Critical Consensus: Battlefield 3

The scores are in, but has DICE answered the call?

With the arrival of Battlefield 3, it's tempting to spout clichés like "the wait is finally over" or "it's time to look beyond the hype," but that would be misleading. As anyone who has followed the games press for the last few months will tell you, EA has made a herculean effort to position DICE's return to the core Battlefield franchise as one half of a double-act: a formidable veteran pulled out of retirement to take down a bloated, domineering champion.

The "champion" is, of course, Call of Duty, and the underdog narrative EA has constructed cannot reach its climax until Activision shows its hand. Only then will we know if the corporate mud-slinging, the suspect websites, and the oddly familiar advertising slogans were worth it. Battlefield 3 was never going to beat Modern Warfare 3 on sales, but it was supposed to be a clear winner on quality.

Judging from the reviews on both PC and console, that victory is far from certain.

If Battlefield does fall short, it won't be on its multiplayer features, which are as robust and brilliantly executed as the DICE faithful expected them to be.

"With dozens of players battling across nine massive maps in tanks, jeeps, helicopters, jets, or on foot, multiplayer matches feel like a genuine war rather than a small-scale skirmish," gushes Game Informer's Dan Ryckert in a 9.5 review almost entirely devoted to Battlefield's online play.

"Rush, Team Deathmatch, and the squad variants are solid modes, but with the return of 64-player matches Conquest is once again the star of the multiplayer show. In my time on the game's pre-release servers, I never encountered lag. Even in massive battles featuring dozens of players and vehicles competing over a single flag, the action proceeded without the slightest hiccup."

"The size of the maps, variety of vehicles, and overall scale of Conquest rounds make for some fantastic moments that couldn't be recreated if you tried."


Game Informer's review, it should be noted, is of the PC version, and there is a noticeable increase in the number of technical problems in console reviews. An example of this is Ryan Winterhalter's review for 1up, in which he awards the game a B+ - a grade lower than the PC version, which received an A-.

"There are notable graphical flaws that can't be conveyed through screenshots, and these sometimes interfere with gameplay," Winterhalter says. "The PS3 version suffers from noticeable screen tearing. Graphical pop-in is a noticeable issue on both platforms; certain models -- characters, objects, weapons -- pop in and out of the world as the camera shifts, even at close distances. The most common offender is foliage, but I've seen this happen to pipes on buildings, and even enemy players in multiplayer matches."

For many, comments like these will confirm the longstanding fear that DICE's predilection for using footage from the PC version for pre-release marketing masked the impossibility of replicating that performance on consoles.

"In a screenshot-for-screenshot comparison, Battlefield 3 is obviously better looking than any of its competition, but when you actually sit down to play and look at it in motion the tradeoffs that DICE made for the consoles quickly become evident, and its status as the best looking console game around can be called into question."

The tradeoffs that DICE made for consoles quickly become evident, and its status as the best looking console game around can be called into question

Ryan Winterhalter, 1up

However, for those that can tolerate the odd bug, or have the patience to wait for the inevitable patches, the Battlefield 3 experience is still ahead of its console competition.

"Other games may have much higher player counts, or have a better focus on infantry combat, but no other title features Battlefield 3's combined arms combat. When your teammates work together and dominate the enemy, it's amazing. Even when things don't quite work out, the progressive unlocks combined with the Battlelog social network are enough of an incentive to keep playing."

Unfortunately, the word "amazing" was never once applied to the single-player mode in any review we read. Indeed, the excellent work in the game's multiplayer features seems to be mirrored by its underwhelming, derivative campaign.

"Only tangentially related to the multiplayer side of the game, and more concerned with the sort of Hollywood heroics that propelled Activision's franchise to the top of the tree, it's remarkable just how badly it sells the Battlefield brand," says Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead, in his 8 out of 10 review.


Whitehead singles out a first-person, pre-mission sequence in an aircraft hanger that seamlessly transitions into explosive aerial combat for particular praise, but what follows perfectly illustrates the problem with Battlefield 3's single-player content.

"It's amazing stuff, a true work of digital theatre, offering immersion and realism beyond anything we've seen in games before. It's also almost entirely non-interactive, and leads into a mission that starts disappointing and only goes downhill from there. You're not the pilot, it turns out. You're the co-pilot. Your job is to point and shoot at the enemy fighters as the plane goes through its scripted banks and rolls. Later on you get to take aim at ground targets, a duck hunt dressed up in a Tom Clancy uniform."

