Sgt. Henry "Black" Blackburn has a problem. A group of terrorists are planning a massive attack on New York this very day, but the two intelligence officers he finds himself in the company of thinks he's full of it. Nonetheless, they are willing to hear him out, listen to his tales of the missions he has been on in Iran and Iraq, and how he gather information along the way that points to the attack.
That's the set up for the single player portion of Battlefield 3. Through a series of flashbacks you will play as Blackburn and a handful of other characters who are in some way involved in Black's story. We've seen the set up many times before, but it doesn't really matter as the campaign of Battlefield 3 is a well put together experience with lots of variation both in terms of the action and the pace.
The designers haven't shied away from including long sequences, several minutes in length, where you don't shoot at anyone, and the player is given time to appreciate the mood and the beautiful settings. And there is rarely a mission that reminds you of a previous one. Full on firefights on Iraqi streets, hide and seek along the same streets, shooting galleries in expensive office buildings, and precision shooting on the roof of a train. Add to this a sequence where you step into the co-pilot seat of a F/A-18, and one where you get to command a tank outside of Teheran.
While it reminds us of a lot of other games in the genre, at least Battlefield 3 manages to avoid some of the the worst clichés. The dialogue is delivered well and in a believable fashion, without too much military jargon (I only counted one "Oscar Mike" or possibly two), while the voice acting is strong throughout. The combat is intense and challenging (as long as you stay away from the "easy" difficulty), and you will die a few times along the way, especially when the enemies use rockets. The weapons feel great, they have the correct sense of weight, responsiveness and kick back. There is a lot of scripting, but you're are seldom just watching. There are a lot of enemies to shoot, but not the endless amounts of spawning troops we've gotten to know in Call of Duty. And while the story itself remains a bit thin, at least it stays coherent.
From a gameplay perspective Battlefield 3 entertains without revolutionising the genre. There are a few definite "Wow" moments of epic proportions, and it never grows boring, but you can hardly go as far as calling it original. And the campaign doesn't last long either - it took me around 6 hours to complete, even with numerous deaths. While it is rather short, it almost feels lengthy when compared to some Call of Duty titles and the most recent Medal of Honor.
While the single player campaign entertained we all know that what defines the Battlefield series is multiplayer. But before we get to the traditional multiplayer I'd like to make a stop at the all new co-operative mode.
Battlefield 3 comes with six dedicated co-op missions for two players, and when the action is at its best it tops the single player campaign. The variation is evident here as well, and you will experience shoot outs in the streets, stealthy infiltration, provide air support with a helicopter, and provide sniper cover during a SWAT mission to free hostages held at an embassy. Some of these, especially the last one, require a lot of communication and timing, and if you stay away from the easiest difficulty setting it provides plenty of challenge.
The experience is given a competitive edge as you get to see kill stats and scores after the completion or failure of a mission - which is then shared with your friends over Battlelog. You also unlock new weapons that can be used in multiplayer.
The massively epic moments aren't there in the co-operative missions, but other than that it entertains as much as the single player - and is even better in some parts.
Well, that takes us to the main course - the DNA of the Battlefield series - multiplayer. If you played the beta, you probably noticed one or two blemishes, but that was then.
I have experience some odd physics odd in places, but apart from that DICE have solved all the obvious issues the beta had. Most of you probably already know about the changes and additions to the experience in Battlefield 3, but for the sake of the review - let's repeat.
On PC there are now 64 players, and the jets are back. On larger maps such as Caspian Borders and Operation Firestorm - multiplayer is an epic experience, chaotic and hard to get an overview of - and I mean this in the most positive way imaginable. And while this is something that fans have been missing in the recent Bad Company titles, Battlefield 3 also manages to succeed with smaller maps. The two Paris maps are incredibly beautiful, and while Siene Crossing is claustrophobic next to Caspian Borders - it is just as intense and fun to play - especially with a group of people who know what they're doing.
One of the most important additions is suppression. When you fire towards an enemy, regardless of whether he is hit or if the bullets go passed he is suppressed - his vision is blurred, and his aim less accurate, and remains that way until he moves or you cease firing. It's a brilliant mechanic, that makes it easier to fight off snipers, and forces players to stay mobile.
Regardless of whether you choose to remain on foot or whether you're commanding a tank or a jet, you can make a difference. Naturally, there is a persistent system of progression, where you unlock new weapons and equipment, but the weapons you start with are good enough for you to be effective from the first minute, and most of the important gadgets for all four classes are available from the start, as opposed to what was the case in Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
There are nine maps in total, all of them can be used with all modes (with different layouts), and during the time I've been playing the game they all held up very well.
The multiplayer of Battlefield is nothing short of fantastic. The pace is tremendous, the levels are well put together and there is plenty of room for tactical moves, and as long as the teams are somewhat evenly matched, the balance also comes across as great.
We've been playing the PC version of Battlefield 3, and on the technical side there are a few things worthy of note. First of all the game is started through Battlelog, the web service that tracks your profile, stats, friends and so on. This is true regardless of whether you plan on playing online, co-operatively or on your own. It may come across as a pain initially, but after having used Battlelog I'm completely converted.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, there is the integrated server browser. With just a few clicks you can search for a server that corresponds to your desires and the results pop up in just a few seconds. And then you can just join in the fun.
Battlelog is rather quick, and it doesn't take much longer to check for your favourite server, then it takes for a average search on Google. When you start up the game, most stuff is loaded in the background so you can surf on and check something else while waiting - and once the game window opens up the loading is surprisingly short.
The second thing that won me over is the friends list. At any time you can search and find who of your friends are online, what they're playing and where and if there is room on the server. Joining is one click away. It's easy to get a group together and play, and the built-in voice chat that also runs through Battlelog works perfectly.
Ever since EA first showed Battlefield 3 they have been very proud of the new Frostbite 2 Engine, and it's easy to see why. The game looks amazing, both in single- and multiplayer. The level of detail is enormous, and the animations are stunning, but what really impresses is the lighting.
And as great as the game looks, the sound is even better. DICE have proved themselves in this category previously with Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and their work on Medal of Honor, and Battlefield 3 continues the proud tradition. The sound of explosions and gun fire adds weight to the experience, and you know that there is a player elsewhere in the map responsible for what you're hearing.
There is a world of difference between the sound of rifle fired next to you and the ones fired behind the hill in the distance. The environments also play an important role when it comes to sound, and Operation Metro - the map from the beta - is probably the best proof of this. From an open park, to the metro tunnels, to tall buildings in a city block, all three areas offer up a distinct soundscape. DICE remain the kings of sound design.
I'm crazy about Battlefield 3.
The single player campaign is the weakest link, but it still stands well on its own. And while the co-op experience is strong, the main reason why I love Battlefield 3 is the multiplayer. The game doesn't disappoint in the least in this mode, and it comes across as the best game in the series so far. It's the best multiplayer experience I've had so far this year, and a game no action fan should miss out on.