Review Date: November 8 2011
Release Date: October 25 2011
Publisher: EA Games
ESRB Rating: Mature
Battlefield has long been a gem among military shooters for providing explosive action in vehicles as well as on foot, and Battlefield 3 (BF3) definitely aims to continue that tradition. In this iteration they've brought back jets, 64-player maps on the PC, and several other features not seen since Battlefield 2142 was released back in 2006. My first impressions Battlefield 3, based on the beta, are available here.
Although the emphasis in the Battlefield series has always been on multiplayer, BF3, like its predecessor, has a single-player campaign and a co-op campaign. I don't normally put a lot of time into the single-player side of these games, and I didn't find BF3's campaign enticing enough to finish it before jumping into multiplayer, after which I had little desire to go back.
Battlefield 3 vs. Bad Company 2
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (BC2) came out just last year, so is it time to retire it already in favor of BF3? There are some significant differences between the two. BC2 was limited to 32 players on the PC, it had helicopters but no jets, and BF3 has added Team Deathmatch to the mix of gameplay types. More subtle changes include things like the return of the prone position and a suppression fire mechanic that blurs your vision a bit when bullets are landing all around you. As well, you can spawn on any of your squad members, rather than just the squad leader, resulting in very fluid engagements where you can be flanked at any time.
The graphics and lighting have also seen improvements, as is typically the case with Battlefield games. We also get another good dose of the environmental destruction that made BC2 stand out from the competition, although it may have been toned down a little on the larger maps. Despite all the changes, most of which are for the better, BC2 fans will find soldiering on 32-player maps in BF3 very familiar, and there are moments when it's hard to tell the two games apart, especially given that they both use modern warfare settings.
The classes in Battlefield 3 have also been changed slightly from those of Bad Company 2. While the Engineer and Medic classes remain largely the same, the Medic has been replaced with a Support class, and the Medic's health packs and defibrillator have been moved to the Assault class. Ammo packs are now distributed by the Support class rather than Assault.
There has been a tremendous emphasis in recent years on tracking player statistics, awarding achievements for reaching certain milestones, and offering forever deeper trees of unlockable items for use in the game. Battlefield 3 is no exception to this, with the most extensive unlock system in any Battlefield game to date, and it now includes perks for vehicles.
People love the sense of progress that comes with unlocks, but as they get deeper and deeper, they almost inevitably start to impact game balance, especially for new players. They hand out experience for almost everything you do, win or lose, so your first unlocks come quite quickly. Nevertheless, it can get frustrating when, for example, you're trying to fly before having unlocked flares, your primary missile defense.
With large 64-player maps back in play on the PC, vehicles have a renewed importance in BF3. There are also a number of very effective anti-air and anti-tank weapons, including hand-held stinger missiles, mines, RPGs, and even Centurion C-Ram guns. It's hard to say at this stage just how balanced it all is at this stage, but there are bound to be adjustments made in future patches.
Flying is a touchy operation in BF3, as has been the case with most of the games in the series. Some people learn to fly with the keyboard, but a gamepad or joystick can help. Unfortunately, while you may get such a device to work with the game, support is minimal. More options are needed, such as the ability to adjust joystick sensitivity separately from the mouse.
BF3 could really use a place for people that want to learn to fly to practice and tweak their controls without being on a live server, where going into the options screen means instant death. If you join an empty server to try some things, it won't even let you move until 7 other peole join. Some earlier Battlefield games let you create offline matches with bots, which was a good way to learn the maps and vehicles, as well as adjust your settings, without having to screw around on a live server. The single-player campaign could address this, but it doesn't, giving you nothing more than a little time in the gunner position.
Origin and Battlelog
BF3 is one of the first games to require Origin, EA's new digital distribution service, and it also uses Battlelog to launch the game. These have both improved slightly since I offered my first impressions of them. One thing I have come to appreciate about Battlelog is that it is easily updated without requiring a major patch to the game itself. Voice chat for BF3 is done through Battlelog as well, which works good with people on your Battlelog friends list, but there's no way to communicate by voice on the fly once in the game.
The Bottom Line
I've got quite a few small gripes about Battlefield 3 that I don't have the time or space to get into, but any way you slice it, this game has shaped up to be the best multiplayer military shooter of the year. Battlefield 3 is a combined arms experience that is never short on action, and it delivers graphics and destruction that other titles will find hard to match. There's a lot of fun to had in Battlefield 3, whether you just want to jump in and shoot some guys in the face, or you want to make the effort to get organized enough to work as a team. It's hard to go wrong with this one unless you've completely had your fill of modern warfare FPS games.