It’s been a while since my last post, but that’s because I’ve spent most of the last two and a bit weeks playing two of the biggest games of the year: Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. As the title implies, this post is about the former; though sooner or later I’ll probably post something about the latter too. As the length of this post will testify, when I haven’t been playing I’ve been writing. I probably haven’t even been eating right. That’s how far I go to make quality content for this site, so my dozens and dozens of loyal readers have something to read. (Any excuse for an Arrested Development clip.) Though if you don’t want the read the nearly 5000 words that await “after the jump” (ugh) my review can be summed up as follows: Multi-player awesome, though not without its faults, the rest, very meh.
I’m a long-time fan of the Battlefield series. This may come as a surprise to long-time readers, who know I play all my games on Xbox 360 nowadays, but there was a time, a long, long time ago, when I used to play games on PC. Actually I doubt they’ll be surprised, in order to be surprised they’d have to exist in the first place. Anyway, on my PC I played the first three Battlefield games: Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Vietnam, and Battlefield 2. The one I played the most was Battlefield 2, it was one of the first games I played online for an extended period, I actually found my stats. Apparently I clocked up 57 hours online, between June 2005 (I got it the day it came out) and June 2006. I wasn’t quite as good back then, though I was only 16 when it came out, that’s my excuse anyway. I won more games than I lost, but my kill/death ratio was less than one, I’m ashamed of myself. The next Battlefield game I played was the first Bad Company game on the 360. It was enjoyable enough, but I never really cared for Bad Company, or its sequel, the imaginatively titled Bad Company 2, as much as I did for Battlefield 2. Which is why I was looking forward to Battlefield 3 so much, as it promised to be true sequel to Battlefield 2 rather than the (arguably) dumbed down version of Battlefield that the Bad Company games provided.
Almost every single review of the game I’ve read has said that the single-player campaign is pretty rubbish, and I think having read that beforehand actually helped me enjoy it more than I otherwise would; have low expectations and you’ll never be disappointed. (Which is one of the reasons I try to avoid reading too much about games before they’re released; I wish I applied that advice to other areas of my life.) The campaign is a pretty blatant rip-off the last few Call of Duty games, to put it mildly. A lot of people complain about the linear nature of the Call of Duty games, but I think people take the things they do well for granted; Battlefield 3’s flaws highlight just how well made a Call of Duty single-player campaign is.
There’s a moment in one of the missions when you have to sneak up behind someone and press the Right Bumper to kill them with your knife, the button appears on-screen while you’re quite a distance away from them but I decided to creep a bit closer first. And then I fell over dead. For no reason at all. It turns out that you have to press the button when it says because, rather than just stabbing the guy, your character grabs the guy’s gun and uses its sling to pull the guy to the ground in a short sequence you have no control over. I know I’m not the only person to die at that point, and I’m amazed they left it in the game like that. They could have made him turn around and spot you or something, and have a mission failed screen come up for being spotted, but instead they chose to just have you fall over dead with no explanation. It’s very amateurish.
Call of Duty may be linear, but at times Battlefield 3 takes it to another level, it can be ultra-linear, take a few steps off the path it wants you to take and you’ll feel its wrath. But, having said that, it can still be enjoyable at times if you go along with it, just like Call of Duty can be, you just need to be aware that you need to keep on its path and not, well, think too much. After that moment of insta-death, you can be sure that when a button appeared on-screen I pressed it straight away, and I never explored anywhere at all, I just went where it said, shot who it said and then went somewhere else. I played it on hard and I died quite a bit on some sections, but the whole thing probably only took me five or six hours to complete, it’s not very long.
The game has a co-op mode which contains six missions for two people to complete. Some are reminiscent of the missions from the Spec-Ops mode in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, requiring you to move from Point A to Point B through a large number of enemies, or requiring you to defend a point from a large numbers of enemies. But there are also a few more original ones; one requires one person to pilot a chopper while the other operates its gun turret, and you cover a group of AI soldiers below. Bizarrely, you’re unable to choose which role you take, and piloting the chopper is fairly difficult, which often means restarting the mission several times until the person who is able to do it is actually in the pilot’s seat. There are also two missions which require teamwork to take out enemies in pairs, to avoid them raising the alarm when they see the other one get taken out, which add a bit of strategy to the mix, although if you are spotted all it does is throw a few more enemies at you, so you can pretty much ignore the teamwork part if you want.
