Publisher: EA Games
NB. Please note that this review of the PC version only. Please refer to Matt’s review for the verdict on the console versions.
*Duh-duh Duh du-DUH DUH*
*Duh-duh Duh du-DUH DUH*
If you have attended any expo in the last 12 months, seen any of EA’s advertising, or been within a quarter of a mile of our Editor, Matt Gardner, you’ll know that bass-heavy sequence of noise quite intimately. The audio representation of the intensity DICE wanted to convey to its potential customers did its job admirably in keeping the excitement for the return to the Battlefield (3). The question is though is this; does the final product live up to the thumping bass?
There have been a lot of promises of DICE and EA delivering an experience to finally rival that other war-based shooter, and with the competition generally seeing the PC crowd as an afterthought this was the perfect chance for the Battlefield series to cement itself in some old school roots. We are, after all, currently seeing movement within the personal computer space we haven’t in a while thanks to heavyweight titles finally forcing people to update their rigs, and if any title is going to want some extra horsepower to your current setup, it’s Battlefield 3. Basically, this is a bit of a warning; if you do not meet the minimum specs (hell, if you only just about do) be prepared for a rough ride.
However, if you are in a position to run everything on maximum settings, welcome to the beautiful, beautiful carnage.
Let us very quickly get the Single Player portion of the game covered, because in the grand scheme of things (and despite what the marketing may have told you) the offline portion of the title is but a fraction of the real experience, and after playing through the campaign on Hard for six or so hours it doesn’t really capture the grand scale DICE were implying it would. I’ll give it this much though; when the set pieces are in play the action can be incredibly intense.
*Duh-duh Duh du-DUH DUH*… sorry, that happens every once in a while (both in the game and in real life.)
The plot, dealing with a worldwide terrorist threat, is basic stuff. It almost felt like the over-arching storyline was written just to link up pre-designed missions together, and nothing demonstrates this more than the mission you get to use the fighter jet. Well, I say "use", you get to ride along and aim at things. Considering you have the ability to pilot a jet in the multiplayer on the wonderful Caspian Border map, it baffles me that DICE decided to turn this portion into an on-rails aerial section that truly highlights how linear the entire experience really is. Anyway, back to my point; the mission in the jet felt more like it was put in for the sake of it, and as such I was far happier when I was back on the ground again.
The same can be said for the sections where you are in your tank. While you are able to take full control of the tank during certain parts, the periods where you are forced into MG turret duties, while better than their fighter jet equivalent, felt a little lacklustre. So it falls to the sections where you are on foot to rescue the solo experience, right? Not entirely. The restrictions placed to funnel the player down the path DICE have laid out can be frustrating at times, although playing on higher difficulty settings will have players being more concerned with just surviving an intense and challenging experience. It’s not all doom and gloom though. The sections involving open areas really capture what makes the Battlefield experience so special (except for the friendly AI, who just fall into their set position and stay there until everything is dead), and the sniper sections are some of the best I’ve played since Killzone 2.
In short; pump up the difficulty and you’ll find a short, intense experience that, while enjoyable, is sadly marred by disappointingly closed sections when it could have done much more. However, if does serve its purpose to some degree; preparing the player for the main course of the multiplayer.
When it comes to the online offerings, Battlefield 3 has got it down to a T. PC players will find community portal of Battlelog accessed through their internet browser of choice. In fact, upon loading up Battlefield 3 you are taken straight to it, giving you all the options you will possible need… well, except for one; in-game settings. I would recommend booting up the Campaign first to tweak your control and graphics settings before heading into the online fray, otherwise you will be spending the first few minutes of your first game setting things up (and probably getting kicked due to inactivity.) However, everything else is laid out extremely well, and the server browser you are given is robust in its ability to be tailored to your online gaming desires. Perhaps the best part of the server browser is how everything is updated in real-time when you click on it, allowing you avoid wasting your time trying to connect to a full server.
While a large portion of the multiplayer will be familiar to anyone who has played any of the previous online offerings, two new aspects are worth pointing out. Team and Squad Deathmatch has been added to the available modes, and while it gives a welcome change to the usual objective-based gameplay, the real talking point of the online additions is the massive 64-player servers. These large scale encounters provide some of the best online FPS action I have come across in a long time. Providing you are playing with those who understand the importance of teamwork (yeah, I’m looking at you, Rambo-wannabe) Battlefield can provide some fantastic firefights, especially in conquest mode when both sides are mere metres away from a flag.
The mention of Rambo-esque antics does bring me to what I consider an important point; if you are looking for a better or similar experience than Call of Duty, do not be surprised if you are incredibly disappointed by Battlefield 3. It’s a slower affair, both online and offline, and will force you to play as such. While EA’s advertising and hype machine may well tell you otherwise, this is still a very different experience that requires patience to truly appreciate, and if you are looking for a fast-paced, action-packed warzone you may want to look elsewhere.
Right, back to talking about the multiplayer…
What Battlelog provides for PC players is something I haven’t seen in a while; a proper sense of online community. By this I mean that the ability to rent servers, add favourites, get to know new friends (and foes) in a manner that is so easy and available at your fingertips as soon as you load it up, and as someone who used to play PC FPS's in organised leagues and communities back in the day I think it's fantastic. In fact, a good friend of mine has got a 64 player server with a steady stream of regulars already, and this to me is what Battlefield 3 does best.
And now onto the final topic of the day; Performance. In the interest of research (and because we’re a consumer-based website after all) I sampled DICE’s latest efforts on two machines. One is a top of the range build that can handle anything; it’s a bit of a beaut. The other is my faithful (but now getting on in age) Alienware M17, which just beats the minimum specs. The idea is to provide both sides of the story regarding system performance, because not everyone will have a beast of a rig.
As you can probably guess, the beastly rig (as it will now be known) made everything look spectacular, and provides brilliant, visceral presentation down to the last detail. Audio cues are equally as phenomenal, and prove that once again DICE are capable of bringing the best looking warfare experiences around. The M17, however, was a different story. It did the job mind, but it was definitely screaming at me for what I put it through. I had to put the graphics settings on a mix of low and medium, and while there were expected glitches in my playthough I was able to complete the game (although there were moments of slowdown that did bring me close to a rage.) The online modes though, oh my. I was forced mid-game to turn everything down to low in an effort to keep up with everyone else. Here's the thing though; even on lower settings I didn't find it was a bad looking game, in fact it wasn't too bad at all (not ideal, I must admit, but I have a good amount of patience.) As such, I advice anyone planning on purchasing the PC version to take the specifications of their computer into consideration, and save yourself screaming at your monitor.
- Brilliant online fuctionality with Battlelog.
- Intense action that can really suck you into experience.
- 64-player skirmishes are really where it's at.
- Linear single player campaign could have been so much more.
- A powerful PC is needed to appreciate the full power of the visuals.
- Those looking for fast-paced action won't find enjoyment here.
The Short Version: If you treat this as a different alternative to the other big warfare shooter, and apply some patience to it all, Battlefield 3 is brilliant when it gets it right. Had DICE played to that strength in the single player campaign it could have been a brilliant package all round, but that's not to say it's a bad experience. Besides, the multiplayer is really what shines, and the sense of community it brings is what really allows it to be a competitor to the FPS crown.