Battlefield 3 review

The levels of hype surrounding Battlefield 3 have hit lunar landing levels of excitement. From that graphically stunning trailer released all those months ago, to the first footage of jets in action, there is plenty of weight lying on the shoulders of DICE’s new release.

Many want to know if it can usurp Call of Duty from its shooter throne, others are interested in the differences between console and PC versions. Some believe it could even top the likes of Crysis 2 for all round graphical sweetness. Pocket-lint has been playing Battlefield 3 for a few days now and have answers to all the above. 

But before we get started on the Battlefield 3 review a few caveats and things worth noting. First up is that we were provided with a copy of the game very close to launch date and without the day one patch which is set for release. This patch will incorporate all the feedback and adjustments that DICE picked up from the beta and should in theory make a huge difference. 

The other point we wish to make is with regards to the PC version. We made the decision to examine both the console and PC versions of the game as they look and play slightly differently, especially online. We had the game running on an Xbox 360 console with the hi res texture pack installed and on an i7 2600k PC with 8GB of RAM and an Nvidia GTX580.

Throw me a curveball why don’t you

The Battlefield series has always struggled on the single player front. Sure the quasi-lovable characters of Bad Company definitely had us caring about their fates, but single player never quite compared to Battlefield’s online experience. Big online warfare is DICE’s bread and butter, they know how to do it, and they do it best. In the case of Battlefield 3 little has changed, the multiplayer still being the strongest component. However playing alone through single player is nearly as good, which we quite frankly didn’t expect. There are a few moments in there that rival even the god of COD for sheer Michael Bay levels of explosions. 

We don’t want to spoil things so will keep schtum on the treats held in store for the single player experience of Battlefield 3. What we will say is that the story is quite different to what you expect, not being the slightly generic romp across the Middle East the trailers make out. There are plentiful rehashed story moments seen in most modern shooters, but to be quite frank, there is so much shooting and exploding to be done we didn’t pay a huge amount of attention to the story. In a nutshell there is a terror plot and you have to stop it, leading to about an 8 hour trek around the globe. 

Whilst it might not even come close to the levels of story driven goodness found in Call of Duty or Gears of War 3, it is easily DICE’s best attempt at a single player campaign so far. Perhaps most importantly it acts as a perfect training ground for the multiplayer excitement that is yet to come. We highly suggest getting to grips with Battlefield 3 via single player first and then moving onto multiplayer.

Hats off to DICE for some of the graphical touches that run throughout the single player campaign. Not only does Battlefield 3 look quite frankly stunning, its developers have used the engine to affect the way you play. Take for example coming across an enemy with a flashlight mounted on their gun, not only is the lighting effect awesome, but it will also temporarily blind you making it hard to hit them. This is a graphical motif (if there is such a thing) that runs throughout BF3’s single player experience. Big open wide daytime battles with long distance shoot outs are contrasted with claustrophobic dimly lit urban experiences. Expect to be spraying plentiful bullets in multiple vehicles, different weather and time scenarios and on both land, air and sea. 

CoD or BF3? 

We feel like this question does have to be asked, no matter how much it pains us to compare two absolutely stellar titles that should both be enjoyed. Then again not everyone can afford to pick up both so here is an answer for you. 

Simply put, Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 are entirely different experiences. Think of them like a Porsche and a Ferrari, both equally as exciting to drive but just as different in the fun you will have doing so. Call of Duty is all about the frantic fast-paced moments and the ultra addictive online multiplayer. The new MW3 from what we have played is the same formula you know and love, being just as crazy as ever. It involves lightning quick reactions and tight nit battles to be enjoyed with friends. 

Battlefield 3 is so drastically different in what it requires you to do that the odd super-skilled pro Call of Duty player will struggle. It is a game which demands taking things slowly and working together. You are rewarding for capturing bases with friends, healing team members and offering support to those attacking. Matches also last much longer and take time to get going, so it is not quite the jump in and play experience of CoD. Multiplayer games on PC also can consist of a whopping 64 players, creating huge expansive battles that at times can offer experiences like no other game. 

Having vehicles to play with also creates for moments unique to Battlefield. Sure in Call of Duty you might make the odd crazy long distance shot, or manage to fend off an attacker with just a knife. But can you snipe the pilot of a jet flying past on a strafing run and then witness it crash into a building, destroying it along with plentiful opposing team members. It is moments like these which make Battlefield 3 so exciting to play. 

In the in between moments we would opt for the ease of use and instant gratification of Call of Duty, but when Battlefield 3 throws up something really special, give us the latter any day. As such we genuinely can’t decide which is better. If you already own a Call of Duty game then perhaps stick to that and invest in Battlefield 3, it will offer you something new that is quite unlike any other shooter you will have played. If however you are a serious COD fanatic, well hang on for the new MW3 as Infinity Ward have put together a multiplayer package so tight it would stop the Titanic from sinking. 

