November 11, 2011
by Chuck "Magnum" Ankenbauer
For over ten years we have been enjoying the Battlefield series. The earlier versions were WW2 themed games that spawned a great modern desert mod. Then came more Battlefield games, some in WW2, some in Vietnam, and more recent ones in modern times, and even the future. EA has had ten years to learn and improve the series. Have they done it with Battlefield 3? So what does Battlefield 3 bring to the table this year? And is it worth your money?
First off, for the PC version, whether you buy Battlefield 3 online as a download or at the store on DVD, you still must install and run EA’s new online service called Origin. I personally have had no problems with the service, and have a number of EA games via that service, but I can see where others may not like having to have another game service program running in the background. And if you do not have Origin already running in the background, when you go to load and play Battlefield 3, it will take time to load Origin up first, which can become even more time consuming to get in game.
Once Origin is running, clicking on a Battlefield 3 shortcut will bring you to an EA web site titled, BattleLog page. BattleLog is a pretty cool site. It lists all your friends, lets you create or join platoons, and displays your stats from the game in detail along with a news feed of what your friends are playing, what awards and promotions they receive. That part is cool but what I don’t like about BattleLog is that you have to use it to drag and drop friends into chat rooms, and you have to use it to connect and play the actual game. It's very time consuming and a little confusing to use.
Multiplayer BattleLog on PC
Multiplayer on the Xbox 360
All three modes, single player, cooperative, and multiplayer, are started from this web site. I timed it. It takes 93 seconds from desktop to actual start of play. Compared to 65 seconds on the Xbox 360, no web site there but the loading still takes a while from disk. I’m not a fan of having to go to a web site to start a game. That said, some of my friends have stated they liked it, while the majority have seemed to agree with me. It really serves no purpose in actual game play. And what happens if your internet is out? No single player.
The squad organization can be confusing; people can get mixed up in the game on how to leave a squad and form a new one. The team aspect of the game has been a little weakened in this version. The PC version "command rose" has reappeared but it seems really just added as an afterthought in that you have to use the single button "Q" spot command in lots of different contexts. For a BF2 player the interface certainly seems a bit dumbed-down, and the lack of the Commander option makes the 64 player PC games chaotic.
Once you get into an actual game, the HUD overlay, especially for the PC version which has a huge chat box popping up in the top right quarter of your screen, is way over the top and just too damn busy. Battlefield 3 with the Frostbite 2 engine is gorgeous, but it is ruined with just too many icon markers and overlays. Playing on a hardcore server helps by removing most of that excessive overlay, but maybe players don’t want to go to a hardcore server. EA could have used some clean up on aisle HUD in my opinion.
The PC version has curiously reduced the ability to use voice chat to communicate with others in your squad and team. Previous versions in the series had this working well so it might just be the case of something not quite finished. On the SimHQ server we have to use Teamspeak3 for this game, while for its predecessor Battlefield 2, we wouldn't have to.
One of the great new things for console gamers is an in game server browser... finally. And it lets you filter, add favorites, and see history servers. Great job EA, you finally listened.
Graphics and Sound
Battlefield 3 with the Frostbite 2 engine is absolutely beautiful. Battlefield 3’s graphics are some of the best I’ve ever seen on a PC, and they look pretty damn good on a console too, but of course when it comes to looks the PC almost always wins. The Xbox 360 version comes on two disks; one disk is for the single player campaign, while the other is for the co-op missions, and multiplayer. On that disk comes a 1.6 GB install of High Definition textures that go onto your Xbox 360 hard drive. And this is a must if you want to enjoy the beauty that is Battlefield 3.
The terrain is lush. The fire and smoke environment is extremely well done, and so are the weapons and vehicles. The shadows and the differences from light to darkness are amazing. Sun glare and weather effects are well done. The destructible environment is fantastic. Some have complained that it’s not destructive enough, while some complained that Bad Company 2 was too destructive. I think they did a great job at balancing the issue and it all works and looks great. Occasionally the destruction gets a little too much and I do get stuck in it. Character animations are very well done with the ability to go prone making a return to Battlefield 3. Jumping over obstacles and the reload animations are smooth and controlled. There are issues — if there’s a tire in the road or a curb you have to hit your jump key to get over it. It just requires too much work to move sometimes, especially after the map gets cluttered. Also clipping, especially with the characters in prone sticking into walls is an issue. But none that take away from the great look and feel of the game.
Laser sights and flashlights make an appearance in Battlefield 3. They are cool and functional but a little over the top when it comes to blinding other players especially in an outside, sunny environment. But these tools are great and very tactical indoors, especially the tunnels and tracks of certain maps.
Speaking of maps, there are plenty of them and each very unique with different terrain, different environments, different weather, and various sizes. Some are smaller maps but the game play is balanced well. On small maps you might have a light vehicle or two, while on the larger battlefield maps you’ll have planes, helicopters, tanks, and infantry fighting vehicles and light vehicles like Humvees and buggy’s. I can’t remember seeing a motorcycle or a 4 wheeler in Battlefield 3.
