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Battlefield 3 Review

Would you trust another person enough to follow him without hesitation?

Maybe not in reality, unless you were at war and he was either your best friend or commander. But what about in a game? Would you follow someone blindly? Most of us would say no, not unless you got something really great out of it like protection and constant respawn.

Now that Battlefield 3 has finally arrived on the shelves, you can see just how loyal you really are. It contains a single-player campaign that asks you to follow blindly through a chronological series of events. This is rather tedious work and I trust very few people, usually people I know. And I thought I knew DICE. And perhaps more important: that they knew me.

For I have faithfully run around with their weapons since 1942, I was really not geared to follow a chronological, limiting campaign in which some Slavic pulls his player through a B-movie plot created with a triple-A budget. Action Man, One Man Army, the guy who saves the day. There are better alternatives, even within the same game environment.

I’m talking, of course, about the online component of BF3: The skeleton of Battlefield 3 in 2012 after it has been overcooked and the couch bloated meat of the campaign has long since collapsed off the bone in shapeless lumps that are either too sinewy to chew or too fatty to be called food.

EA and DICE defend themselves by saying that the time and focus on the campaign section of BF3 is necessary because “it gives new players a training platform to prepare to go online and play against real people.” But it is a lie, for there is nothing – nothing – that can prepare you for any of the chaos and turmoil waiting out on the servers. It alternates between a really good tactical game, sheer loneliness and the feeling of someone watching you on a crowded city bus. Memories of your session can range from agony to uplifting joy and sometimes in just feels as though your opponent was intoxicated, very few other games can supply this level of entertainment. But when it occurs, we know that someone has done something right. And Battlefield 3 online is always teasing us with the possibility of a good game – it’s just about getting it to happen.

The question of what makes BF3 a good game is whether the four classes, great level design and balance between graphics and storyline give it the edge, or whether it is the players who together give the game life through their innate combination of greed and team spirit?

Basically, it is somewhat of a hindrance in the game’s seemingly strengthened focus on kill streaks, levels, equipment,  tags, camo pattern – things that have also characterized the last game in the series, but really only relate to the individual player and contribute absolutely nothing to the community, unless you play with the community in mind. And that doesn’t happen very often on game servers.

But even though the progression itself is one of the major driving forces in the game play, and it can be called the glue that holds the game together – as an almost vulgar big dangling carrot in front of the eyes of the user – does it mean that BF3 is all bad? No, not at all. It’s just a shame that man in his weakest moments quite naturally is more inclined to selfishness over sacrifice. It is the difference between surviving or dying with the other lemmings. All I want is to improve my killstreak and get my buddy to respawn.

That’s why it becomes a cornucopia of rewards, weapons, gadgets and boosters, as DICE has equipped its latest shooter with more of the real target, rather than the tactical victory.

But let us look at the technique because although people very often just run around solo, there’s quite a nice opportunity to play tactically in the company of another. Well then. I’ve played BF3 during the week, alternately on both Xbox 360 and PC, and I’m not ashamed to say I have enjoyed myself immensely with both of them, albeit for some slightly different reasons.

And before you quit due to platform preference, perhaps I should say now that this review centres around one character who happens to be the same on both platforms. Incredibly convenient, I know. I was originally going to write two reviews, but after testing I realised that both platforms seem to be on the same level. There is basically no difference whether you sit at a PC or whether you sit on a HD console. BF3 knows its stuff online. This is where its strength lies. This is where it should be played. There is obviously a difference between most computers and consoles when it comes to screen resolution – but we are not going get into whether or not the graphics are pleasant.

The big difference in the console version and PC version is obviously the number of players limited by the hardware, which in turn limits the degree of detail.  These are the same campaigns and levels, but they have shrunk the larger distances a bit, and apparently also lowered respawn time, so it is possible to quickly get new teams on the pitch. So ultimately you have something that certainly is an attempt to simulate the density of players on the console, as there are up to 64 players are on PC.

The Xbox version gives a somewhat different experience with its maximum 24 players per lane (12 on each team) and sub-1080p graphics (even with the installation of “HD textures”), while the PC – dice’s primary platform for development – can execute the largest tracks with up to 64 players at once and if your tower can render it, it transforms the game world into the crispest HD with smoke and steam and four Polish organ grinder men in the periphery. BF3 is not much more realistic than the last game of the series, but it is more modern than BF2, and it is also partly based on Bad Company 2, which can only be a good thing. The range of weapons and equipment waiting to be unlocked is impressive.

Add to this dices’ spotless and as expected ultra-customised reproduction of weapon sounds in any environment and room size. It is pure aural illusionism and definitely one of the great joys of unlocking a new weapon. You want to own them all! The sound of the opponent’s move is also still one of the most important factors for the tactical game. Everyone storms the place, but it does slightly destroy the Ninja effect.

However, I have a few complaints. The first is aimed at Frostbite 2.0, the engine behind the game. I am sorry that DICE has found it necessary to minimize the possibility of the Destruction of stuff. There is just not the same degree of chaos and customizable stock with which you can change the battlefield during a round, as we saw in BFBC2. It’s a real shame, because it is one of BFS major strengths compared to other games in the genre.

Then we have the new flashlights mounted on a variety of weapons and infrared lines of sight. They dazzle more than they should. In fact, DICE seems to have given people this equipment as a disadvantage in that they could more easily be spotted. But it now means that your opponent is blinded by a white or red sun as soon as they look your way. The only way out of this mismatch is to squeeze the trigger in the light’s general direction or to get away in a hurry. It was certainly not the ideal way to play.

And I have personal beef with the restoration of jets from BF2. They add nothing to the game other than grief and frustration. while the air knight usually gets away with the clean slaughter and usually comes away unscathed from various attempts at anti-aircraft fire – and then causes the old classic: the soldier who empties his rifle up to the skies and as such is out of play. Here there are slightly more papier-mâché-like propeller aircraft than Battlefield 1943. The combination of extreme speed, extreme armour and extreme firepower is bad for balance, even in a modern war game like BF3, and jets especially distort the balance.

But the good overshadows the bad after all. People struggle to understand when I tell them how I both hate and adore BF3. I think that the game ends up growing on you, and I also believe that it will be difficult for this year’s Call of Duty to do better online, especially now that BF totally owned CoD in regard to modification of kits and weapons – the offline component is a slightly different matter, but who cares?

DICE has assured the people of the world that they will support Battlefield 3 for a long time – something that sounds like it will hold true for two years (when a new game in the series might see the light of day?). It hopefully means the addition of new levels and probably more material to unlock.  But if they can stay on top the game for that amount of time, is doubtful.  BF3 is, however, one of the most polished and entertaining online experiences you can expect across platforms. It is like playing with a large sandbox full of toys and like-minded children. Here you can play war as much as you want – the war from the movies that is, nothing realistic about this game.

John Wilson