PC or Console? 

Next big question is do you opt for PC or console? This one is much easier to answer than the above debate. If you own a PC capable of running the game on anything above medium settings, that is something quad-core with an Nvidia 560 ti and up, then go for PC, it will blow your mind. 

If however you are lacking slightly in the graphics card department, stick with console and make sure to install the included hi-res texture pack. There is the odd aliasing issue and the lighting engine is not quite on the level of the PC, but it looks stunning none the less. 

Make absolutely certain that you have the hi-res texture packs installed on consoles as things can look seriously retro otherwise. Also we have to say, if you are teetering on the edge of upgrading your graphics card, this is the game to do it for. The Frostbite 2 engine that DICE has created, like Crysis 2, is incredibly well optimised. Even on the lowest PC settings it outflanks the console in just about every way, but it doesn't require a hefty graphics card to do so. A £150 or so investment in some decent PC innards, and you are in for a visual treat. Watch out for levels involving rain or nighttime shootouts, we haven’t seen anything like the level of graphical fidelity in these before. 

Special mention has to be given to two elements of Battlefield 3. The first is what happens when you stick the game on Ultra on a decent PC. In a word it blows absolutely every other title we have seen so far out of the water. Lighting takes on a new uber realistic approach and everything texture-wise is ramped up so high that the game looks more like a playable cinematic. DICE has been saying you are going to need a pair of GTX 580s to get this running smoothly at 60fps, however from our experience a single one and an i7 is more than enough. Dare we say it, it might even outdo Crysis 2 ... 

The second is the sound design, which on both console and PC is unparalleled. Head straight into options and stick things onto War Tapes in the audio menu. We are not quite sure exactly what this does but it seems to jump the volume of everything up to 11. Gunshots ring out across entire maps, tanks roar in the distance and rockets make a terrifying wizz as they fly past your head and slam into a wall, demolishing it (courtesy of Frostbite 2) and littering your 5.1 system or surround sound headphones with the clang of falling bricks. 

Multiplayer

Now onto the meat of Battlefield 3, its multiplayer gameplay. Many will be picking up this game for its online play alone. Those who have played the Beta will also have a rough idea of how things pan out online, although we have to point out that Operation Metro (the level used in the beta) is relatively tame compared to the other maps on offer.

DICE has developed are rather clever upgrade system for Battlefield 3 that forces you to vary your play style in order to progress. If you stick with one unit class and one weapon you will rapidly reach saturation point in terms of unlocks. You will also find situations where you are forced to play as something else and come so under-equipped that you repeatedly die. This, we definitely like, it being just the right side of frustrating. Every time you kill an enemy or do something unique to your class you pick up points that contribute towards unlocks for that weapon or solider type. Everything from laser sights and scopes to medipacks and defibrillators are available. 

The four classes you can choose from also offer very different things to the Battlefield experience. First up is assault who is essentially a revised version of Bad Company’s medic class. He comes equipped with the ability to heal team mates and after an unlock, to revive them. The assault class is basically an rapid fire weapon, with access to lightweight gear and items that pack enough of a punch to push the battle forward. 

Next up is the Engineer, he can carry rocket launchers to deal with tanks and punch holes in the scenery. He is also able to repair vehicles which in bigger maps can prove extremely useful. Those using tanks will want to carry an engineer to keep things alive. 

Then there is Support, aka the big machine gun guy. This class can lay down a charge stopping level of fire from belt-fed weapons as well as giving ammo to those who need it. Without a good support player making any attempts to capture flags or m-com stations is virtually impossible.

Finally there is the scout or sniper. This character was slightly overpowered in the previous Battlefield titles and often led to irritating levels of mortar attacks and long distance destruction. DICE has been careful to ensure that a few decent snipers are required for a battle to work, but they by no means can change the course of things by themselves.

The two play styles of previous Battlefield games are also back, being m-com destruction and flag capture.  Both sound similar initially but play-out very differently. We personally prefer m-com action as it involves frequently absolutely mad bottlenecks of players, often with the opposing team throwing everything, tanks, helicopters and jets, to stop the station from being destroyed. There is also smaller team deathmatch style battles but we don’t think these play out anywhere near as well as the large scale 64 player shoot-outs.

Verdict

Battlefield 3 is set to land on British shores on 28 October, bringing with it a genuinely fresh and new multiplayer experience (at least on consoles). No doubt many will draw similarities between BF3’s online experience and the previous Bad Company games, but personally we don’t think they compare. This is a true sequel to Battlefield 2, one of the most enjoyed online shooters in recent history and something stilled played today. Expect the support and attention DICE pays to the online community to continue and for the game itself to grow as more gamers are won over to the ways of Battlefield 3.

We definitely suggest picking Battlefield 3 up. It might not be the ground breaking experience all the trailers had led us to believe, but it is a stellar shooter none the less. Get ready to waste hours at a time taking the fight to friends on the internet.