Battlefield 3 (PC)
For months now anticipation has been building amongst first person shooter fanatics as the release of this year's two main military based games approached. Just two weeks apart Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 are being launched and it is fair to say that the proximity of the launches has had at least one of the developers scrambling to get their game out first. The recent multiplayer beta for Battlefield 3 as an example was far from the finished product that many would have expected at that stage in development with flying tanks and bugs galore yet the release date did not move.
A beta with issues doesn't make for a bad game though... but it can do more harm than good. Just as reviewers can pick up on tell-tale signs that a game may be being protected by the PR teams... we can tell you as an example that Battlefield 3 joins a rather short list of key games this year where the mainstream press in this country were not given samples to allow review publication before release day... even hardware manufacturers who were keen to get the game into the hands of tech press for performance rather than gameplay evaluations were given the cold shoulder on their requests.
Then of course there is the infamous Scandinavian PR blunder from last week where a questionnaire was sent out to gaming journalists that seemed tailored to hand pick reviewers who might be more positive, or at least open, to the Battlefield franchise than Modern Warfare.
The strange thing about it all though is that we live in an online world where people can easily go and find a review from another region and forums with multi-national visitors can spread the word about game experiences instantly.
Maybe it is a sign of the times, a reflection of the economic climate that we live in, that even a publisher like EA wants to protect every single sale it can. The question is, now that Battlefield 3 is out across the globe, was the strict PR campaign even needed? Does the game deliver? Or were EA right to lock down coverage as much as possible to maximise first day sales in each region?
There are three main gameplay styles to Battlefield 3 and each will have its share of gamers who attack the area first. Many of us will be drawn to the campaign mode where we play through a storyline in the form of missions/flashbacks as our main character Blackburn recounts his experiences from the past few months. Our main gameplay in these missions is based around squad and solo based combat as we work our way through objectives to an end goal. The standard mechanic of mouse to look, WASD to move etc is present here, as are the usual reload and switch weapons features and of course we shoot with left button, zoom in with right.
Throughout the levels we are able to step into vehicles to complete objectives, for example taking control of a large gun mounted on the back of a truck to deal out more damage than is possible with a hand held weapon. Our character also often gets larger weapons such as mortar or rocket launcher to deal with and the main gameplay is broken up with other styles of mission such as on-rails air combat and bombing runs.
Those looking for a bit more of a social experience can go for Co-Op where we play through a selection of alternate missions (including air and ground) with a group of human players. These can be friends or EA offer a matchmaking function which gets us into the action with others looking to play the same map.
Finally there is one of the games key aspects, online team based multi-player. In this mode we get all of the classic eSports based gameplay built on a new selection of maps and of course the Frostbite 2 engine. Servers can hold up to 64 players and the levels are based around Conquest, Rush and Deathmatch modes.
Graphics and Audio
Anyone who has seen the Battlefield 3 trailer will know that DICE have gone for a very cinematic feel with the latest game, at least in the campaign mode, and on the whole the game looks very impressive. A lot of work has clearly been done on the realism of close up objects such as rock and cloth and clearly the graphics guys have had a lot of fun playing with the lighting effects in the engine.
By this point in the franchise it comes as no surprise that the majority of the audio works well, we get plenty of meaty explosions and well recreated gunfire. The voiceovers are all clear too and on the whole the voice acting decent. Though some dialogue, specifically in the interrogation cut-scenes, does feel a little forced.
So, EA made the decision quite a while ago that Origin would be used to push the delivery of Battlefield 3. Therefore it is only fair we start our user experience section with a note of our experiences here and overall they were not great.
Steam has set a pretty high benchmark for online delivery and Valve now have their launch process, pre-loads and overall stability well in hand, EA however still have some way to go as the service crashed, gave us random errors that we were offline (which wasn't the case) and generally failed to cope with the first period after the game was unlocked.
Once past these initial blips things move away from what most people would expect and we are taken to a browser based game manager. From this page in our browser, and through a plugin, we get the game launcher. This launcher called Battlelog controls our access to multiplayer, co-op and campaign as well as outlining our stats and acting as a game matchmaking service with friend functionality.
Moving to our experiences with the campaign element of Battlefield 3 we are happy to report that EA and DICE have delivered a solid first person shooter. The action is well paced for the majority of the game and the difficulty level pretty much spot on although some AI isn't great. Standard controls allow us to pick up and play without much thought and some of the key action sections are visually stunning. That said there are a number of niggling issues in campaign mode with many of them related to the overall polish the game has.
There are areas of the game which don't live up to the graphics quality of the close up textures, buildings in the middle distance for example can look bland and on occasion the filling in of details is noticeable as the game drops in detail from its cache. Additionally although the game supports surround/Eyefinity mode there is still some tweaking that should have been done, for example bringing in on-screen dialogues to the middle screen rather than have them display on the bottom right where we can miss them.
More serious though are issues such as the simplifying of some sections where we have to do things like tap space repeatedly to perform an action. The on-rails sections are also not as well executed as the main gameplay, taking the flight based mission as an example we spend the majority of the dogfight performing single key presses with no control over the plane itself. Realism of a gunner maybe but having played Ace Combat Assault Horizon recently the Battlefield 3 air combat doesn't even come close to the same quality.
We were also slightly disappointed with how limiting some of the gameplay was. Clearly in an FPS it is rare to have an open world to explore and generally we spend our time following a chosen path but Battlefield 3 tends to limit too much. Get involved in an action set piece with the enemy and want to do something interesting like try to flank them or reposition ourselves and quickly the screen begins to dim and a timer tells us to get back into the battle area, or at least what DICE feel the battle area should be. This means that in some battles we are very much limited to a very compact play area which just doesn't feel right.
Moving to the online experience we found the quick match functionality wasn't the best in the world, taking an age to find a match but looking specifically through the server browser worked absolutely fine. It took seconds to connect to busy servers and gameplay was responsive and fun. There will however be a period of adjustment for the game as DICE fine tune the balance and work out bugs that are found by the massive influx of players.
Will it take away from Call of Duty's eSports existing audience? Probably not (though the new Modern Warfare may not be able to do that either) as Battlefield 3 doesn't offer anything revolutionary and that may be the key finding from our time with the game...
Yes Battlefield 3 is good and yes we recommend buying it but it isn't the epic FPS that many hoped for. It is a solid war game which for the most part looks and sounds great. It doesn't excel though and someone in DICE should have realised that sections such as the aircraft mission were not working well enough. Essentially Battlefield 3 would have very much benefited from some extra development time to expand on the campaign experience and flexibility. 85%