“Fuck you Cole!” The moment I said those words was the moment I realised that I was actually involved in the campaign mode of Battlefield 3. I hadn’t been expecting to enjoy the singleplayer story mode at all, in fact the opening levels had nearly managed to stop me from completing it. I had bought Battlefield 3 because of the multiplayer, which is excellent, but the singleplayer ended up surprising me by getting me involved. That isn’t to say singleplayer is all that good.
Before I get into the meat of the review, I want to clear up how this is going to work. I am going to start out by talking solely about the singleplayer campaign before I get onto the multiplayer. Here we go.
Warning, spoilers are present.
The singleplayer mode in previous version of the core Battlefield franchise (not Bad Company that means) has always been a simple skirmish mode set on the multiplayer maps with a team of bots of varying difficulties. It was simple, but effective. It allowed you to get to grips with the game without embarrassing yourself online, and it showed where the focus of DICE lay, with the superb multiplayer.
Despite my “fuck you Cole” sentiment in the opening to this review, a large part of me wishes that DICE had kept with their tried and tested formula for the singleplayer aspect of Battlefield 3. It would give players a better introduction to how the game plays online than the campaign does, and it would have prevented all the needless Call of Duty baiting.
You see, the singleplayer story in Battlefield 3 is, for the most part, a rip off of what the Call of Duty series has been doing since we first saw Modern Warfare in action. It is linear, full of set pieces and doesn’t hold back from throwing you into a series of quicktime events.
The story is overblown as you would expect. Some nukes have gone missing, the Russians and Iranians are involved and your character, Sergeant Blackburn is being questioned by his own guys over his entire role in the events that led to him shooting his CO. His CO is that guy Cole by the way.
Blackburn is holed up in a room in New York with two tough agents questioning him, and you take control of the action based on his recall of events. Which is fine until you end up filling the shoes of some other characters. How did Blackburn know everything these guys did when he was, in some cases, thousands of miles away? I’m not too sure on how that is meant to work out if I am honest with you. It feels like DICE are trying to explain the multiple view points approach, but it comes across awkwardly leaving you to ask unanswerable questions.
Regardless, you soon start the game properly with some action that takes place in Iran. The first half of the game really isn’t that enjoyable to play, the action is heavily scripted with a strong emphasis on ‘shoot these men hiding behind these vehicles until we say stop’, in fact that is a recurring theme throughout the game, but fortunately the later levels manage to hide this fact with a bit more variety in the setting and pacing.
In the first mission one of your Marine buddies is wounded in an ambush, after a brief QTE you pull him out of the line of fire so the medics can get to him. Following this you hear a smattering of voice chat from your team and the medics on the status of the casualty as you provide them with covering fire. The unlucky sod is saved successfully, but you don’t feel any sense of pride in what you have done as you have barely learnt the names of your squad mates. This is a set piece which would have worked to greater effect later in the campaign once you have started to develop a kinship with your comrades.
Soon you are put in the boots of a fighter/bomber weapons chief, you aren’t able to fly your lovingly crafted jet, you are simply tasked with targeting the enemy fighter and shooting your missiles or cannon until they are destroyed. This is followed by a mission reminiscent of the haunting level in Modern Warfare where you are part of a bomber crew taking out land based units, sadly this equivalent mission in Battlefield 3 falls flat without matching any of the finesse of Infinity Ward’s title.
Combat picks up a bit when you control Russian operative Dima as he works with his two GRU partners in an attempt to stop a threatened nuclear attack in Paris. Fighting through the Paris Stock Exchange provides a welcome change of pace to the streets of Tehran, blowing up offices is quite a gratifying moment. Of course, if you have started to catch on to the comparisons with Call of Duty you won’t be surprised to know that you fail to find the nuke and you witness the mushroom cloud rise over the Parisian horizon.
I personally got the feeling throughout the campaign that I had done this all before with Modern Warfare, a game with a more refined singleplayer which hid the linear shooting gallery feeling a tad better than in Battlefield.
All is not lost though, as you get to the later stages with Blackburn, and after a fun romp in a tank, the combat picks up as you enter more open areas where you aren’t blocked in by the rubble of ruined Iranian towns and cities. It was after an intense moment in the grassy fields of Iran that I uttered my “fuck you Cole” sentiment. During the majority of Blackburn’s missions, your squad mates reveal a growing lack of respect for their commanding officer, Cole. After he ordered the squad in a suicide mission which results in the death of two of your team I uttered the expletive. Somehow, despite the overblown main story and the weak set pieces, I had been drawn into the game by the actions of one man. As such, when it came to the crunch confrontation between Blackburn and Dima, I had little hesitation in killing Cole for the greater good.
