A sumptuous feast for the eyes and unparalleled destruction are the promises of a team who have been tapping into the psyche of hardcore gamers for years. DICE know what their fans want, but they've also got deeper ambitions. As this generation of consoles begins to wind down, all eyes are on the big hitters to deliver memorable titles that will leave a lasting impression. Battlefield 3 is also an opportunity for EA to put their money where their mouth is and directly compete with Call of Duty. You have to admire their gusto, and in the words of John Riccitiello, "Battlefield 3 is designed to take that game down... We think we've got the better product."
Unfortunately, these PR spats often come across as arrogant rather than playful bantering, and as an all round effort, Battlefield 3 is lacking. The single player campaign has never been a defining feature of this franchise, and although it's leaps and bounds ahead of Bad Company 2's story mode, it remains soul crushingly average. For every sequence where the pacing is pitch perfect and the action relentless, there are parts that are just plain boring. The first jet mission relegates you to the co-pilot seat for an extended "aim here, press fire, repeat" sequence that quickly outstays its welcome. Mission objectives rarely amount to anything more than follow this person and shoot these people.
Why would you drive towards an explosion?
The story doesn't help either. The flashback cutscenes might look fantastic, but the dialogue is woefully generic. Infact, that sums up the entire solo side of this game quite nicely. Presentation wise, Battlefield 3 is pretty great, even on consoles. Animation is superb, and texture detail is stupendous. But there's absolutely nothing unique about the content of the single player. It's playable, but it definitely doesn't justify the pre release hype and is ultimately a disappointment.
Thankfully, multiplayer saves the day. At least, when it's working. I'm reviewing the game post release (which includes the day one patch) and it's only now that things have finally begun to settle down. The servers have been all over the place for days, with matchmaking issues, frequent disconnections, and an almost broken squad system doing little to convince on the fence COD fans that this is where they should be spending their online hours. The beta was supposed to nullify these problems for launch, and the old excuse of "demand outstripped even our best expectations" simply doesn't cut it anymore.
It's not all doom and gloom. Things are getting better, and the game will continue to improve in the weeks and months to come. When it's firing on all cylinders, there isn't much that can match the intensity and sheer fun of Conquest. The maps on offer are simply wonderful, with Seine Crossing, Kharg Island, and Operation Firestorm being the best of the bunch. There's nothing quite like digging in to a position with a team of willing squad mates and defending an objective from an all sides onslaught. And the new assist bonuses for infantry suppression and disabling vehicles heightens the emphasis on teamwork even further. This is truly a game to play with friends, and if you can assemble a supportive and capable group, you'll be laughing all the way to the last objective.
Effective squads are crucial for online sucess.
There's an addictive quality to the multiplayer that extends beyond the gameplay. Re-jigged classes eliminate a lot of the prior balancing issues, and there's plenty of kit and equipment to unlock. Torches, laser sights, and bipods are the most interesting new additions, and unlocking them all will take some time. DICE have built this game to last, and they're clearly in it for the long haul. As long as new maps keep coming, and there's a healthy dose of patches and server side love, the game will thrive.
However, the bottom line is that Battlefield 3, as of right now, is a three star experience. The single player simply isn't good enough, and although co-op improves things a little, it's an isolated aspect of the game. Multiplayer should be fantastic, but right now, it's an unstable guessing game. The most frustrating thing of all is that with time, community feedback, and some major adjustments, it could be sublime. The foundations are there, and now it's up to DICE to build upon what they've achieved so far.