pointless as you’d expect. The sense of satisfaction you’re supposed to get when you defeat an enemy — knowing that you’ve outsmarted or at least outgunned them — is completely gone here, since all you’re doing is just pressing buttons as they appear on screen. While a lot of games resort to this cheap style of gameplay to create cinematic moments, it just ends up falling flat in BF3; most of the QTE’s in this game are simple fist or knife fights with regular enemies, and none of them were particularly visually impressive or exciting, which makes me wonder why the developer put so many QTE’s into the game when simply using the basic melee attack to finish enemies off in the regular gameplay was so much more satisfying. To add insult to injury, the game’s final battle is entirely QTE based, and it’s not even a particularly good QTE at that. At the end of Battlefield 3’s campaign you (spoiler?) save the world from the terrorist threat, but even that feels empty since you basically did nothing but play a very pretty game of Simon Says.
The co-op mode isn’t any better. It suffers from all the same flaws as the the single player, only now you can go enjoy your total lack of freedom with another person. I appreciate that the co-op mode offers completely different levels and a substantially higher difficulty level than the single player, but it still retains the same, overly simplified corridor shooting that made the single player so boring, so it’s still hard to care despite the extra time and effort that the developers put into the co-op mode.
But as I mentioned earlier, the game’s competitive multiplayer is the real meat of the Battlefield 3 experience, and it’s so good it almost manages to compensate for the game’s completely asinine campaign. BF3’s multiplayer allows you to do all of the cool things that happened during the single player’s scripted scenes, like parachuting out of a plane while dodging enemy fire, blowing up buildings,or tactically clearing a room with a squad of teammates, but unlike the single player, you’re doing these actions yourself, using actual skill and thought, and not tapping buttons in some glorified QTE. BF3’s campaign felt like I was watching a bad action movie while occasionally pressing buttons; by contrast, BF3’s multiplayer felt like I was taking an active, starring role in the most bad-ass action scene ever made, and it made me feel like this every round.
Rush mode, where one team is tasked to defend M-COM stations while the other team tries to destroy them, returns from Bad Company 2, and is once again my personal favorite among the game’s many different modes. Being successful at Rush mode requires team work, and this is the aspect where BF3 shines the most; unlike some other shooters in which players can succeed by going lone-wolf and simply racking up kills on their own, BF3 offers genuine incentives for being a team player. You can level-up your soldier about as quickly by reviving fallen teammates or fixing damaged vehicles as you can by scoring kills, and a skilled Engineer or an Assault-class player equipped with life-giving defibrillators is just as integral to winning a match as the guy with the best kill-to-death ratio.
Unfortunately, as balanced and as addictive as the multiplayer is, it isn’t without a few blemishes of its own. While the game supports a whopping 64 players on PC, the number of players is limited to 24 on consoles. The maps are smaller to compensate, which helps keeps the action lively on PS3 and 360, but the decreased player count makes BF3 feel less like a real “battlefield” and more like a minor skirmish. In addition to that, it messes with the game’s balance: with fewer players on the console version, any deficiencies that one side may have become almost insurmountable obstacles. When you have 32 teammates on the PC version, if three or four of them disconnect from the game or simply just aren’t very good at the game, it won’t really effect your chances for victory. On the consoles, where you only have 12 people per team, it really hurts a team to be down a player or two, and one side being short-handed can quickly lead to some very lopsided matches. A player getting disconnected is sadly a pretty common occurrence as well, as the game’s servers seem ill equipped to handle the amount of people that are trying to play this game. I experienced frequent disconnects, and oftentimes even finding a match was a slow, laborious process due to the strain that the servers were under. When it did work, the multiplayer was amazing, unfortunately, I often spent more time trying to connect to a game than I did playing it.
The technical issues mar the game’s otherwise gorgeous presentation as well. Even on consoles, the game is quite a looker, with fantastic lighting, detailed character models, and smooth textures (note to 360 players: install the optional HD Pack, otherwise the game will look like a Wii game.) But as good as the game looks technically, it still falters in a few aspects: the whole game is played with some weird, dirty filter placed over the screen, making it look as though you were viewing the game through a pair of scuffed up glasses. I suppose this screen effect was added to make the game appear more “gritty” but the random splotches that cover your screen at almost all times are distracting at best, and at times they obscure your view and hinder your aim. In addition to that, the game is simply buggy; textures often fail to load, characters get hung up on stage geometry, and on more than one occasion a random voice clip would continuously play on a loop until I reloaded the game.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with Battlefield 3’s multiplayer, but unfortunately, technical issues mean you’re going to have to work hard to find a stable match, while the game’s single-player and co-op campaigns are so poorly made and barely interactive that EA would’ve been better off not bothering to make them in the first place. There’s a lot of fun to be had in this Battlefield for those who only care about multiplayer and are patient enough to wait to tolerate the game’s server issues, but those looking to spend their $60 on a complete package –i.e. one that contains a satisfying single player campaign in addition to multiplayer– will be better off looking elsewhere.
Final Score: 6.5/10