FPS. The genre defined by triple-A names and record-breaking sales rather than innovation and excellent design. From Call of Duty to Halo, via Battlefield, the first person shooter experience hasn’t progressed in a while. It’s a stagnant beast, driven to greed by the endless cash flow it has become so heavily dependent on. There are no fluctuations in structure, and no halt to the constant focus on multiplayer lobbies over intuitive single player experiences.
Battlefield 3 follows this path to the letter. It fails to entice in its offline component, clearly aiming for the multiplayer crown. Other than for those without the ability to play online this is no bad thing, but those select few should ask themselves why they’re playing Battlefield 3. This is a game that doesn’t need a campaign but throws one in anyway. Sadly, I wish they hadn’t included it at all. It feels like an unnecessary feature, which acts as a failure rather than a complimentary time-sink for when you cannot face the multiplayer mayhem.
Following an all-too familiar plot seemingly borrowed from its contemporaries, the single player of Battlefield 3 feels weak. It takes a more serious tone than the Bad Company series, which opted for a light hearted and humorous approach. This is a game that takes itself seriously, portraying a bleak vision of a realistic world conflict on the brink of escalating to nuclear war. It sounds wrong to assume, but you’ll feel like you’ve played it before.
On-foot combat sections are punctuated with vehicular missions, however the campaign never allows you to take charge of any tanks, planes or helicopters, instead relegating you to the gunner seat. This feels like a missed opportunity, especially considering the huge emphasis on vehicular combat seen in multiplayer. Amongst the familiarity and a lifeless plot, the single player feels stale and limited in comparison to what other areas of the franchise offers.
Needless to say, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. While not as photorealistic as its high-end PC cousin, the Xbox 360 version still looks the part. Environments look authentically war torn, lighting effects are blindingly realistic and the varied setting gives the game ample opportunity to prove that Frostbite 2.0 is as wonderful as we hoped.
The audio work is another notable high; a sensory assault that hums with the low ring of an explosion, and shrieks with gunfire. Using my T12 Orbitsound bar, the room shook with considerable force as my speakers were given a run for their money. It’s undeniably a visual behemoth, and the audio work is equal in quality. Character dialogue is not as impressive as the environmental sound effects but the conversations, both in-game and in cut scenes, are sufficient in holding together the weak narrative.
Moving on from the offline portion, Battlefield 3 delivers a deep, addictive multiplayer that firmly lives up to the hype. It’s classic Battlefield, with huge maps hosting hours upon hours of on-foot and vehicular combat. Varied settings are reminiscent of the single player campaign and vary considerably throughout. From military bases to rolling deserts, urban interiors to grassy plains, Battlefield 3 multiplayer is a pleasure to play.
Whereas the single player lacked vehicular freedom, the multiplayer lets you loose. Tanks, jeeps and other ground-based war machines occupy the battlegrounds, while jets and helicopters roar recklessly above. Shells rain down from the sky, carpeting your immediate vicinity with explosive force. Safe moments are rare and the constant threat of your cover being destroyed keeps you firmly on your toes, however this time around there’s a smaller focus on destructible cover.
To survive for any considerable amount of time, you’ll have to work as part of a team. Character classes have been juggled around a bit since Bad Company 2, but the changes are minor and don’t affect much. Choosing from one of the four available, you’re able to level up by contributing to the team effort. As well as killing enemies you can heal your friends, fix vehicles and provide ammo to earn experience towards your next level increase. You’re able to run off on your own to slaughter the enemy if you please, but that isn’t what the game encourages. This is a game about playing with your mates or a group of random strangers and working together to overcome the impossible odds of online warfare.
Aside from the excellence of the gameplay, it’s the constant barrage of new equipment, camouflages and other little treats that will keep you playing towards your next rank increase, turning that cheeky half hour into a whole night’s worth of play. Progression systems are the norm in online games now, but Battlefield 3 does a spectacular job of keeping you engrossed in your persistent character.
It’s a familiar sight. Battlefield 3 succeeded where I knew it would, in the online ether where it’s always thrived with an expert finesse. Endless progression and consistently brilliant gameplay keep Battlefield 3 firmly in the ranks of the great, well away from mediocrity.
The single player fails to excite, and I can’t stress enough how little the offline campaign contributes to the overall experience. This is an online game to the core, built for the long-term enjoyment of millions of fans looking to keep one game in their console for months to come. In that respect, Battlefield 3 is a resounding success, it’s just a shame that it didn’t deliver where I hoped it would.