EA's marketing efforts have made absolutely no qualms about who they consider their direct competition. They've been going after Activision and the Modern Warfare brand since day one. Most of their recent trailers and ads have featured the tag, "Above and beyond the call."
So, what I'm here to talk to you about today is whether or not the single player portion of Battlefield 3 lives up to the hype of the rest of the package. We are doing a full review of the game, but we received our Xbox 360 version the night before launch. Therefore, we've decided to spend around a week putting the multiplayer element of this experience through its paces before committing to a final score.
You'll be able to find our multiplayer review and overall score early next week.
Laying our cards down on the table early, we did not like the single player campaign in Battlefield 3. The game rode in on a glorious white horse of hope, and the story mode it delivered absolutely squandered every ounce of hype trailers brought it.
Why so harsh?
Let's start with the plot itself. DICE seems to have made it their ambition to borrow from other war games on the market to make this property. There's a Russian terrorist plot against America (and the free world) lead by one man that's made into the single enemy worth hunting. That should sound familiar (Modern Warfare). The plot is framed through an interrogation as government officers berate one G.I. in order to figure out exactly where and what is going down in relation to this new terrorist plot (Black Ops).
That doesn't mean the game arrives without its own strong set pieces and turning points. I won't give away the story too much here, but there are a few moments towards the center of the story that will have you cringing in anger…in a good way. It's towards the story's antagonist, and it works.
It's too bad that the end of the campaign feels like a massive moment missed. The pinnacle happens in a big, grand stage. You've worked the entire story to this single moment and are presented with an opportunity for DICE to open up and blow your mind with their new Frostbite 2 engine…but they don't. It's a quick-time event. And, despite the grand stage itself, you don't actually control your character for the last several minutes, and climax, of the experience. You're brought to the end and the game holds your hand the whole way.
Which leads me to my first complaint apart from the story. Battlefield 3 manages to both bore through hand-holding and enrage through horribly skewed difficulty all at once.
On the hand-holding side, you'll spend most of the game following a leader. He'll tell you where to move, how to move and when to move. You're rarely ever presented with an opportunity to get creative and do things your own way. Instead, you'll be lead to specific corridors and moments as the game plays around you.
It's just that the way it plays is completely unfair. Enemies will concentrate all their fire on you, at least on normal difficulty and hard, and they'll be able to shoot you through seemingly impossible amounts of cover. Get ready to die… a lot. I had this same experience with Bad Company 2, for the record.
Enemy AI has your opponents tethered to specific locations, so don't expect to ever be outmaneuvered or flanked at any time unless the moment is scripted. That type of linear gameplay contributes to the boredom pile.
While reviewing this game, a lot of folks told me to "just wait until you get to the jet sequence." It was supposed to blow me away. Admittedly, at the onset, it does. Even on the Xbox 360, the graphics were gorgeous in this moment (as they are throughout most of the game). You get onto the deck of a ship, get into your aircraft and take off (also a quick time event). Taking off is incredible.
But then it dawns on you… you don't fly the plane. You sit in the cockpit, launch flares when told to do so and paint enemies with targets. You'll basically use a cursor to aim at other planes in order to bring them down. Despite the fact that you can fly jets in the multiplayer side of the game, the single player side is a guided point-and-shoot mission.
And that, in effect, is the core of the problems I've had with the campaign component of Battlefield 3. It feels like a series of missed opportunities that are plagued by boring design decisions and awkward difficulty ramping.
If you buy games for their single player elements, here's a tip: this is a rental, at best. It does nothing to reinvent the shooter category, it treads over familiar ground and it does so with less attention to fun and more attention to quick-time events.
That said, the multiplayer, so far, is god damn amazing. Really, I'm prepared to lavish love on this beast next week once I gather enough playtime to fall in love with the MP properly. Hopefully it remains as good as it is now.