Despite being drawn in by this subplot, the singleplayer is largely forgettable with most of the same things being performed better by other titles. It does little to show off the joys of what makes a Battlefield game what it is, the massive arenas of war, the choice of weapon and vehicle. The blatant attempts at copying the Call of Duty formula are what drag the singleplayer down.
Well that and the numerous bugs. In a ground assault against a heavily armed PLR (the enemy army apparently) unit I was able to swagger on up to an enemy tank without any reaction, simply because I had approached it from the side, not the route which it was programmed to keep oversee. The other stand out bug came right at the very end in the final showdown with the big bad. Blackburn opened his eyes to see a crowd of civilians and nothing else, only the sound of the main bad guy and the firing of a pistol. Only then, just before the QTE was about to start did he jump magically into view.
But of course, if you are going to play Battlefield, then you are going to be interested in the online options.
There are two aspects to the multiplayer, first is the main online component with Rush and Conquest among others, the other is the co-op mode which I want to tackle first.
I haven’t managed to finish the co-op missions just yet, but they deserve a quick mention. They loosely follow the events of the main game with some similar settings being visited so you think ‘oh, I know that place’ with one or two being totally off the beaten track despite the mission brief linking them into the main story. They are sadly two player only, I was hoping for some four player levels for proper squad play, but you have to make do at times.
The missions themselves can be quite challenging, myself and my clan mate had to turn down the difficulty on one or two so we could progress more readily. I wouldn’t recommend playing with a stranger, or without voice comms, you really need to work together to get the mission completed successfully. They are a good way to pass the time, but they fall into the same problem as the singleplayer game of being very linear and failing to show off the true potential of Battlefield.
To see this game in all its’ glory you really need to open the server browser and get started on some Rush or Conquest. The formula which has worked all through the series is back with some tweaks from Bad Company 2 to keep things working better. The Assault class can now be a full time medic if he chooses to equip the medkit and shock paddles, taking the medic away from the Support class is a wise move as the Support chap is now your go to guy for ammo. The Engineer is repair man and anti-vehicle expert with both anti-tank rockets and Stinger missiles unlockable. Finally you have Recon, the classic sniper or battlefield scout targeting and spotting the enemy with his various tools to aid the other classes.
I have yet to see a team combine the strengths of the all the different class builds, that is partly a problem caused by the limit to 4-men in a squad and the general way in which public servers run.
I have been able to play both on random servers without any friends, and on my clan server using TeamSpeak to communicate, and I have to say that both styles of play are rewarding. Teamwork is encouraged on public servers by the squad system which allows you to spawn on any live squad member or spawn beacon, in this way you are able to return right into the middle of the action with your squad rather than facing a five minute trek across the map to find the action by spawning at the main base.
If you do opt for walking then you at least have a variety of gorgeous maps to look at on your trek, Battlefield 3 is one of the most visually impressive games I have seen, and it makes me glad I upgraded my PC recently so I could enjoy it on high settings. You won’t just be stunned by the graphics, once you get into battle the sounds are mind blowing adding an unparalleled sense of audio immersion to the game.
To witness this game at its’ best, find a server running one of the large conquest maps with 64 players (consoles are limited to 32 players max), the awesome mix of jets, choppers, tanks, transport vehicles and infantry combat is like nothing other and will keep you coming back for more. Flying high over a map knowing that there are probably half a dozen mini-battles raging beneath you as you dog fight with an enemy jet is like nothing else.
If you don’t fancy the vast expanses of Conquest or the strict linear routing of normal Rush then it would be worth trying out Squad Death Match or Squad Rush, as their name implies they follow the same basic rules as their larger cousins, but with squads. Squad Death Match sees four squads of four fighting it out for kills, while Squad Rush creates a four vs four situation with one MCOM station to attack or defend. They are great alternatives to the larger maps and game modes and I highly recommend you take a look at them to see what there is beneath the surface of the game.
Taking the singleplayer campaign by itself and Battlefield 3 is a poor game, the story can be completed in a handful of hours and adds little to the genre that we haven’t seen before. However multiplayer is where this game shines brightest, it isn’t a true sequel to Battlefield 2, but nothing will be. It is its’ own beast and easily stands out amongst the crowd. If Battlefield 3 had been released solely as a multiplayer title, I would have to think long and hard about whether it deserves a Red Mist award. As it is, with the weak singleplayer mode and co-op lacking depth I have to award it a Headshot.
Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC, 360, PS3
Platform Reviewed – PC
For more information on our scoring system, please read this post.