I came across a few bugs while playing the co-op mode, much more noticeable than anything I came across in the single-player, although I did repeat all the co-op missions numerous times because of an achievement, so I suppose I had more time to notice them. A few times I came across enemies who were invincible until they had finished an animation, numerous times I had the reload animation repeat indefinitely when using a shotgun, and once or twice I’m sure I picked up a gun and it didn’t have any kind of sight on it, the iron sights were missing as if it was supposed to have a scope of some sort instead, but it wasn’t there. On the last co-op mission (which is the one I repeated the most because you get the most points for doing so), I also got rather annoyed by the game changing the guns I’d picked up back to the ones you start off with, which happened several times after a scripted sequence had occurred.
The co-op mode is a fun distraction for a couple of hours or so, but there’s little to no variation in the way the levels play out when you re-play them, which makes doing so a fairly pointless endeavour. You can unlock seven extra guns for the multiplayer, and get an achievement on the 360, if you play the co-op enough (you score x amount of points as you play, accumulate y points to unlock gun z), but replaying the missions (well, the mission which gives the most points) over and over again is a bit soul-destroying. Though being the shameless achievement whore that I am, I did it.
The single-player and co-op are really just appetisers though, as the real heart and soul of the game is in the multi-player; in fact I would happily have purchased to game without the other two bits. I’ve spent most of my time playing Rush mode so far, which is slightly surprising because I’ve always preferred Conquest, I don’t know why it’s turned out that way. Rush mode was the mode introduced by the Bad Company games, in which one team has to defend two “MCOM stations” (they’re really just fancy crates) which the other team attacks, but they have only a limited number of re-spawns before they lose. When the attackers succeed the defenders have to fall back to another set of two points, and the attacking team gets their re-spawns reset. This goes on until all the stations on the map have been destroyed, each map having three or more pairs of them, or until the attackers fail.
Conquest mode is the original Battlefield multi-player mode, going all the way back to the first game. Each map has several points marked by a flag pole, usually three or four, which can be captured by a team if one or more of its members are close enough to it for a long enough time. Each team has a set number of tickets at the start of a game, usually a few hundred, and loses one each time someone re-spawns, and, more importantly, loses a constant stream if that team is controlling fewer points than the opposing team.
As well as Rush and Conquest, there’s a few other modes; Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch and Squad Rush. I tried Team Deathmatch once. Never again. The game spawns you in random positions and thinks nothing of dropping you right in front on an enemy, or four. Team Deathmatch is all I play on Call of Duty, but that game is more suited to it, and it also does it right. I could play that for hours on end without spawning next to an enemy, but it happened multiple times in a single game on Battlefield. Never again. The Squad versions just limit each team to a single four-man squad, and are on a smaller scale. Squad Deathmatch pits four squads against each other with the first to get so many kills winning, while Squad Rush has one squad on each team and just two MCOM stations need to be destroyed to win.
The maps in the game are all pretty good, except one which I think has some pretty big problems (more on that later), but so far I haven’t seen any really glaring faults in the design of the others. Yes, on Rush mode, some points are easier to attack or defend than others, but that’s pretty much unavoidable. And also, like in Bad Company 2, it’s pretty easy to tell which maps were originally envisioned as Rush maps and which were originally Conquest maps, and how some have been somewhat shoehorned to work in the other game mode. But at least all the maps are available in both modes from release, so we won’t have to endure being drip-fed them as “free” DLC, as with Bad Company 2 and its VIP map packs. The maps all feel fairly distinct, and this is helped by their scale; some maps are small, infantry only affairs, while others are huge open battlefields with each side having a couple of tanks, a few jeeps, a helicopter, and a jet, and there are maps of every size in-between too.
As with the previous games in the series, you play as a soldier who is a member of a certain class, with each class having their own weapons and special abilities. In Battlefield 3 there are four classes: Assault, Support, Engineer and Recon, which is slightly different to in previous games. The Assault is the basic foot-soldier, armed with an assault rifle, but he is also the Medic, being the only class that can carry the defibrillator which revives fallen soldiers. He can also put out health packs that make people’s health recharge faster, and can also carry a grenade launcher. The Support is armed with a machine gun and can put out ammo packs to allow other people to pick up more ammunition. Once unlocked, he can also use C4 explosives and can deploy and use a mortar.
