Although it probably won’t happen until everyone has decided which game places higher on their own personal ‘Best of 2011′ list, once this media circus has conclusively died down, the world can reflect upon the one aspect of the Battlefield 3 Vs Modern Warfare 3 commotion that’s been inexplicably ignored up until now: for all of their obvious similarities, Battlefield and Call of Duty are completely different. To non-gamers and casual players they’re little more than exasperating carbon copies of each other; but to hardcore gamers it’s like comparing Dad’s Army to Saving Private Ryan. They’ve always been largely incomparable experiences, and despite the fact that Battlefield 3 self-consciously (and disappointingly) apes Call of Duty far more than its predecessors ever felt the need to, the overall package itself is utterly, utterly formidable.
The primary goal of any contemporary first person shooter – in the wake of the first Modern Warfare, especially – is to successfully disguise its inherently repetitive nature by using blockbuster action set-pieces to break everything up. Some games do this far better than others, and Battlefield 3’s campaign simply doesn’t make the top tier. When you compare it to the first Bad Company’s single player component – which was an elementary slog between identikit battles, leavened by some bafflingly inappropriate slapstick humour – it’s a commendable quantum leap, but its consistent lack of freshness is occasionally stultifying. DICE are too prodigiously talented for it to be terrible, but the overbearing image that’s projected is of a small, glum-faced team sitting in their own designated quarters, glancing wistfully every few moments at the multiplayer party that’s happening next door.
So broadly speaking Battlefield 3’s campaign is comparable to the one found in THQ’s somewhat underrated Homefront; swift, loud and definitely worth blasting through at least once, but destined to be discarded forever once that multiplayer has been discovered. There are some pronounced highlights – such as the desert-set tank turkey shoot and the covert sniper assault by night – but those aside it never really deviates too much from the familiar FPS template. That said, the campaign (as well as the six brief co-operative missions) should really be regarded as additional extras anyway, and if it wasn’t for the public Modern Warfare 3 face-off, that is precisely how everyone would have been happy to receive them. Battlefield is all about the multiplayer in the same way that DVDs are all about the main feature; the reason that it’s bought in the first place.
Watching DICE work in their field of excellence is like watching any great artist or craftsman operating in their element: simply breathtaking. Whatever their nebulous recipe for success is, DICE have not only adhered to it once again but reminded us all just how exceptional they really are at what they do. Battlefield 3’s multiplayer renders countless young pretenders impotent by comparison. Aside from the expected wealth of catnip-like ribbons and unlocks, the studio have seemingly traversed a tightrope; weaving in some intricate new gameplay dynamics, and creating a set of nine new maps that all feel like instant classics. The changes are shrewd but almost clandestine, with the thrilling, unbroken Battlefield experience remaining exactly as the fans wanted it.
There are some new tools for you to use during infantry battles. Tactical flashlights can blind enemies for a short spell, sniper beams alert you to when you’re being targeted, you can deny revives if you’re low on ammo or want to re-evaluate your situation from a safe vantage point and you now have the ability to go prone… and it’s almost comical to observe how tightly balanced these aspects are. If you repeatedly encounter a problem on the field you probably have a viable solution sitting in your arsenal already, and learning which tactics and tools work in which situation remains one of the game’s most compelling pleasures. Battlefield 3 adapts to almost all styles of play, but lone wolves (so well catered for by COD) are, as ever, left out in the cold. These bouts are still all about relentless coordination and planning, but a surprisingly astute Team Deathmatch mode is a smart way of getting the neophytes up to speed.
The ever-present stream of apprehensive complaints about the presumed quality of the console ports – which was inflamed by the multitude of people who didn’t seem to understand what a gameplay beta actually was – has, happily, turned out to be nothing more than paranoid hot air. Visually the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game may not beggar belief like the PC one does, but for the most part they’re still richer than almost everything that isn’t id Software’s awe-inspiring Rage. But even if this wasn’t the case, sloppy aesthetics would be ridiculously easy to forgive, because the experience of playing Battlefield 3 online simply cannot be matched. For all of the mild shortcomings of the rest of the package, the multiplayer is quite indescribably rounded and complete, and it single-handedly ushers Battlefield 3 into contention for Game of the Year status. And if you’re a long-term fan, expect the earth to move.
Battlefield 3 is due for release on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC on Friday, October 28th 2011.
Watch the Battlefield 3 launch trailer below: