Battlefield 3, the long-awaited, mature-rated third installment in the popular EA series, hit shelves this week. On Xbox 360, the game ships with two discs, one containing a single-player campaign and the other containing a series of multiplayer maps. With the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is right around the corner, can Battlefield 3 stack up? Let's go to the scorecards.
"[T]he graphics in Battlefield 3 set a new standard, even on consoles," writes Tom Price of GamePro. "The lighting is amazing, and the level of details and textures you see on characters is very impressive. But I didn't really need the constant water spots that were supposed to be on my goggles (I guess, I'm pretty sure I wasn't always wearing them) – they actually block a lot of the action."
Battlefield 3, writes Ryan Fleming of Digital Trends, "boils down to the most generic of possible stories. It also borrows heavily from Call of Duty’s campaigns over and over again. Despite the primary focus on the soldier, Sgt. Blackburne, who is being interrogated, the game shifts focus to a handful of other characters, just like CoD. It even has you chasing a Russian named Kaffarov, a name that even sounds like Makarov, one of the antagonists of the Modern Warfare series. An incident about half way through feels so extremely similar to one of the big moments in CoD 4: Modern Warfare that the big shock it’s supposed to carry turns out not to be a shock at all."
The campaign, part 1
"From a battle set in the midst of a skyscraper-toppling geological event in Tehran to a mad dash through a stunningly recreated Paris en route to thwarting a nuclear explosion, there is no shortage of visual or psychological thrills," writes Chad Sapieha of the Globe and Mail, in Canada. "The globe-trotting narrative, which, similar to last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops, is presented as a series of flashbacks from the perspective of an American soldier under interrogation, takes us on terrifyingly realistic tank runs, taut sniper missions, and even a ride as a gunner in a jet in a truly marvelous sequence in which the player must frantically spin his or her avatar's head left and right to track tailing MiGs through the cockpit window while the pilot performs dizzying barrel rolls, dives, and steep climbs."
The campaign, part 2
It's a shame," writes Martin Gaston of Videogamer.com, "that DICE's concentrated attempt at storytelling – a 12-level single-player campaign – falls completely flat, demanding a poignancy and emotional engagement it simply does nothing to earn. It's a bolt-on campaign so obsessed with military maneuvers that you spend more time watching your marines preen and posture than actually fight in an engaging setup, with your comrades masking loading screens by barking their orders before kicking down doors. The attention to detail is nothing short of magnificent, but it's a real shame to see the player's role marginalized because of it."
The campaign, part 3
"Battlefield 3's campaign isn't just a straight line, it's tactically linear," writes Arthur Gies of Joystiq. "Firefights almost always unfold the same way. This is partly due to enemy AI that often seems stuck to a six foot leash from where they initially appear, but it goes deeper than that. For all the talk of destruction and immersion, Battlefield 3's campaign is a step backward from the manic calamity of Bad Company 2. There's no more blowing holes through walls to make an alternate route. Environmental destruction is cosmetic or scripted."
The campaign is "a nice distraction, but what fans are really throwing down their $60 for is the multiplayer, which manages to marry modern FPS tropes (like the progressive unlocking of weapons and abilities) with the massive mixed-arms battles of previous Battlefield games," writes Ryan Winterhalter of 1UP.com. "Most maps are populated with an amazing assortment of helicopters, tanks, mobile anti-aircraft guns, and jets."
The multiplayer, part 2
"Nine maps are supplied on the disc, with almost all of them offering the wide, multi-faceted environments the Battlefield series has become famous for," writes Gaston of Videogamer.com. "Like the best multiplayer games," he adds, "Battlefield 3 sets a stage for you to create your own personal stories. You'll remember that time on Caspian Border when you and a friend accidentally stumbled onto a tank while driving a buggy, and won, or that bit when the squad got lucky and managed to gun down half the enemy team as they base jumped off Damavand Peak, and these individual stories will live on for months and years in conversations down the pub or when spending lazy weekend afternoons on message boards."
"There are only six co-op stages though (compared to 23 in Modern Warfare 2) and they're only playable online, via a clumsy lobby system, not locally," writes Dan Whitehead of EuroGamer. "They're also heavily scripted, with enemies appearing in the same spots at the same points in every playthrough. That's not to say they don't have appeal, though. For one thing, vehicles get a look in during some co-op play, which gives them their own flavor. The second of the missions is helicopter-based, for example, with one player piloting and the other manning the guns as you provide air support to two marine units on the ground. When it works, it's fantastically good fun. When it doesn't, it's infuriating."
The last word
"Electronic Arts has, if not explicitly then at least implicitly, suggested that Battlefield 3 would surpass Call of Duty to become the world’s pre-eminent military shooter," notes Sapieha of the Globe and Mail. "I don’t think that will happen. It’s online play is certainly a match for Activision’s powerhouse franchise, and its distinct flavour will likely earn the game plenty of converts. However, its middling campaign keeps it from offering the kind of full package for which Call of Duty games are renowned."