Even today, where gaming industry journalists could be more accurately described as puppets controlled by a publishers PR team, it is rare that a game can reach the ridiculous levels of hype that surrounded BF3 even months before its release. It is even rarer though that a game fails to meet even a single aspect of that hype. Put bluntly, Battlefield 3 is the most disappointing game I have ever played, bar none.
Before you ridicule me as nothing more than a Call of Duty fanboy, let me tell you that I had been playing Battlefield for nearly 3 years before I even touched a COD game. After spending about 100 hours each with BF1942 and BF2, my love for the series definitely peaked with 2142, where I spent nearly 300 hours, despite that game giving me all sorts of technical issues. Since then, I’ve spent 120 hours with Bad Company, 60 hours with 1943 and about 80 hours with Bad Company 2. Each game, even 1943 with its 3 or 4 maps kept me playing for over a month. So basically, I’m a pretty big fan of the series. Yet after playing Battlefield 3 for no more than 3 weeks and just shy of 20 hours, I’m done with it, and maybe the series, for good.
My first experience with the game was a very, very bad one. After launching the game, I decided to try out the campaign first, if for no other reason but to check out what Frostbite 2 is really capable of maxed out. No luck however, as I found myself staring at a frozen black screen after clicking the launch campaign button from Battlelog. Amazingly, before I had even seen a company logo or heard the BF theme, the game had frozen on me. Four attempts later and it finally loaded to the point where I could begin a campaign. Upon beginning loading the first level though, it duly froze. Another 4 or 5 attempts down the road and I actually got a taste of some gameplay.
When I finally got it running (with Ultra settings @1080p), I found the graphics weren’t all they were made out to be, and that enemies are very dumb. Sure, the confines of a train are perhaps not the best place to show off the games graphics or AI, but as I’ll soon explain, this first mission is all I’ve been able to play. The graphics look to be somewhere between Crysis 2 DX9 and C2 DX11 with HD textures. Textures were very clear, but lighting was nowhere near as realistic as in C2, and it seemed tessellation and other DX11 effects had seen pretty minimal use on environmental objects. I played this mission on normal difficultly, and I know it’s the first level, but you shouldn’t be able to easily dispatch every enemy without getting hit. They were very slow to react to me, tended to use other soldiers for cover in the middle of a corridor and often turned they’re back on me during a fight. After getting to the end of the level, all the while playing with a silky smooth frame rate, the game crashed during loading the next level. I decided to reload the campaign hoping to start from the second level, but it hadn’t saved my progress meaning I had to fight through the train again. I finished the mission, the game saved and then crashed while loading once again. Every time since then that I have tried to reload the campaign I have been unable to do so.
So that’s the campaign, what about the multiplayer? The news is definitely better on this front, as you would expect given DICE’s experience in this area. There are 9 maps in BF3, which DICE have expertly tailored to have a unique feel, and each requiring a player to develop a unique set of tactics in order to succeed on. Most of the maps are quite good, some however simply don’t work. Oh by the way, for me at least the game tends to crash after most multiplayer rounds during loading, how predictable.
If somebody were to ask what differentiates Battlefield from most other military shooters, it would certainly be a combination of the large, open maps and the freedom to play as you want to play. Battlefield 3 for the most part succeeds in this respect. You have the option to fly jets, man tanks and jeeps, get up close and personal with a wide range of assault rifles, SMG’s and machine guns, provide reconnaissance for your team with a remote controlled spy drone, or you can sit back and do absolutely nothing to help your team and rack up some safe kills with a sniper rifle or a mortar. Either way, regardless of how much your actions help the team win a game you will be rewarded more or less equally for your actions.
Balance is definitely a major issue in this game for my money. For the most part, guns are actually remarkably well balanced given how many of them there are in the game. Apart from SMG’s which tend to be too powerful and accurate at long range, and Sniper Rifles which tend to be too weak from close range, the rest of the arsenal is pretty much perfect. You definetly need to exercise some burst fire more often here than in say Call of Duty, but this mostly because of the size of the maps and not any increased recoil. Indeed, if I had to guess, I would say MW3 has more recoil than BF3, and the recoil in MW3 is probably more realistic as well. What I mean by this is that recoil in BF3 only results in a vertical kick of the gun, whereas in MW3, the kick in vertical and horizontal combined.
Tanks and the amphibious vehicles are a bit overpowered I feel. The AAV-7A1 AMTRAC in particular is too powerful in every way imaginable. It has enough armour to withstand either 5 RPG’s or 2 anti-tank mines, can transport a heap of soldiers, plus it has an incredibly powerful primary weapon. With 2 soldiers following this vehicle repairing it, it is more or less invincible and allows an attacking team in Rush to simply overrun the defenders. If it is destroyed, it respawns in a minute or so on a standard server, which is simply unfair on the defenders.