The Engineer has a carbine rifle, which isn’t as accurate at longer ranges as an assault rifle, and is also armed with an anti-tank rocket launcher and the blow-torch repair tool, which can repair friendly vehicles and damage enemy ones. Once unlocked he can instead carry anti-tank mines or a small robot which can repair things and also arm MCOM stations in Rush mode. The final class is the Recon, he is armed with a sniper rifle, and has access to several useful gadgets. One is a mobile spawn point which the rest of your squad can either spawn from if placed indoors or parachute in on if it’s outside. Another is a stationary motion sensor, one is a laser designator, and one is a small UAV thing. It’s quite an eclectic mix.
When you play you can join a squad made up of up to four players. When you re-spawn after dying you can choose to re-spawn on one of you squad-mates if they’re still alive, instead of the default locations, which gives you a big tactical advantage by being able to appear right where the fighting is happening. Or miles away from any action if your only living squad-mate is a sniper camping in the back corner of the map. When you join a game you can select to automatically join a squad with a free spot, and when you join a game with friends in a party it tries to put you all in a squad together. One of the problems at the moment is that it isn’t always successful. I think the problem boils down to the fact that if you’re in a party of three, and join a server with three free spots, then usually the free spots aren’t all on one team, so you’re split up.
When I first started playing I mainly played as Recon, as I like to snipe, and I think it also gives you the ability to direct the attack somewhat, either by being in a good position for your squad-mates to spawn from and attack or by placing the mobile spawn point in such a place. Although after a while I realised that I wasn’t really sitting back and sniping all that much; playing Rush mode I was rushing in and planting the charge (as the old saying goes, if you want something done, do it yourself), and when I got closer to enemies I was at a bit of a disadvantage using just my pistol and my knife. I also like using the vehicles a lot, so I switched to playing as an Engineer instead; now when my tank gets damaged I can repair it myself! Although a couple of times I’ve done that only to have someone else from my team come over and steal it. People can be such dicks.
There are a wide variety of vehicles in the game, and mastering their intricacies takes a while. It’s pretty easy to control the ground vehicles, the tanks and jeeps and whatnot, but the helicopters and jets take a bit of getting used to, the helicopters especially. The helicopter controls have changed since Bad Company 2, which meant the first few times I tried to fly one in Battlefield 3 resulted in me crashing almost instantly, but I got the hang of it quite quickly. The jets, which are a new addition to the console Battlefield games, are much easier to actually fly, though it probably takes more skill to get kills with them.
One interesting new vehicle that features on several maps is the AMTRAC, an amphibious assault vehicle. It can carry several players at once, has a turret with a grenade launcher and a machine gun, and is also pretty well armoured. But by far its best feature is that the whole team can use it as a spawn point! In Rush mode it is only ever given to the attacking team, and it can give them a big boost if used well. The problem, at the moment at least, is that I don’t think some people realise how useful it can be; I’ve seen attackers not using it and defenders ignoring it as it sits next to an MCOM station, with a constant stream of people getting out of it.
Compared to Bad Company 2 there’s a lot more stuff to unlock. Like before, you unlock things as your overall rack goes up; these can be guns that can be used by any class, a different camouflage to wear, or one of the perks which gives you better abilities, like the ability to sprint faster, or the ability to carry extra ammo. At the higher ranks you unlock versions of these which give your whole squad the ability, which can give a squad playing with a different one each quite an advantage. Also like before, each individual class also has its own unlocks, which are class-specific guns and the different class gadgets. What’s different is that each individual gun now has its own add-ons to unlock and choose from; a lot of these are various different scopes, but there’s also laser sights and bipods and other such things. Each class of vehicle also has its own set of unlocks, things like better armaments or better armour.
