War is hell, confusing, and yet somewhat cathartic. EA Games has released war on the world in the DICE developed game, Battlefield 3. Check your corners, and watch your six, we're going in hot.
It is 2014, the story bounces around in time and from person to person. A majority of the story you play as Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Henry "Black" Blackburn, a Marine who is being questioned two agents from the CIA about the events of the last few days. You will also play as Sergeant Jonathan "Jono" Miller, an Abrams tanker, Lieutenant Jennifer "Colby" Hawkins, a naval flight officer on a sortie over Tehran and Dimitri "Dima" Mayakovsky, a Russian operative who searches Paris to stop the use of the nuclear bomb there.
Battlefield 3 starts you out close to the end of the story. SSgt Blackburn jumps aboard a racing subway train in New York. Fighting his way through the terrorists on the train he makes his way to a car filled with large canisters, blinking lights, and ticking timers. He is suddenly over powered from behind by a man demanding to know, "Did you come alone?"
From there the story skips backwards to a day earlier where Blackburn is being interrogated by the two CIA agents. One of them is convinced he is lying about the last few days, but the other wants to know the whole story and asks him to start at the beginning.
SSgt. Blackburn is part of a 5 man squad in Iraq. His squad is diverted from their current mission to help locate a missing squad that had been investigating possible a IED in a very hostile town. While searching you encounter various splinter groups of the PLR terrorists, take out a sniper, and cover the evacuation of wounded Marines. At the same time you are searching and skirmishing, the countryside rumbles with mini quakes of an impending earthquake. At the peak of an intense battle the fully fledged earthquake hits. Trying to find cover, a large building collapses near Blackburn, covering him in debris and knocking him out.
When he comes to it is night and the PLR are searching for surviving Marines to take prisoner, or worse. He sneaks and battles his way through what's left of the city. Eventually he reunites with most of his squad. They are then reassigned to a mission in Tehran, Iran, where a bank is the location for lots of terrorist activity. Here you fight through heavy resistance including tanks. Once inside the bank your squad fights its way down to the vault. There you find a large amount of intelligence about New York and Paris. Then you find something big, a case that holds three Russian portable nuclear bombs. You also notice two of them are missing. From there the story makes a few twists and turns.
Controls and Gameplay
Battlefield 3 is a first person shooter game with combat vehicle elements. The vehicles include humvees, jeeps, APCs, tanks, jets, and helicopters, a smorgasbord of vehicles, all played from the first person perspective. Most of the single player campaign is played on foot though.
I received the PC version of the game for review. The controls you can use are varied and up to you. You can use mouse and keyboard, joystick and keyboard or a gamepad. I started out trying to use mouse and keyboard, but I found a couple buttons felt out of place so I switched to the gamepad. That worked well for a while, but in the first hostile town I found that there seemed to be a missing button for picking up items while in the prone position. After dying too many times I switched back to mouse and keyboard. That seemed to work better overall and eventually I got used to the button layout, it just took a couple missions.
There are six online only co-op missions that you can play with a friend. Sadly no split-screen co-op at home. These six missions take place as a parallel story to single player missions
Lastly there is the heart of Battlefield 3, the online multiplayer. With up to 64 players max on PC, and 24 on the console, Battlefield 3 has a lot to offer here. Five game modes, Conquest (capture multiple points), Rush (attack or defend points), Squad Rush (same as Rush but smaller teams), Squad Deathmatch (four teams battle, the first to 50 kills wins), and finally Team Deathmatch (two large teams battle it out to score the most kills). All of these modes can be made even more challenging with "Hardcore Mode" turned on. In this mode most of HUD elements are turned off, weapons do more damage, and friendly fire is turned on.
Graphics and Sound
Battlefield 3 debuts the new Frostbite 2 engine. Besides making everything look real, it can portray the destruction of environments (buildings, scenery, vehicles) even more realistically than the previous Frostbite engine. From bullets chipping away the edges of pillars to tank cannons punching large holes into walls, Frostbite 2 does its job well.
The sound for all gunfire was distinctive to each weapon. Engines in vehicles raced and labored as they should as you rumbled across the countryside. The incidental sounds were spot on. The voice acting was very good too, credit to EA and DICE hiring a cast veteran of actors.
When Battlefield 3 showed at the last E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) EA had DICE show an actual play through of the Thunder Run mission, I was hooked. Thunder Run is a mission that follows Sgt Jonathan "Jono" Miller. As a former M1A1 Abrams tanker myself, watching that battle was like watching something straight out of Desert Storm, it looked and sounded real.
Sadly when I did get my review copy of the game I found my gaming computer was just inside the minimum requirements to play the game. I tried to play at medium settings, it looked great, but the game sputtered and stuttered in the single player campaign. After dropping it down to the lowest settings it still looked really good and played pretty smoothly only hiccupping at some of larger single player campaign battles.
Now notice, I mentioned that problems popped up in the single player campaign only. Online multiplayer I had no problem. Even with large amounts of people tearing it up over the internet the game was smooth. I even snuck the textures up to medium, oooo. Largely that is what most players who buy Battlefield 3 are going to play, so it makes sense that multiplayer run well. While the story is good, many will just use the story as a warm-up for online. One thing missing from the game is ability to play Battlefield 3 as a LAN (local area network) only game. I played Battlefield 3 at a LAN party recently and we had to use internet servers and invite each other into the game. We always seemed to end up with other internet players popping into our game.
Those that do play through the single player game will find it tougher than they think. The enemy AI is smart. Firing from behind cover, flanking, and using suppressing fire on you. On the other hand the AI of your squad-mates is questionable. Many times they did dumb things, such as run into your line of fire or, as you get into cover, they come up behind you and shove you out into the line of fire, getting you killed. While I did praise the enemy AI they had their own stupid moments, but they were fewer.
As an Army Vet what did I think? The single player campaign was tough, stupid AI was a real drawback to me. At one point I quit playing because I was so frustrated and angry. The multiplayer on the other hand was a blast. The first thing I did when I saw a M1A1 Abrams tank was get in it and proceeded to tear across the countryside. I did things with that tank that I may or may not have done in real life. The realism of the tank hovers in a middle ground. It feels real enough, but I'm pretty sure there are many things about its presentation that, because of military secrets, are not correct.
Some of the other things that struck me as odd were the way Battlefield 3 starts. EA launched its new game store service, Origin, earlier this year. You can launch the game from its desktop shortcut, but it will open just open Origin, which in turn will then open a web browser to the Battlefield 3 Battlelog. From the Battlelog you can launch the game into the campaign, co-op, or multiplayer. In the Battlelog you can also track your statistics, chat with friends, and join "platoons" (clans for multiplayer veterans). Basically the Battlelog is a social hub with stat tracking and game launching functions. Call me picky, but since my computer is already running just inside the minimums of a resource hungry game, I would have like the resources the web browser takes up for the game itself.
With good story, dumb AI, an odd way of starting the game, but a huge amount of fun to play online with friends I give Battlefield 3 a 4 out of 5.
Battlefield 3 is rated M for Mature for Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
It is available now for Windows PC, Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox 360. For more information visit the Battlefield 3 web site.