It’s been a little while since the launch of Battlefield 3, arguably one of the most anticipated games of 2011. A lot of folks have already taken a look, and given you their impressions on the game, but we felt something like this deserved multiple sets of eyes. We took our time with this one, with each platform to give you a complete review from all of the troops at Off Duty Gamers. The staff has chimed in about what they feel is good and bad with this title, so let’s hear what everyone had to say.
Battlefield 3 is almost two games. There is the multiplayer, in which players take the part of US or Russian forces, and square off in the familiar game modes we all love, and Co-Op, in which players work together to achieve various goals against waves of enemy forces controlled by the AI. If you took just these two modes and nothing else, the game would still be a hit, but the Single Player campaign adds another level to this already superb game, making it really shine.
In single player, you take the role of various characters, set against the backdrop of Middle East conflict and Global Terrorism. The game starts out in the action fast enough, you have one handcuff on your wrist, making it obvious you were a prisoner of some sort, and rush to make your way onto a train, where you meet more than your fair share of tangos. This part of the game teaches you some of the controls, but you also introduces the main bad guy, Solomon. What follows next is a flashback, and everything begins to come together.
You are a Marine, Sgt Blackburn, and are in custody for killing your Commanding Officer. Blackburn is questioned by Government agents regarding an impending terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and begins recounting the events which led here. A quick flashback, some Johnny Cash, and you find yourself playing that part of the game we all saw in the various trailers.
As you play, the game will cut to the interview room, and seem almost like a movie. You flashback to other scenes, some involving yourself while others involve other characters who have played a part in the overall events. In all, you play through as a Russian GRU agent, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Weapons Officer, a U.S. Marine Abrams Crewmember/Gunner as well as U.S. Marine Sgt. Blackburn, a member of a Recon platoon. Each character and scene is followed by a return to the interview room, and a little more of the plot unfolds. What finally follows is a showdown between yourself and the terrorists as they attempt to initiate an attack on the United States. How you get there, what happens in between, that is all part of the story, and you will have to play through to find out.
The single player campaign of Battlefield 3 is a healthy mix of the action you’d find in a blockbuster summer action movie and the true to life tactical view you’d get from a more documentary style action movie. It feels a lot like Clear and Present Danger meets Black Hawk Down. This is a good thing. Where a straight up action flick might feel cheap and overdone – or a straight up documentary film might feel dry or boring, a blend of both keeps things fresh. The campaign keeps you guessing with multiple plot twists, but doesn’t get overly convoluted so as to confuse the player.
Realism in a game is always a double edged sword. Make a game too real, and it is not fun, if it is not real enough and you complain about it, someone can always say you are being ridiculous. Battlefield 3 captures not only the realism, but the spirit of military operations. Granted, you are not spending mind-numbing cutscenes polishing boots, cleaning weapons, or force marching to your next objective. Military campaigns are never fun filled and action packed, and most of your time is spent bitching about tomorrow’s job; but DICE saw the devil in the details, and made that bastard cringe. I chuckled at one scene where one of the Marines is sleeping on the way to the next objective, while sitting up. We’ve all known that guy, the one who could sleep standing up, and did every chance he got. I also saw a lot of nervous ticks, bobbing heads, looking around, absently touching weapons.
Unlike some titles, what you see in the trailers is what you get in the game. Battlefield 3 stands out as THE best graphics seen in a video game thus far. Still, the best is not perfect, but DICE comes damn close.
Whether you are in single player, or multiplayer the environment and lighting is top notch. Things are placed where they should be, the lighting will blind you at certain angles, and even those areas where rain or other weather elements are present will have an effect on your visibility. There is a close attention to detail, and even a few non gamers I have showed the graphics to are amazed at the intricacy, down to the clouds and blinding sun. The bar has been set, and it will be a tough one to beat
There are a few areas that appear to suffer from a sort of “quicksand” effect, mostly on multiplayer, where a character will melt into the environment partially. This does not affect you as a player, and is mostly noticeable during killcams, but it leads me to believe it could be exploited to an opponent’s advantage by those who know how to use it.
During the Single Player, we did get at least one of us that experienced a whiteout about halfway through. While facing a certain angle, the entire screen would turn white, which made getting to the next objective a bit of a chore.
PC wise, the performance of the game really seems to depend on which particular video card you use, with some being better optimized for the game than others. I’ve tried the game on both major brands, with the settings set to their max, and found most of my issues to be driver or profile related. As time has progressed, fixes have been rolling out, but it is obvious with this game, more than any other, your choice of hardware may have a definite effect on your experience.
