Battlefield 3 Xbox 360 and PS3
27th Oct 2011 | 08:45
First, let's get the elephants out of the room. Elephant one: Battlefield 3 isn't as handsome on console as it is on high-end PC. It's a great looking game, but it doesn't straddle the gap between this and the next generation of consoles.
Elephant two: the single-player campaign - always a weak spot - is damn good, but it can't hold a candle to the sublime multiplayer. Elephant three: it's a better game than Modern Warfare. Well, actually...
Problem is, although Battlefield 3 ticks all the right boxes, it's an unbalanced package, excelling in some areas and lagging behind in others. No question, it's a technical showcase but this winter has also seen Uncharted 3 (which does spectacle better) Batman Arkham City (which does fine detail better) and Skyrim (which does epic scale better).
It outshines CoD's creaky engine - especially when it comes to animations and setpieces - but we can't shake the feeling that the extraordinary Frostbite 2 tech the game has been built on has been squeezed uncomfortably onto current console hardware. And while DICE have done a great job, we can't help glancing across at the PC version with envy and wondering what might come in the future. It's a strange feeling, discovering solid gold and wishing you'd struck platinum.
One thing that definitely feels genre-leading is the multiplayer. If you're confident venturing online (and to clarify, it feels much more polished and traditionally Battlefield than the recent open beta) this game is essential. We've said it before of Battlefield games, but the team at DICE know how to create compelling, perfectly paced online experiences. Actually, scratch that - DICE know how to craft the tools and environments, which can be transformed into near-perfect multiplayer.
Battlefield 3 is another masterclass in giving power to the online player while staving off anarchy. Reactions not so good? There's a combination of kit and tactics that will compensate for your slower trigger finger. Can't do vehicles? There's an anti-vehicle set-up for you. Want to camp out with a sniper and still contribute to your team? Yes you can. In other words, there's always a role for you on the team.
However, despite being so accommodating, Battlefield 3 loses none of its online savagery. If anything, we found this game to be slightly more aggressive than Bad Company 2. That's encouraged by some of the smaller maps, such as Grand Bazaar - a finely balanced maze of dangerously open squares and twisting kill-zones, and by the wealth of kit on offer.
Even starting weapons feel lethal, whereas later unlocks like the SPAS-12 border on the overpowered. This more aggressive feel only emphasises those Battlefield moments you get during every game - like getting a triple kill before desperately defusing a Rush winning MCOM bomb seconds before it detonates, as enemies pour in and a helicopter crashes inches from your face. While you're on fire. At it's best Battlefield 3's multiplayer is utterly thrilling, and without equal.
If there's any criticism of the multiplayer it's that team deathmatch adds nothing of substance, and feels like yet another box-ticking exercise to make sure the Call of Duty converts feel comfortable.
Rush and Conquest offer the same style of action, only with added tactical punch, leaving deathmatch redundant. But if Battlefield's multiplayer is an exercise in giving players the freedom to create their own spectacle - what the marketing types love to trumpet as emergent gameplay - the single player is the polar opposite.
Look, don't touch
In single-player you're shown the toys, but told to keep your hands off. DICE are driving. This is summed up perfectly by the jet level early on in the game. It's a masterclass in atmosphere and scripted action: it walks you to your plane sitting on the runway of an aircraft carrier, takes you through pre-flight checks, flies you to the action and walks you through some thrilling dogfights, before allowing you to bomb a handful of targets on the ground below (in a homage to Modern Warfare's AC-130 mission). You're there for the ride - to line up boxes and fire off missiles. Not to fly.
That's how the majority of the campaign feels. You're kept on a tight leash, asked to follow your team mates and shoot the bad guys while they get on with the multi-disciplined, tactical fighting you'd expect to be doing yourself online.
It's a perfectly enjoyable six or so hours of combat - one that's far superior to the campaign in the Bad Company games - made deliberately easy and fun for more casual players who can't commit to multiplayer.
The plot is complex enough to justify the action's more realistic focus, and although emotionally affecting in places, it shies away from controversy. We're not asking to see all the gory details, but one particularly devastating scene - something that would change the world forever - is written off with no more than a suggestive fade-away and a few lines of dialogue in the following scene.
The campaign impresses in all, matching - and occasionally surpassing - Call of Duty in all bar originality. Is it worth picking up Battlefield 3 for the campaign alone? Depends how comfortable you feel for handing over £50 for six hours of action. Right now, with all the other big games out there vying for your attention, the answer is probably a no. However, if you've any interest in multiplayer that 'no' can be converted instantly to an overwhelming 'yes'.
You can even feel good about shelling out for BF3 if you plan on sticking to solo and coop. The two-player collaborative mode is - yet again - something of an aside, but it's another series of missions you'll enjoy playing through.
Essentially a story-driven horde mode, you play as characters loosely connected to the campaign's over-arching plot, and compete for points over 20 minutes or so of carnage. Each stage is challenging, even in regular, so completists will relish the challenge of smashing them on hard.
Taken as individual pieces, only Battlefield 3's regular multiplayer is really strong.
The co-op and story are both perfectly well executed, but lack true greatness. So, that third elephant: is Battlefield 3 really better than Call of Duty? It's a matter of personal taste, but for us Battlefield 3's incredible multiplayer edges this ahead of it's accomplished rival.