Game Review: Battlefield 3

By Angus Deacon

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Battlefield 3 features stunning high-definition graphics - but chews up hard drive space. Photo / Supplied
Battlefield 3 features stunning high-definition graphics - but chews up hard drive space. Photo / Supplied

This is my rifle, this is my gun. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery and, if this is the case, then developers Infinity Ward must be loving. To be fair, constant references to this game being the 'i>Call of Duty killer' or 'the end of Modern Warfare's reign' are all extraneous.

Despite the rivalry between EA and Activision over the years, Battlefield 3 is only like its competition in the fact that they both have guns. And they're both set in modern-day military combat. And they both rely heavily on multiplayer gameplay. But ultimately, it's like comparing oranges with satsumas. Can't we enjoy a healthy serving of both these citrusy treats and make a fruit smoothie?

Battlefield 3 is worth all the hoopla we've been experiencing over the last few months. But lets get one thing straight: anyone looking to buy this game for a rip-roaring single-player campaign will be disappointed. Battlefield 3 is definitely a game to be shared with other fellow humans - whether you are covering their backs or shooting them in the face.

It's still a good place to start, though, and the campaign story revolves around disgraced Staff Sergeant Henry 'Black' Blackburn - a member of the United States Marines who is caught up in an International terrorist plot.

From here, the list of expected military clichés kick in; Middle Eastern turmoil, weapons of mass destruction, walking away from explosions in slow-motion, and a sense of patriotism that would make even Tom Clancy wince. Amazingly, though, despite all of the over-the-top Hollywood heroics, Battlefield 3 still feels like a terrifyingly real simulation of modern day warfare.

This is probably thanks to the monumental level of detail that the Frostbite 2 engine manages to spew into every nook and cranny of the game. Battlefield 3 is a stunning game to behold, whether it's the dusty dilapidated streets of Sulaymaniyah or soaring through the bogey-ridden skies in a Super Hornet.

Even the minor details, like tiny scratches on metal surfaces, Islamic propaganda on walls, and blood splatter on your visor are like candy for your eyes. The lighting and particle effects are some of the best I've ever seen in a videogame as well. You'll be able to taste the sand on your tongue and flinch as bullets whistle past your ears as you scurry for cover.

Battlefield 3 truly encapsulates that white-knuckle, 'death is all around me and I want to get out' atmosphere that is reminiscent of Evan Wright's brilliant Generation Kill chronicles.

The voice-acting throughout is phenomenal, and adds a whole new dimension to the human casualty side of urban warfare. The writers have certainly dropped their share of F-bombs into the mix too, but considering there are seven shades of painful death waiting around every corner, a few obscenities seem pretty appropriate. Not to mention realistic. As you scurry for cover from a tank bearing down on you, you'll probably be dropping more than a few F-bombs yourself.

The soundtrack plays its part as well, slowly building in the background during moments of high tension before dropping away when you have your balls to the wall and are whispering prayers.

The campaign mode is packed with non-stop action, including some short but memorable vehicle missions. Throughout the story, you'll come across other characters as well - including tank operator Corporal Miller and aircraft weapon's specialist Lieutenant Hawkins, both of which offer a different gameplay experience.

Overall the single-player is far from terrible. But it is brief, clocking in at around six hours, and it suffers from some uninspired plot development and even worse AI. It all feels rigid and far too controlling when compared to the action that can be found online.

Although cinematic and worth the ride, little quirks like the numerous quick-time events, occasional bugs (I was swimming through air in a car-park at one point), and invisible 'out of bounds' restrictions mar the experience. It does, however, set you up beautifully for the open-ended, seat of your pants madness awaiting you in the multiplayer.

This is for fighting and this is for fun.

The multiplayer in Battlefield 3 is, without a doubt, the highlight of the game. In fact, it could be the highlight of the year. Considering DICE are behind it, this shouldn't come as a surprise. This is the Swedish team of developers who cut their teeth on numerous Battlefield, Bad Company, and Medal of Honor titles over the years.

Contrasting the disappointingly linear and box-like areas seen in the campaign mode, the maps in multiplayer are vast and cleverly designed. They range from intricate forest hills through to congested subway tunnels, where strategic thought before action is vital to not getting your head blown off.

Quite often you'll find yourself prone near a big rock just scoping out the landscape for any signs of lens flare or movement before taking your next move. Other times you'll be running around screaming like a headless chicken as your team-mates get slaughtered all around you. The pace is relentless.

Also, what was once the bane of this genre - statue-esque snipers picking people off from a gazillion miles away - faces a more realistic challenge as nearby gunfire and realistic lighting can now play havoc on a perfect headshot.

The level of customisation in Battlefield 3 is impressive and offers flexible online matches to suit nearly any audience. Even the firearm you're carrying around can have your own personal stamp of 'you' all over it.

There are over fifty different weapons in Battlefield 3 and each has three customisation slots of barrel, grip and optics accessories. Gun enthusiasts will be able to kit out a 4X scope and heavy barrel for long-range combat, or add a suppressor and holographic sight for close quarter combat.

Vehicles are a highlight for online play and they have been tweaked dramatically, making them more accessible while keeping the rewards for mastering their controls intact. For example, fighter jets make a return from Battlefield 2 and are the quickest way to traverse a map, while raining down a furious vengeance on your ant-like enemies below.

You can expect a few hilarious results online, though, as people still come to grips with the control schemes for each vehicle. Most people I saw in the skies were all instant kamikaze experts, often finding a nice piece of quiet ground to plummet into for no apparent reason. Even trickier to master are the helicopters. There are more like flying coffins the first time you hop in.

On the ground, things are a bit safer in the driver's seats of tanks, APCs, and transport vehicles - including hum-vees and buggies. I encountered nearly twenty different types of vehicle in my relatively short-time online, including boats, grenade launching amphibious tanks, and even five different types of helicopter.

Those looking for online supremacy will soon become masters of them all in order to give them, and their team, that extra edge out on the field. You can also spawn directly into available vehicles now, allowing you to plough straight into the frontline with a demented grin on your face.

Call of what now?

Thanks to a cleverly balanced score system, even those new to the intense world of online shooters can still do well on the leaderboards. Running around healing fallen soliders, resupplying ammo to a camped out sniper, and repairing burning vehicles all play a vital part in the game.

With an equal priority to the four classes of Soldier, Engineer, Assault, and Recon, teamwork is essential in nearly every match. Players will even get rewarded for assisted kills, such as laying down covering fire on a sniper while another player takes them out. Battlefield 3, for all of its realism and scope, is still a highly accessible game across just about every skill level.

The multiplayer modes will be instantly familiar to Battlefield players of past. They include the classic 12 vs. 12 Team Deathmatch (vehicles included); Squad Deathmatch where 4 squads of 4 all go against each other for most kills; Rush which is a free-for-all deathmatch but with map based objectives and Squad Rush, which is the same but with 4 teams of 4; and finally Conquest mode which features the largest maps, with plenty of vehicles where two teams engage in an epic battle for control over bases.

Console owners should note that due to technological constraints, the maximum number of players in one match is only 24 compared to a whopping 64 players for PC owners. Even in massive Conquest maps though, 24 players all doing their 'thang' is quite a sight.

Continuing with the technical stuff, don't be alarmed when you open up Battlefield 3 to discover two game disks. Because of the limited storage space on Xbox 360 media, one disk offers you an optional HD install that will use up a relatively hefty 1.5 GB on your hard-drive.

This shouldn't be a problem to new console owners, but for those with older Xboxes who can't install it, the graphics take a massive hit. In fact, you'd be wondering what drugs I was taking when raving about the visuals earlier in my review. If you don't have enough hard-drive space for the HD goodness, I wouldn't bother playing this game.

Conclusion

Battlefield 3 has arrived and - despite all of the hype - I'm not disappointed. Although the campaign mode is flatter than an anorexic stingray, the multiplayer is easily worth the price of admission alone.

It's also one of the most phenomenal looking games you'll have the pleasure of playing this year. Granted, the palette is made up from a lot of yellows, browns, greys and a few blobs of blue - but it's like the Messiah himself has crafted these colours together in a symphony of awesome.

I know what a lot of you are thinking and it starts with 'Call' and ends with 'Duty' but trust me, you'll want to play this game.

Battlefield 3
Reviewed on Xbox 360 (also available on PS3, PC)

4.5/5

nzgamer.com

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