I like the story, enjoy the most excellent graphics, but I have picked up on two mistakes that while doing nothing to the playability of the game, as a military man, DRIVE ME NUTS!
One, on the Gone Hunting Map………You’re LT Colby Hawkins, the RIO or Radar Intercept Officer, the GIB (Guy in the Back) on an FA-18 aboard an aircraft carrier. In the opening sequence, your pilot who is giving your briefing is wearing, on his right shoulder sleeve, the official Seal of the AIR FORCE as his unit patch! Seriously?? An Air Force patch on a Navy uniform?
Secondly, on the Thunder Run map, we are introduced to the M1 Abrams tank. The Heads up Display or HUD, displays common information such as direction and speed. This brings me to the flaw that I noticed in the HUD, it’s a small detail but again to my military mind, it drives me nuts. On the right side of the HUD, speed is displayed. The speed unfortunately is displayed in the European and metric Kilometers per Hours (KPH) as opposed to the American system and Miles Per Hour (MPH). The only part of the metric system the American military uses is for distance on maps, and that is meters and kilometers.
Understandably DICE is in a European country that uses the metric system for everything measurable. But it all comes down to attention to detail. This is why DICE and any other game producer needs to consult with folks who have served in whichever military service AND branch the game depicts. If you have British military portrayed, find a British service member. The same can be said for the Russians and Americans being portrayed.
The sounds too were top notch, and the rounds traveling close by or overhead, were about as realistic sounding as I care to remember. The overall weapons sounds were good, and as close to the originals as some of us can recall. Okay, not perfect, but I don’t want to play a game with earplugs. Even with the verbiage and squad communication, quite a few of us had flashbacks of our service with that one. The soundtrack is good, but is overshadowed by the effects and voice over in game. While for some this may be a sticking point, it really speaks well for DICE and how much they poured into the effects.
Throughout the campaign, you will move to various objectives and encounter resistance. Fire and maneuver, moving cover to cover, controlled aimed bursts, these all come into play as the enemy is often entrenched in position or assaulting in overwhelming numbers. At certain points your team will direct you in a specific direction, but you can deviate from the plan and rampage in a path of your choosing. I found this useful when countering ambushes and frontal assaults, where I was able to flank the enemy and catch them in a crossfire with my AI teammates. Still, you will have to return to the path at some time, as there is always a meeting point, or a person to follow.
Action buttons come into play at various times, and what you think may be a cutscene may turn out to be a pivotal point and you need to jab something fast. There seemed to be at least one “second chance” in some scenes, meaning if you missed the button the first time, the action progressed to a point and you were given the opportunity to recover. Don’t rely on this though, I didn’t get that every time. Some of us wanted more action buttons or combos, others, well just wished they would go away.
During the Single Player, you will get the chance to try out a majority of the weapons and some of the unlocks present in the multiplayer. As you make your way through the horde of enemy combatants, you can pick up any of their dropped weapons. I didn’t find this necessary for the most part, as I preferred to use whatever I started with, and pick up ammo at various points.
Multiplayer is a whole different animal. Players familiar with Battlefield: Bad Company 2 will remember the unlock tree for vehicles, aircraft, and the various classes or kits. The same is present here, but with a twist. Each vehicle has a unique unlock tree, as well as each weapon, each kit, and each aircraft. Progressing in the tank and earning the additional upgrades won’t give you those same upgrades in the LAV. Nor will using the Little Bird give you the same unlocks in the Viper attack helo. There’s enough unlocks, gadgets, attachments and upgrades to keep you interested for a very long time, and if you watch your Battlelog, you can see what you have coming up and focus in the areas you choose.
In Single Player and Co-Op, I noticed the enemy AI makes decent use of cover, and won’t focus on the scripted assault path. I deviated regularly because I have an aversion to bunching up with other members of the Assault Element. I mentioned catching the enemy forces in a crossfire, and this trick worked everytime. After a few shots however, they wise up and begin dividing their fire and focus between the main force, and you. Still, you can occasionally close in for a close up knife kill.