It can be a little overwhelming, especially when you first start playing and you are unlocking new stuff at the end of nearly every game. It can also feel a little gratuitous, for example, the gun unlocks aren’t unique to each weapon, which means when you switch to a different gun you just start unlocking the same stuff you had on your old one. As far as I can tell all the weapons in each class have the same set of unlocks, which are unlocked in the same order, and this set is part of a slightly bigger superset of all the available unlocks in the game. For example, I think every gun in the game has a laser sight, and a holographic sight, but the Recon class’ sniper rifles can have a high-magnification 12x scope which the guns in the other classes cannot.
Compared to Bad Company 2, I think the weapons do more damage, as was indicated by the Beta. I’ve definitely had less moments where I’ve been shooting at someone and they’ve managed to run off and hide, and people generally die when you shoot a tank round at their feet, which didn’t always happen in Bad Company. The major bugs that were in the Beta have, thankfully, been fixed, and I haven’t really encountered many. Once I quit a game and the game froze on a black screen, and I have also seen one recurrence of a glitch that was in the Beta, where an enemy looked dead but was in fact alive, and he was also pretty much impossible to damage.
Also, for some reason, selecting “My Soldier” from the main menu, which is where you can customise things and also look at your stats, always makes an error message come up the first time I press it, but if I try again it works fine. Which is weird. But there’s nothing “game breaking” that I’ve seen so far. Also, for the most part, the servers have actually been pretty good. They were down a few times, but only for a short while, and I haven’t had much lag either; it’s been a huge improvement over the launches of Bad Company 1 and 2, which were plagued by server issues and lag long after release. It was a major reason I didn’t play them much.
The multi-player is not without its faults though. First, that map which I mentioned earlier. It’s called “Canals” and on Rush mode it’s not too bad, though when attacking the first two MCOM stations you will run into some of the same problems I’m about to discuss. Where the map has real problems is on Conquest mode. This map has one team start on a ship while the other starts on the land, behind the three control points which you can capture. The team on the ship has two Little Bird helicopters, two Infantry Fighting Vehicles, an AMTRAC, and also a boat or two. The IFVs and the AMTRAC are amphibious, so you drive them across the water from the ship, towards the shore and the control points. But while in the water they move very slowly, which makes them pretty easy targets for the other team. The team on land has at its disposal two tanks, a single helicopter which is just a Russian version of the Little Bird, and a couple of jeeps with machine guns of the roof. The problem with the map boils down to the fact that the IFVs and the AMTRAC are no match for a proper tank, especially while they’re floating across the sea, and that the machine guns that the Little Bird is armed with do nothing against the tanks.
I’ve played two games of Conquest on Canals, both as the American side who are the ones who start on the boat, and both turned out exactly the same way: The other team won, very easily. Once the Russian team has captured all the points it’s almost impossible to do anything as the Americans, the tanks can just shoot the IFVs and the AMTRAC before they get anywhere near the shoreline, and shooting back is almost impossible due to the vehicles being buffeted around by the waves. In one of the games I played someone on the other team had unlocked the tank’s anti-air missiles, so was also shooting down the helicopters almost as soon as anyone got in them. But even without this luxury, the helicopters are pretty ineffective; they can’t damage the tanks and always get shot down by the other team’s Engineers or helicopter pretty quickly.
I think a big problem is that no vehicles spawn at any of the map’s three points. So, even if they capture a point on land, all the American armour has to come across the sea, where it is highly vulnerable to being shot at, and if it gets to land, a big if, it’s no match for the tanks of the other team. It just doesn’t seem fair. In Rush mode the team on land just get a mobile AA gun and a couple of jeeps, while the attacking team get a Little Bird, a transport helicopter, an IFV and the AMTRAC. Once the first pair of crates are destroyed, the attackers spawn on land, along with the AMTRAC. This is much fairer, though destroying the first two crates can be very difficult; the AA gun can destroy the IFVs and the AMTRAC in the water, and can shoot the helicopters before they even take off if it’s in the right place. Perhaps some of these issues will be fixed in the future.
Outside of the problems with that map, I feel the vehicle unlocks add some balancing issues to the game, particularly with the jets; in what I feel is a really weird design choice, they are only armed with a cannon when you first start flying them. The first jet unlock gives you flares and the second gives you heat-seaking missiles. Until you get them you are at an incredible disadvantage to those who have. Without flares you’re a sitting duck, as avoiding the missiles (which can also be fired from Engineers on the ground as well as from other aircraft) requires a lot of skill or a lot of luck, and without the missiles taking down other planes is very difficult. Once you have those first two unlocks the jets become a lot of fun, but I found getting there incredibly frustrating.
