One of the most talked about rivalries in gaming right now is that of Call of Duty vs. Battlefield. Rightfully so, as DICE has made no bones about going after Call of Duty and its first-person shooter popularity crown. While the comparison seems like an obvious one, we’re not convinced that Call of Duty is the best measuring stick for Battlefield 3. Sure they’re both military shooters but, outside of their genre, these two games set out to achieve very different things, especially on the multiplayer side.
Perhaps a better comparison would be to that of Battlefield 2, a game that a lot of people still consider to be the high mark in multiplayer gaming. Or maybe we should use the most recent Battlefield project, the Bad Company series, a side franchise that has become quite popular amongst the console crowd. So how does Battlefield 3 stack up against its much-loved older brothers?
One of the single greatest things Battlefield 3 has over its most recent console predecessors (and most console multiplayer games) is a server browser. We know server browsers are nothing new to PC games but they’re somewhat rare on consoles. Not only does Battlefield 3 have one, but it’s far and away the best we’ve seen yet. There are tons of sorting options for every game type and mode, you can flag favorite servers for another date, see which servers your friends are playing on, and even see what rank all the players on a particular server are before jumping in. Again, this is old potatoes for PC gamers, but for console players, this is a welcome offering.
Other available game modes include Battlefield staples, ‘Rush’, and ‘Conquest’, as well as hardcore variations of every game-type, and even a ‘infantry only’ option for the objective based games.
One of the things that make all those game-types so great is that you can play them on every map. Unlike Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 has a different map variation for every mode in the game. The Rush variants are usually the biggest, and the deathmatch maps are generally only a small, strategically sequestered, fenced-in piece of the full map.
Speaking of the maps, they’re awesome. Every one of them. The game ships with 9 total, and not only are they absolutely massive in the objective games, but it feels like DICE went through each of them, time and time again, combing out exactly where to put choke points, intersections, and objectives. They all feel unique, and some of them even have a distinct draw to them, like the ability to BASE-jump from a helipad and parachute in to the next objective.
To go along with the fantastic map design, the weapons and vehicles are also masterfully crafted and balanced. It’s hard to believe that a game with over 40 primary weapons and 20 vehicles can achieve a very high level of balance, but Battlefield 3 pulls it off. Thanks to the new ‘scope gleam’ and the slightly ‘nerfed’ sniper rifles, snipers can no longer dominate the game 300 yards away from the objectives, as was the case in the Bad Company games.
Regarding the vehicles, all the tanks and land vehicles feel roughly the same as they did in Bad Company 2, but the choppers received a major handling overhaul. They’re still quite useful with the right pilot and gunners, but their impact is kept in check thanks to several changes DICE implemented.
And then there are the jets. To be honest, we were never able to have a significant impact with the jets, nor did any of the other people we played with. Don’t get us wrong, as an infantry soldier, seeing four planes duking it out in mid-air is an awesome sight to behold, but they rarely had an impact on what was happening on the ground.
Perhaps the greatest part about Battlefield 3’s multiplayer is how many things there are to do at any given time. This isn’t always the case when playing a deathmatch mode but in Rush and Conquest, we were never at a loss for secondary tasks. Depending on which of the four classes you choose to play as, you can hand out health, throw out ammo packs, revive teammates, place mines, drop mobile spawn points, spot enemies, and even use unmanned drones to complete a couple of tasks. Of course, that’s all just in an effort to help achieve your primary task of completing main objectives while eliminating the opposing team along the way.
The visuals in multiplayer do take a bit of a hit compared to what you see in the campaign. There’s a little more draw-in and pop-up that will occasionally catch your eye, but even at its worst, it’s a sharp looking game that rarely slows down, even during intense moments when a lot is happening in confined quarters.
It will come as surprise to no one, but the audio effects in Battlefield 3 are downright stunning. The guns sound crisp, the tanks and jets sound intimidating, and there is never a moment when the game’s audio design allows you to fall out of immersion. Also, the subtle music that starts to play when your team is about to win the game is a very nice touch.
Unfortunately, all the glowing praise we’ve offered above about Battlefield 3 doesn’t amount to much if you’re not actually able to get on to a server and play the game. And for a lot people (including us), that’s been a very real problem. Just about every network issue you could dream up occurred for us at one point or another. Connection failures, servers booting everyone out mid-game, random pockets of lag, several lengthy unscheduled maintenance sessions, and sometimes a complete inability to successfully join games with more than one person in a party.[drop2]It’s a real shame the multiplayer launch has been this rocky because the game itself feels like a finished product, but on many occasions the frustration of not being able to play with friends (or at all) outweighed the fun we had once we were finally in.
Another thing we weren’t so fond of was the lack of loadout options for your soldier. You can only customize the U.S. soldier before going in to a game, which is confusing because there are guns that are temporarily exclusive to the Russian side of multiplayer. To set up your Russian soldier’s loadout, you have to do it in-game. Even though you’re given some time to do this before each match starts, it was still a bit odd.
We also weren’t impressed with the stats that are available to view in the game. You can’t see any specific weapon or vehicle stats without using EA’s ‘Battlelog’ on PC or select mobile devices. The Battlelog (when it’s working) is nice enough, but we really felt like we should’ve been able to see a more detailed breakdown of our stats within the game itself.
Although the co-op mode in Battlefield 3 was also sporadically affected by the server issues, there were a few times when we were able to play while waiting for servers to come back up. There are 6 missions total, all of them placing you in a random scenario without any story-related reason to complete the objective. And that’s precisely why co-op was never really anything more than a time killer while waiting to play competitive modes. Without any type of context, it’s just not that much fun to randomly kill waves of opponents while nothing is pushing you to move further. For some, the unlockable multiplayer weapons will be enough to warrant at least some time in this mode, but for us, it was nothing more than a quick distraction before trying once again to get on a multiplayer server.
- Many different ways to play each game.
- Amazing sound design.
- Maps are brilliantly constructed.
- Good balance between weapons and vehicles.
- Loads of stuff to unlock.
- Terrible connectivity issues.
- Co-op feels tacked on.
- Lack of loadout and stat options.
Once we made it on to a server and in to a properly running game, we found Battlefield 3 to be one of the most intense and enjoyable multiplayer experiences we’ve ever had. Unfortunately, technical issues absolutely devastated the launch of this game and have likely left a very deep scar on the Battlefield community. Any fan of the franchise or modern shooters in general should definitely give Battlefield 3’s multiplayer a shot, but at least for the moment, be prepared to fight through some mean bush to reach the good stuff.
You can get our review of Battlefield 3’s single player experience by clicking here.
Reviewed from the Xbox 360 version of the game with the optional texture pack installed.