Electronic Arts wants Battlefield 3 to be the shooter of choice - one that is challenging but also accessible, so that gamers of all skill levels can enjoy it. They want the roller-coaster campaign and to be the go-to game for competitive multiplayer gamers. They have the formula, the direction, and a more-than competent team in DICE in order to execute everything properly. However, it's quite clear that EA has faltered in a number of ways, and it doesn't take a veteran of the franchise to figure that out.
The campaign has a well-produced and slightly convoluted story involving nukes, America, Russia, and the Middle East. Yes, it sounds a bit too familiar and it's also unsurprising that the real villain is the one who holds allegiance only to himself. Years of playing through military shooter campaigns has thankfully numbed my brain to the point where I no longer question the plausibility of these events or the forced and emotionally manipulative cut scenes. Instead, I'm more concerned about the quality of the campaign itself, even if most of the time it's just a high-budget tutorial.
When everything comes together, Battlefield 3 is spectacular, but that just doesn't happen often enough.
The problems with the campaign in Battlefield 3 are that not only does it betray the nature of its multiplayer-centric game-design, but for the most part it's just not any good. The emphasis on scripting is overwhelming to the point where if I stand up before I'm ordered to or attempt to move ahead of everyone, the possibility exists that something will go wrong. Getting spotted by enemy soldiers is one thing, but it feels more like I'm hitting flags just to keep the game running relatively smoothly. The glitches become painfully obvious, such as when my partner says that a room is clear while staring directly at an enemy soldier firing at him. Or there are those moments like when my fellow men shove me out of cover so I can get shot at. I'm not sure why they care so much, since they're invincible until the script says otherwise.
It's depressing, too, because DICE is quite capable of putting together compelling scenarios. Missions such as "Comrades," "Kaffarov," and "Rock and a Hard Place" are for the most part well-done and memorable. But then there are those insufferable moments where not much of anything seems to happen or interaction is limited to a handful of badly cued quick-time events. Furthermore, whatever successes this mode has made are rendered moot because it's really nothing like the main portion of the game at all. Aside from the most basic aspects, like the controls or using simple tactics such as flanking or suppressive fire, there's not much of anything in the campaign that carries over to the multiplayer. Still, as unpolished and unfocused as this mode is, it can be entertaining in its own way, though I probably should have ignored it entirely.
Multiplayer is the absolute biggest draw when it comes to Battlefield, and this entry is no different. The open-ended objectives that can be approached from any direction, the vehicles, and the solid gunplay can make for an excellent experience. There are four classes to choose from and, as one can expect, they have their own equipment. I tend to go with either the assault or engineer class. In terms of survival ability, the assault class is unmatched. Med kits can be thrown on the ground to heal anyone close by and dead soldiers can be revived instantly with the defibrillator. Engineer is the go-to class for when vehicles absolutely must be destroyed or repaired. They have access to mines, rocket launchers, and surface-to-air missiles. Also, they can deploy a handy robot for completing objectives and other actions. The support class gets access to mortars, C4, and can hand out ammo as if it was being produced in their bloodstream. The recon class? They get to snipe people in an attempt to balance their kill/death ratio. Seriously, though, they get some handy surveillance equipment, but nothing nearly as substantial as what the other three classes have to offer. I'd rather they got something useful like C4 or claymores, because as of right now their effectiveness is situational at best.
A decent number of maps are available and they're designed according to game type. Rush, for example will take a larger map and split it into portions, only allowing players to move on after the MCOM stations have been destroyed. The deathmatch game types take place in sections of their respective maps, to account for the more focused nature of infantry-only warfare. Conquest is the standard mode of choice as players fight to control a handful of flags and exhaust their opponent's numbers. While these game types can be a lot of fun, much of their enjoyment depends on factors such as the map, class selection, and level of teammates as well as opponents.
"Operation Metro" is easily the low-point when it comes to Battlefield 3's map selection. In the Conquest game type, it is essentially a kill-corridor that favors the team that starts from the Square located just outside. Nothing but the most concentrated effort will do if your team starts from the tunnels. In this situation, it's probably best to be a medic, since even if you're going to lose at least you'll cash in on all of the healing that's going to be required just to break through. Some of the other maps are also problematic, like "Operation Firestorm" having its flags set too close together or "Grand Bazaar," where everyone crowds around trying to get to flag B.
Concept art for Battlefield 3: Strike at Karkand
Even though the console versions feature substantially fewer players than on the PC, at times it still feels like there are maps that are just a bit too cramped. Deathmatch especially is a mode that, given the choice, I'd ignore whenever I sit down for a session of Battlefield 3. It's not uncommon to get spawn-killed repeatedly and it seems like I have to ignore some areas entirely since they involve tight quarters that anyone with a motion sensor can effectively lock down.
Battlefield 3 implements an experience-based system where players earn points towards new guns, equipment, abilities, and so on. Experience is also divided depending on what the player accomplishes while inside of a vehicle. The gun-based unlocks deserve special mention because they lead to particular attachments that I absolutely can't stand. Tactical flashlights are the worst, not only can opponents blind you, but so can your own teammates. Red-dot lasers aren't much better, and I'm not sure how either of these tools should be able to work so well in broad daylight. At times it all depends on who has the better gun, something I'm hesitant to discuss since DICE is currently patching everything they think is overpowered. I just hope it doesn't get to the point where every weapon is weak, since then the assault class could beat everyone just by sitting on their own medkits.
Many of the maps support vehicles, but it's all on the player to make effective use of their destructive capabilities. The helicopter is a bit of a challenge to get the hang of, but with rockets and a capable gunner they can eliminate most any threat on the ground. Jets, I assume, are mostly useful for keeping helicopters and other jets out of the air, or for giving me free points when they forget to use their flares. Tanks, Humvees, and even hovercrafts are also dangerous in the right hands, though some good eyes are necessary since well-placed mines can disable them. The answer to all of these problems lies in the engineer: a simple load-out such as a stinger and some mines can handle most every situation. When backed up by a steady source of ammo, they should have no trouble ruining the days of anyone planning assault via vehicle.
The thing to keep in mind is that this is just my limited experience with the game. There are many out there who have put more time into this and other entries in the Battlefield series. The multiplayer can be really fun, but there are issues and inconsistencies that crop up now and again that make the game frustrating. Hopefully, these upcoming balance tweaks deal with some of the weapons, but the map design still needs quite a bit of work, and that's not something that can be fixed as easily. Also there's the slew of problems surrounding the deathmatch mode, but I figure most anyone that picks this game up is going to stick to Conquest or Rush. Also, it would be nice if when I join a game with my squad, we actually remain together. There have been numerous times where players on my squad would end up on the other team.
The cooperative mode is a pretty good diversion from the multiplayer, though your best bet is to stick to playing with a good friend or somebody you know well enough. All of the missions emphasize working together. For example, in one mission you and your partner have to rescue hostages and this requires sniping multiple enemy soldiers at once so they're not alerted. Shots must be timed and that absolutely requires a mic. Unique guns can also be unlocked through this mode, but they require a ton of points. The first pistol costs 63,000. Completing a mission averages just north of 10k, so it's going to take awhile. Otherwise, this is a pretty good addition, but it'll most likely lose its appeal after countless replays just for a better score or to unlock the later guns.
All in all, what's most apparent about Battlefield 3 is how rushed it is. While I expect EA and DICE to perform a solid job in keeping the game updated and viable for quite a long time, I'm also annoyed by the glitches and issues that currently surround it. The single-player mode is for the most part worthless and all the money and time that was put into developing it could have been put to better use elsewhere. Also, this is most-assuredly nitpicking, but the misspellings in the subtitles and loading screen text are just mind-boggling. Battlefield 3's core concepts, mechanics, and game-design are all quite good, but to EA it seems like that just isn't enough to compete with the biggest game out there. I'd rather they had focused on what works and delivered a stellar project instead of attempting to appeal in ways that nobody is really going to appreciate. When everything comes together, Battlefield 3 is spectacular, but that just doesn't happen often enough.