A tip I would give to those with problems would be to get your squad-mates to mark tanks on the map, and then do a few strafing runs over them. With the jets available in Rush mode at least, using your cannon on tanks is much easier than using it against other jets, and it does quite a bit of damage; if you’re on target with most of your rounds you can disable a tank in one pass, which gives you 100 points (you only need 300 for flares and 700 for the missiles). Flying low can also help you avoid the Engineer’s Stinger missiles, as they need line-of-sight to lock on and if you get behind a building or a hill you can break it, but it doesn’t work as well against other jets.
Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to criticise the game for this, but I think an intrinsic problem is that how much fun you have is directly related to who you’re playing with and against. If you’re playing on your own, with a team where the majority are also playing alone, and come up against a team with a couple of squads of three or four players who are communicating and working with each other, then, even if you’re a gaming god, you will lose nine times out of ten. This can get very frustrating, very quickly. I think it is possible for a good squad to turn the tide in favour of their team, especially in Rush mode, but it’s also possible for a whole team to be sabotaged by one or two players who aren’t pulling their weight. When attacking in Rush, for example, a few bad players using up all the re-spawns can seriously hamper the rest of the team.
There’s a great temptation in all the Battlefield games to wait around in the spawn areas for vehicles to reappear, and Battlefield 3 is no exception. One improvement that has been made is that you can spawn directly inside some vehicles when you re-spawn, which means you no longer get groups of people waiting around on helipads, making themselves easy targets. The down-side of this is that you now get people waiting long periods before re-spawning, which can leave your team at a numerical disadvantage. The difficulty of flying the jets and helicopters means that, on numerous occasions, I’ve seen people take off and then crash almost immediately. It can be annoying if someone does this and your team has someone who is genuinely good at flying, as the aircraft, like all vehicles, are important assets. I think the only think worse than seeing groups of people waiting around for a vehicle to re-spawn is to see a vehicle not being used at all!
I think the fundamental difference between the Battlefield multi-player, and that of the rival Call of Duty games, is that in Call of Duty it’s possible for a great individual effort to win a round despite a poor effort by the rest of the team. I’ve won games of Team Deathmatch on Call of Duty where everybody on my team except me has had more deaths than kills, and because of that I always feel like I’ve got a chance of winning when I play. But in Battlefield it’s nigh on impossible to overcome such a handicap; one person can’t defend both MCOM stations at once in Rush, or simultaneously defend a captured point in Conquest while taking over another somewhere else. Because of that I find playing a bad game on Battlefield, by which I mean one where the teams are mismatched, feels much worse than playing a bad game on Call of Duty. You can feel utterly helpless while playing Battlefield, losing becomes an inevitability, and it’s not a nice feeling.
By contrast, I find winning a close game on Battlefield feels better than winning a close game on Call of Duty. It’s probably because a close game on Battlefield takes so much longer than a close game on Call of Duty, so there’s a felling of “Please let us win or I’ll have completely wasted the last half hour”; when you invest more time in something it almost automatically becomes more important to you. But I also think it’s because a game feels like more of an event. The differences and variations in the maps means that the next game usually plays out entirely differently than the current one; while the current map may fit your preferred class and style of play perfectly the next one might not, so there’s a case of make hay while the sun shines. In short, the difference between the two games to me is that the highs while playing Battlefield are much higher, but the lows are also much lower.
I wouldn’t say Battlefield 3 is worth buying for its single-player or co-op alone, or indeed for those two together. Having played Modern Warfare 3’s equivalents of those modes, I think that game provides the better experience for people looking for solo or co-op play. But when it comes to competitive multi-player, Battlefield 3 is without equal. I’ve already played it for over 28 hours, and I’m sure I’ll be adding to that over the coming weeks and months. I will admit though, I wish I had the money to get a decent PC to play the PC version. As I play, in the back of my mind I often get the feeling that it could be even better with the bigger maps and more players that the PC version offers, not to mention the better graphics and frame rate too. But even so, it’s still a great game on the consoles that I would thoroughly recommend. As long as you’re not just getting it for the single-player.