Battlefield 3’s 64-Player Matches Make Up for Lackluster Single-Player «

Battlefield is back. After a lengthy detour with two console-exclusive titles, a trip to the future, two Bad Company games, and two free-to-play releases, the game hailed as the true successor to Battlefield 2 has finally arrived. This is no Call of Duty clone; it genuinely deserves the title Battlefield 3.
Before diving into the heart of Battlefield 3, I should address the window dressing: Namely its single-player campaign. As I mentioned in a preview several weeks ago, this portion of the game really is a round of terrorist whack-a-mole, just like Call of Duty. You’ll face an unending wave of brain-dead suicidal terrorists until you manage to inch your way up to whatever checkpoint controls enemy spawning, take a few seconds’ break, and do the whole thing all over again. It’s not bad, but it is frankly uninspired. The gameplay itself is indistinguishable from COD, though the narrative trappings are a bit more down-to-earth. While this works well (in the sense that it’s one of the few elements of the campaign that distinguishes itself from the game’s competition), BF3’s reach exceeds its grasp near the end of the campaign when the story takes a sharp left turn into crazy town. The campaign trades in its pseudo-realistic credentials for a finale straight out of an ’80s action movie, with giant plot holes to match. The schizophrenic nature of the single-player is disappointing in light of the campaigns in the Bad Company spin-offs, which also take cues from COD but manage to maintain their own narrative voice.

Click the image above to check out all Battlefield 3 screens.

However, for all its flaws, the campaign is a wash. It’s a nice distraction, but what fans are really throwing down their $60 for is the multiplayer, which manages to marry modern FPS tropes (like the progressive unlocking of weapons and abilities) with the massive mixed-arms battles of previous Battlefield games. Most maps are populated with an amazing assortment of helicopters, tanks, mobile anti-aircraft guns, and jets. Ground vehicles are easy enough to maneuver, but aircraft are tricky. BF3 offers keyboard-and-mouse controls for all vehicles, but try piloting an F-18 with them and you’ll crash almost immediately. I took to holding a 360 controller in my lap and switching to that whenever I climbed into an aircraft. Once I made the switch, I found myself scoring far more kills. It may sound a bit awkward, but seasoned Battlefield veterans are used to switching between controllers on the go.

The new control scheme also improved the rate at which I unlocked upgrades. The game features an independent unlock track for each class, weapon, and vehicle. Upgrades come at a decent rate if you’re putting hours into the game, and the sheer number of separate ways to level up means that if you’re stalled on one you can focus on another. Even when you’re not being rewarded with new stuff, the game lets you know how close you are to leveling up at the end of each match just to ensure that your brain is hooked to a steady dopamine drip. Even when I didn’t earn anything in a match, I enjoyed watching BF3 enumerate and quantify my successes at the end of each round. I may not have earned that fancy new scope I was hoping for, but I’m much closer now thanks to my MVP ribbon (earned for being the top player in a round), Savior Ribbon (earned for saving multiple allies in a match), and boatload of experience earned from killing dozens of enemies and reviving nearly as many allies with my defibrillator.

Saving your friends is just as valid a way to level up as simply killing the enemy. BF3 rewards you for playing smart and using teamwork. While the incentives aren’t enough to prevent a lone jackass from driving off alone in a six-passenger vehicle, thus stranding his allies far away from the battle (a dilemma as old as the series itself), it is enough to ensure that there’s more to ranking at the top of the server than your kill/death ratio. For example, if you spot an enemy behind cover and can’t take him down yourself, you’ll earn XP for keeping him pinned with suppressing fire while your teammates take care of him. While you’re keeping the bad guy down with suppressing fire, his vision blurs and his weapon accuracy will take a hit as well, making it easier for your allies to clean up.

 

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