Xbox 360 gameplay
The Frostbite 2 engine on the PC scales quite well. If you have a great PC then things will look spectacular while many things can be turned off for a moderate spec machine. You will get the best out of the PC version using a Quad Core and a 6000/500 series graphics card. If you can play a recent flight sim release at a good graphics level then you'll be OK with BF3.
The sounds are just as incredible as the graphics. As you lay cowering in a corner you can hear the sniper rounds crack the air near you. You can hear the sounds of machine gun fire destroying everything you're near. The explosions and the effects of combat are just incredible. There is a very occasional sound issue where certain sounds will stop while others remain playing, but this has been rare for me. While most of the weapons do sound strong and very independent, some believe that some of the light vehicles weapons systems have been lowered and not as strong as they should be. But the heavy armor rounds and the helicopter rockets sure have plenty of oomph!
A slideshow of the PC version is here, and the Xbox 360 version is here.
Single Player Campaign
The single player campaign is about 6 hours long. It’s good, but not great. The storyline just takes itself too seriously, and the characters really don’t have much personality.
It’s the typical "on rails" shooter where you have to get from point A to point B to do something like deal with WMDs or a Russian plot, then repeat. I think they could have really done better with the single player story. I understand it needs to be on "rails", but with so many cut scenes and automatic action there is no true "battlefield" feel.
You don’t really get into too many vehicles, it’s mostly an infantryman's campaign. You’ll have the chance to gun on a jet plane, and drive a little here and there, but mostly you’ll be walking, fighting hordes of enemies, watching cut scenes in weird and inappropriate places, even doing an action that you the character should be doing. The single player campaign is worth doing once, if anything as a tutorial, but that’s about it.
There are six- two man cooperative missions. These are very well done but harder than the campaign missions. The first two are the only ones available until you complete them and others will unlock. Not a fan of that, no reason not to have all six available for play from the get go. The missions are fun and teamwork and communications is a must, but I do wish more for 4 to 6 player co-op missions. You have to have a friend to play these missions — you can't attempt them yourself. That would have been nice for learning purposes.
Multiplayer is the bread and butter of the Battlefield series, including Battlefield 3. Multiplayer is absolutely fantastic, so good that any misgivings I have for the single player or the co-op missions are forgiven. Battlefield 3 is the best team objective based fun so far. Sure it’s not as hardcore or tactical as say the Armed Assault series, it’s not meant to be, but it is a fantastically done, and very well polished multiplayer action experience.
You have four classes to choose from, each with their own set of pluses and minuses. The key to each class is to use them together as a team. Which, if you do, you get rewarded more for the team play than your kill to death ratio. Check out my basic tactics guide for class details.
PC Loadout for the Support Role
Xbox 360 Loadout for the Support Role
You also have five modes of play. Death match, team death match and squad rush are the lesser played, smaller modes. The team death matches are fast and furious with random spawn locations, more for the run and gun players, where your kills really matter more than anything else.
The true battlefield modes are Conquest and Rush with bigger maps, more vehicles, more defenses and more set objectives. Teamwork is key to these two modes, which are also the most popular played. See my basic tactical guide for more info and tips for these two popular modes.
SimHQ has our own ranked Battlefield 3 server. Feel free to join in via BattleLog, and join the action. Just remember; we are SimHQ, tactics and teamwork is the key and a requirement.
We have a definite winner in this title IF you like the type of game play. Sure the single player campaign is a little weak and not very eventful, but worth doing once. The 2 player co-op missions are a nice break and change of pace, but where Battlefield 3 shines like no other is the full scale multiplayer battlefield. With 4 classes to choose from, and a number of unlocks and upgrades, along with 4 modes of play, and 9 maps, Battlefield 3 is the best team based multiplayer action on the market. If you fancy yourself a team player whether on PC, Xbox 360, or PS3… Battlefield 3 is worth the purchase. You've just got to deal with the new game issues, mostly with the interface and connections.
So what I'm saying here is the game itself is great, the interface and connection issues are not.
- Excellent graphics and sounds for PC, good for consoles. Nice lights and dark environment
- Excellent weapons, vehicles, and equipment (though not simulation quality)
- Okay single player campaign
- Good collection of 2-man cooperative missions, each different and eventful
- In game browser even for consoles
- 4 great characters, each with their own specialties and unlocks
- Nice collection of different sizes, shapes, and types of maps
- Excellent teamplay, multiplayer action where the squad play is more important than K/D ratios
- Prone is back
Could Be Better
- Over abundance of light, especially from flashlights on weapons
- Origin (no need for it)
- Browser start (no real need for it)
- Browser interface (confusing and cluttered)
- Slow game launch
- Broken in game comms, works once in a while, confusing
- Too much activity on the in game HUD/overlay
- Not all weapons feel as powerful as they should be
- Clipping and getting stuck on debris
Reviewer's System Specs
- Dell XPS 720
- Intel Core2 processor Q6600
- 4GB DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
- SATA HDD
- 16X DVD+R/RW CD-RW Combination Drive
- X-Fi PCI Sound Card
- Microsoft Windows 7
Xbox 360 Version
- Xbox 360 console
- 50 inch HD TV
- 5.1 Surround Sound
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