So, here we are at last. Respect must be given to the Bad Company sub-series, as if it wasn't for those games we probably wouldn't be looking at such a high-profile Battlefield release. But now the main franchise that PC gamers knew and loved and supported is back, and we don't mind saying that it looks better than ever. Word to the wise though: if you've particularly susceptible to all hype so far, try and clear your mind before playing this game - like a lot of things it's not perfect.
In all fairness, the single-player campaign holds it's own fairly well
There are three main modes in Battlefield 3: As far as the single-player campaign is concerned, things take a far more serious tone than the Bad Company outings. Global Terrorism, the threat of war between superpowers, twists and intrigue... dare we say it, it's typical of military shooters at the moment, and very Call of Duty-inspired. It's not terrible, don't get us wrong, but it kind of rushes to the ending and there are some odd moments that you can kind of tell are only there just so DICE can show off a bit. For example, there is a Jet level early on that has a very tenuous link to the main story line. Neither Jets nor the character used in that particular sequence show up again in the single player. It's very representative of how the campaign tries too hard sometimes, and in all honesty is a bit of a rip-off of COD's AC-130 missions.
But if we're being honest, you only every play Battlefield for the multiplayer anyway. That's where it started, that's where it excels, and that's what everyone enjoys most. DICE and EA can try all they want to craft a decent single-player (and they made a decent enough attempt this time around), but we know plenty of people who never finished or never touched Bad Company 2's single player, and we imagine it'll be the same here. The campaign clocks at about 5 - 7 hours depending on difficulty and how stuck you get at the various choke points dotted throughout the story.
Don't forget there is also the co-op mode, and this mode is actually pretty interesting. There was a real danger it would just be something else DICE had kind of copied from Call of Duty - and the level we tested early on indicated as such, but that is thankfully not the case (and a great poster child for not judging things until the final product is out). There are only a handful of missions, and you unlock them as you go, but each one is its own little mini scenario, either based on snippets of maps from the single-player, or their own environment. In one, you both control the same attack helicopter (one flies, one shoots) as you support a team on the ground. On the other, you have to hold a base for a as long as possible until you're ready to evac. The differing scenarios and the unique challenges each one present do make these worth playing, although the incentives to keep playing them aren't quite there - even though you can unlock weapons through playing co-op, the points thresholds are so high that you might as well just go back to multiplayer.
We love the authenticity of this level, but it really has no place in the single-player narrative. Would have made an interesting co-op scenario, we think...
The real magic is in multiplayer - and that point can't be stressed enough. It's a shame the recent open beta was so... well, rubbish (old code and limited options), as it really doesn't do it justice. New to the series is the inclusion of a Team Deathmatch mode, which is alright but not really that fun - and spawning patterns are a bit weird as well. As always, Conquest and Rush is where the real fun lies. There are nine multiplayer maps that ship with the game at launch, and depending on what mode you play dictates what the maps end up like. Some mode/map combinations are better than others - for instance, the Caspian Border map is really good on Conquest, as is Operation Firestorm. Kharg Island and Damavand Peak are the best Rush maps we've seen, and year the Conquest variant of Kharg island is actually pretty bland by comparison.
Just in case you didn't know yet, classes have been changed up a bit - the Medic and Assault class has been merged, and a new 'Support' class has now taken the medic's place. We're honestly not sure whether this change is a good or bad thing yet, but it does change the dynamic of the team. There are more variety of vehicles, and the new jets - whilst incredibly hard to master - are as fun as you'd expect them to be. You also seem to be able to get more points for things than you could in the original game, so levelling shouldn't be too much of a grind anymore at the early stages.
Sadly, Battlefield 3 is only capable of being the game it should be on a decent PC. As good as it is on the console (looks pretty good for a console game, and is technically pretty stable) - it is still a shadow of it's true self. We don't know if DICE actually favoured the PC as a platform over the consoles, but we feel they did try their best. Sadly, the ageing console hardware naturally limits what is possible. DICE's Frostbite 2.0 tech is potentially amazing, but it's well beyond Microsoft and Sony at this point. We will follow up with a separate PC review as soon as we can.
Destruction is still there, and still great, although depending on the map some buildings won't be susceptible to total destruction...
BATTLEFIELD 3 VERDICT
There is one last thing that, due to words spoken and gauntlets thrown, everyone’s going to want to know: who’s won the war of the FPS this year. Whilst Battlefield 3 is an incredibly strong contender, it’s a little bit rough around the edges, and some facets of its make-up may not be able to stand against the competition. Call of Duty does do what it does extremely well, it has to be said. But at the end of the day, they both kind of cater to different crowds anyway. If you’re looking for a highly engaging, team-focused multiplayer experience with all the weapons, gizmos and vehicles you could need, then there is no game better than Battlefield 3 - it is the original games brought back with a vengeance, and it’s better than ever. Just don’t expect it to kick ass on some of the other stuff.
TOP GAME MOMENT
It’s a toss up between parachuting down the side of a mountain on Damavand Peak, or making an amphibious assault on Kharg Island.