Battlefield 3


Written by Chris Price
07 Monday 07th November 2011

It’s Ali vs. Frazier. The Rock vs. Hogan. It’s Man vs. Food. Adverts comprising photorealistic shootouts, beats by Jay-Z, half-time advertising and tanks on the streets of London. For publishers EA, the third numerical iteration of their FPS franchise Battlefield marks the opportunity to clasp the gonads of the big dog in yard - Activision’s billion dollar Call of Duty series – and the chance to inch the cadence of its bark up an octave.

Battlefield 3 has been playing to a multiplayer fanbase of ‘grown-up’ gamers, built from its fledgling years on PC (versus a younger COD crowd extrapolated from the console market). Autumn 2011 is the (metaphorical) battle for middle earth, the casual consumer, with a reported $40 million advertising splurge ensuring that everyone knows there’s more than one modern warfare simulator. With figures like Modern Warfare 3’s predicted $1.1 billion target within six weeks, Battlefield needs to galvanise its identity as well as deliver on the hype to be in with a chance of grabbing these casual consumer bucks.

Visually it’s far more akin to a HD newsreel of the Arab Spring and a lot of this is down to Dice’s new Frostbite 2 graphics engine to orchestrate the chaos. Single player engages in a strangely clinical, yet functional environment. It’s signature metallic navy palatial hues flecked with dust and debris and hexagonal lens flare keep tension high. It might not have the intricate beauty of Rage, but it's clean lines are designed for destruction with scripting setting off a riot of sound, shrapnel and fog of war. It's a thoughtful and fresh advancement to a genre.

Much has been made of Battlefield 3’s need for single player operation. For many consumers, a single player mode is the confirmation of ‘purchase’ in a world still coming to terms with the idea of a digital marketplace, and a multiplayer environment as prohibitively nerdy to the broader public. In Battlefield 3 it functions as a playpen to test out movement, weaponry and vehicles and is an essential starting point to any newcomers.

It's pretty humourless – gone is the caricature of Bad Company 2, or crackerjack wit of Uncharted (and yet again, another experience burdened with needless f-bombs). Its story of WMDs, blue collar marines and flashbacks is tired fare but it works in a European action-fare fashion (think Luc Besson rather than Michael Bay) – battles are fast paced, weaponry is ultra-responsive with impressive physics and character animation. Breach a Stock Exchange and the ensuing firefight on a Parisian boulevard is a standout sequence that exhibits developers Dice’s ability to orchestrate the bombastic set piece. It’s a shame that its on-rail sections are needlessly drawn out, yet pretty – yet, its not that the same complaint can’t be levelled at 80% of FPS’s.

But it’s telling in the relegation of the single player campaign to Disc 2 that the meat of Battlefield 3 is in multiplayer and it’s tweaked the experience of soldier classes and ‘useful’ teamwork to near perfection in Battlefield 3. It’s evident that Battlefield has made some concessions to the middle-ground. Nowhere is that more evident than in traditional Deathmatch modes, with plenty of tight, dual levelled structuring to exercise your twitch trigger and build experience points to unlock primary and secondary weapons.

Even so, the game truly exceeds with its grander theatre of war. Up to 16 console player per-side (32 on PC) compete in the two key modes of Rush (defend or detonate two time bombs until the opponents run out of resupplies) and Conquest (defend up to three locations) return. The series’ signature vehicles return - jeeps, tanks, helicopters and now jets, all with equally powerful countermeasures for soldiers and vehicles such as mines and C4.

Their destructive power has been reigned in a little, yet the mastery of altitude, yaw and roll is one of the greatest accomplishment the game can offer - making a solid helicopter pilot a major asset to any team. Similarly small additions such as the Suppression Fire bonus in converging line of fire, laser sights casting red glows onto the victims HUD to warn of imminent death, or the new Support class has a far more effective armoury in addition to first aid capabilities (with now the ability to accept or decline resuscitation).

And it’s this that defines Battlefield 3 multiplayer. It has always encouraged free-form play - but in its third iteration, it truly shows it’s mastery of the platform. Battlefield 3 gives you all the tools and allows you enough freedom to make your own decisions, and contribute to team success or failure. Spot and snipe enemies from vantage points or go mano-a-mano scalping players dogtags with knives (still Battlefield’s most rewarding attribute) – or crack open buildings with explosives and let your team to pick off the startled inside. Each class is as flexible and useful as you could ever want.

Battlefield 3 is an essential evolutionary step in defining itself as the major contender. The gap between EA and Activision’s games has certainly converged. But with Frostbite 2, Dice have created an aesthetically diverse world for the FPS, with a more rewarding environment, and the resultant package has breadth, creative and individuality – a bold achievement in a genre suffering increasingly diminishing returns in the originality stakes.

Only time will tell whether it provides the financial clout at the checkout against Call of Duty’s grand levels of self-sustaining revenue to deliver that knock-out blow. But Battlefield 3 has the repertoire, the conditioning and enough fancy footwork to go 12 rounds. With both franchises headlong embracing multiplayer monetisation (Call of Duty Elite and Battlefield's Battle Log), it’s evident from the flexibility and scale on display in Battlefield 3 that Activision really have a fight on their hands.

Battlefield 3 is available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC now.

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