For all the good points, there was one point in the Single Player I felt was off base. Marines, and any member of the Armed Forces for that matter, have an ingrained sense of discipline and respect for authority that makes one scene highly unlikely, and I would go so far as to say impossible. The moral choice, which originally landed Sgt. Blackburn in custody, goes against military and human nature. Without giving away spoilers, when confronted with someone who is clearly part of a force you just engaged, you’re not likely to team up with him based off a two minute conversation, and even less likely to shoot someone at their suggestion. I understand the plot element, and why it was necessary for the story, still I have to point it out. In the end, this one Hollywood moment is one I can forgive, given the excellent quality everywhere else.
A few others pointed out various things, little details that get annoying when you know they should be a certain way but are not. Of course not everything can be perfectly realistic, but its these things which we look at. Checkmate pointed out the barrels pointing upwards in the opening scenes, while the Marines are in the LAV, and the lack of weapons discipline as the barrel of the weapon points at the rear of friendlies quite often. I will say, I noticed this was offset at times, as the weapon did dip into the low ready in scenes where there was no gunplay at hand.
There are multiple aspects of the game that feel shockingly close to life, and at times I felt like the shots were ripped straight from my time in Iraq.
The movements, graphics, and sound come together for a seamless experience. I feel like I’m back in Iraq…. Vaulting over obstacles, low-crawling, and 3-5 second rushes are all common tactics of the military and completely realistic.
The knife kills are the most disturbing to me. So far I have only gotten three, but the killing sequence is definitely memorable!! Snatching your opponents dog tags is truly exciting! My first dog tag was a simple sneak up behind you type wherein the victim gets spun around and a knife is plunged into his chest just above the plate carrier. I thought that as both cool and unsettling. My other dog tag kill was the one that made me think…….this fella was in the prone firing away from me. I activated my melee button and my avatar reached down, flipped the guy over onto his back, then stuck him in the chest again above the plate carrier. A pool of blood then spread out over the floor, and I had my second set of dogtags. Wet work with the knife is a messy way to go about the business of killing……
Whether you choose to knock out the Single Player, focus on the Multiplayer or go straight into the Co-Op missions, you will have enough of a game on your hands to keep you busy for the foreseeable future. You’ll always want to get a better score on Co-Op, or beat your buddy at it, and the Single Player is challenging enough to where you probably won’t beat it in one playthrough.
Multiplayer, that’s just sick. I’ve found myself spending hours a day working for that next level, that next unlock, trying to get more flight time, or chasing dog tags with my knife. It’s addicting, and if it were any more fun, it would have to be regulated. The unlock tree can be a bit trying, there are so many of them, and it will take a while, but there is a sense of achievement with each one. While it definitely gives you an advantage, nothing seems imbalanced or overpowered, baby steps in progression, but giant leaps in satisfaction.
Playing on Hard difficulty definitely requires the utilization of feathering your shots and tactical movements. You must also keep in mind the effects of bullet drop. The further away your enemies are, the higher you must aim above your target to hit them. With 12 chapters in the campaign and 6 levels in co-op, it ‘s worth about 6-8 hours of gameplay for the former and 3-4 hours for the latter, depending on your style of play.
I am playing only the hard setting and I am finding playing at this level not very difficult. As in any scripted game, you learn from your mistakes and move along. The realism of the bullet drop makes one think before busting caps out over a longer distance. Rapid sight adjustment and follow through is needed for follow on shots.
This game is as tactical as you can make it, there is nothing hampering your style in Mulitplayer except you and your teammates. Using voice communication, quick commands and spotting effectively, you could dominate the battlefield. With the squad system, you can buddy up with your friends and use the tactical knowledge most of us have gained in our careers to your advantage. If you opponent has the same experience, or learns fast, you are in for one hell of a fight.
The sticking point for some will always be the price, but value means something a little more than the money involved. At $60, Battlefield 3 is up there with the most expensive titles on the market. It deserves it since it breaks new ground, where others seem to stumble about. With a new engine and literally everything the majority of the community was asking for. This is money well spent, not only will you enjoy the campaign, Co-Op and Multiplayer guarantees you will be playing this title for quite a while.
Final Intelligence Report
EA and DICE aimed for the stars with Battlefield 3, and in my opinion they landed on target. A new standard is set in graphics, and the story is one of the best out there. The game is not without its faults, but many of the issues which I originally sought to address have been patched in the short time it has been released. As an overall product, I would rate this game as the best I have played thus far. As far as recommending this title, that is easy: Why don’t you have it already?
All in all, I think that BF3 is the best example of what a Battlefield game can be, while still offering plenty of “action” that converts from other FPS titles might be looking for.