Another concern is mortars, which do very little to actually help a team in most cases, but reward the soldier using them with copious kills, enough points to place first on the leader board, and yet players using them are under almost no danger themselves. Tell me, how is it fair that a skilled player on the front line risking himself constantly for the benefit of the team typically will only get a similar score to the soldier I described with the mortar doing nothing for the team? Indeed it seems everything DICE have added to BF3 for the first time in the series is simply dumb. From flashlights brighter than sun, lens flare from a sniper scope which happens even in incredibly dark environments where the soldier is facing away from light sources, the auto regenerating health for vehicles and soldiers, the ridiculous suppression effect which makes it near impossible to see, and the grime on your mask which makes it impossible to see when even roughly facing the direction of the sun (not to mention the circular diffraction of the sun light which appears covering half of the screen), each of these are simple things that have been added deliberately but do nothing but hinder my enjoyment of the game.
The maps are for the most part good, with Grand Bazaar being my favourite, mostly due to its relegation of vehicles as a secondary focus to infantry combat. Other maps like Operation Metro fail completely for anything other than Rush. The problem with Metro in conquest is that apart from the first and last bases it is a very narrow and linear map. What this means for conquest is that only the base in the middle of the map ever gets contested as it is simply not possible for someone from either team to flank around and get to another flag. Caspian Border is too big for Rush and hence has a heavy focus on tanks which again I feel detracts from the games excellent infantry gameplay, while the later stages of Tehran Highway are simply too devoid of a safe approach onto the base for the attackers to have a chance against a good team of defenders in Rush. Other maps like Damavand Peak, again on Rush, force the attackers to run down a pretty bare hill to get to the m-com stations, and it can be very frustrating as an attacker to get picked off time and time again by defending snipers camping in the safety of a building while you are forced into what amounts to suicide in order to try and push up. Sure, if you have a good team it is possible to get down the hill quite easily, but if you're stuck with a bunch of noobs then good luck getting anywhere fast.
As with the recent Battlefields there are 4 classes here, each with their own purpose, and typically a successful team will have a mix of people from each class. Assault soldiers are the main aggressors, armed with assault rifles and SMG’s and otherwise equipped best for close quarters combat. They also serve as medics, who can give out health to wounded team mates and can revive incapacitated buddies too. Support soldiers are typically armed with LMG’s and have the ability to resupply ammo. Engineers are tasked with repairing friendly vehicles and destroying enemy ones, while Recon is your basic Sniper class, although they can also be kitted out with spawn beacons, spy drones and other useful gadgets. Recon is probably the most overused class, with scores of camping snipers often plaguing games, while Support is the most underutilised by far. Indeed one of its major roles is to replenish team mates’ ammo supply, yet over 20 hours of multiplayer I can count the number of times I actually received ammo on both hands. This possibly comes down to a mixture of people not knowing how to play BF properly, and the ‘commorose’ not having the ability to ask for ammo (or health), which is a pretty major oversight from DICE and shows they really haven’t put a lot of thought into many parts of the game.
While the graphics in the campaign probably aren’t as good as Crysis 2’s, BF3’s multiplayer graphics are certainly better than the same from Crysis 2. The level of detail in the MP environments is quite impressive, and although the huge blurry flaring that comes off every light source in the game is both ugly and distracting, overall they are the best graphics ever in a multiplayer game. One thing I did notice which I thought was quite interesting was that shadows do not match up to the object casting them with respect to the light source. For example, if you prone at top edge of a tree’s shadow looking at the sun, you will notice that the sun is only about 2/3 the ways up the tree. Probably the most bizarre lighting bug I’ve ever encountered to be honest.
The game’s two most major issues would probably be its collision detection and Origin. The former has definitely improved since the Beta, where it was more or less impossible to actually jump into a train carriage, but issues like that still exist. For example, rocks are still a downright pain to traverse, as is rubble. It also occasionally refuses to vault over barriers, typically while you’re getting shot at.
Origin, or specifically EA’s refusal to allow more than 1 solider per copy of the game is the major deal breaker for me though. I have not problems with Origin itself, indeed I was astounded at how fast it downloaded BF3, and it remains the only program ever to max out my internet speed wise (I have 37Mbit/s cable internet, the BF3 download peaked at 4.3MB/s in comparison to Steam which has never been above 2MB/s), only EA’s decision to limit owners of the game to one account. This is actually an issue for me, as there are multiple other people in my house who are big BF fans who naturally wanted to play the game. I paid AU$80 for the game, I except to be treated better than this EA.
BF3 is a broken mess, at least for me. I can’t even play the campaign for it crashing on me during loading and the multiplayer crashes after most rounds, again during loading the next map. This isn’t an issue exclusive to me, indeed I’ve found many other people on message boards with the same issue, and in none of them has anyone from EA even acknowledged the issue exists. Couple this annoyance with the fact that most of DICE’s additions to BF3 that weren’t in previous games kind of make it worse, and that owners of the game on PC are limited to one account per game, and EA have made me, a long-time fan with bordering on 800 hours combined play time of the series, question whether I will continue to support the series in the future. It is a shame the game is plagued by so many issues, because when it gets down to it, the infantry on infantry combat is probably some of the best I’ve ever experienced.
* Authors note: The sub scores below are ignoring the technical issues with the game. The reason that the overall score is so far below the sub scores is because of EA's restriction of one soldier per game severely limiting the value of the game from my standpoint, and the sheer number and impact of the technical issues that I have experienced playing this game.