"This is the weakness of Battlefield 3's single-player in a cockpit-sized nutshell. It's often so busy trying (and often succeeding) to impress you with immersive detail that it forgets to give you anything meaningful to do."

This is only exacerbated by the technical problems that besiege the console version, because the odd mission that opens up the play-space beyond a restrictive corridor cause, "the console architecture creak most alarmingly... At one point my iron sights glitched, making it impossible for me to strafe right. Moments later, I was able to walk right through a tank."

Joystiq's Arthur Gies played the PC version for his 9 out of 10 review, but while glitches and bugs were predictably absent from his critique, Battlefield 3's campaign is greeted with similar disdain.

"Battlefield 3's campaign isn't just a straight line, it's tactically linear. Firefights almost always unfold the same way. This is partly due to enemy AI that often seems stuck to a six foot leash from where they initially appear, but it goes deeper than that. For all the talk of destruction and immersion, Battlefield 3's campaign is a step backward from the manic calamity of Bad Company 2. There's no more blowing holes through walls to make an alternate route. Environmental destruction is cosmetic or scripted."

"None of that is a death sentence -- Modern Warfare drew the blueprint for the modern linear shooter, and it still managed to be fast, fun, and exciting. But Modern Warfare always gave you something to do, and enemies that were fun to shoot. Battlefield 3 is clearly referencing that blueprint, but it fails in this regard. There aren't that many enemies to shoot, and DICE has made up for that by allowing them to fire through geometry with pinpoint accuracy. It leads to a lot of trial by death and memorisation. It's not fun."

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Latest comments (17)

Rodney Smith Developer 7 years ago
ps3/xbox 360 sing: 'i can feel the soil falling over my head...'
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Tommy Thompson Studying Artificial Intelligence (PhD), University of Strathclyde7 years ago
Having read the Eurogamer review in full, I think they gave a rather nice summation of the issues raised in these reviews:

"Battlefield didn't need to be more like Call of Duty to succeed, it just had to double down on what it was already good at."

Sounds like the campaign is not worth the time really.
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If they made the campaign like a cinematic movie ala Uncharted 3, wouldnt that be something!
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Show all comments (17)
Mike Wuetherick Lead Designer, Super Mega Awesome Games7 years ago
i'm 100% a battlefield fan, but literally within 30 seconds of starting the single player campaign, I ran into a ridiculous show-stopping broken quicktime event that prevents me (and a ton of other people apparently) from progressing. Mind-boggling that something this huge got past QA - it's pretty obvious that the campaign is an after thought and all Dice / EA are concerned about is the multiplayer.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game7 years ago
I did wonder from the outset if all of the more casual end of CoD players who had their heads turned by that amazing PC footage would be unpleasantly surprised when it didn't run like that on console. That still seems to be a question mark, and although most people I know have HDDs for Xbox a good few either don't realise they can install games, or have a 20Gb drive where space is a premium.
I'm guessing Battlefield fans will remain Battlefield fans, and it sounds like the MP is still very good, but will the CoD faithful that EA hoped to win over be trading this in next month to go back to what they know?
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Gregory Hommel writer 7 years ago
I played the PS3 version and surprise, surprise, I didn't run into any of these reported problems. My AI guide failed to move up once but that was nothing a reload couldn't handle. I found the realism of BF3'a campaign refreshing. There are plenty of enemies to shoot. The on rails fighter jet sequence was one of the best in recent memory. The environmental destruction "scripted"? I guess maybe the game knew I was going to shoot at those tiles. The cars had to blow up some time? I'm sure 60fps boom boom for 4 hours is exciting for some, but I fail to see how anyone would rate any military shooter above BF3. I guess claims of bugs and glitches is the best way to start undermining the underdog.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters7 years ago
I do find it very annoying when people respond to reports of bugs and glitches with "worked fine for me" and then imply that everyone else is a liar just trying to give the game a bad name. If the bugs were 100% repro they'd probably have been fixed before release.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game7 years ago
@Dave. +1. Especially because most people want to enjoy their purchase, not "give it a bad name" for no reason.
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Richard Yaxley Design / Music / QA 7 years ago
These days I personally can't understand why people put so much emphasis on single player capaigns. I'm glad the single player is more of an afterthought, multiplayer is NOW and DICE have been there for nearly 10 years!
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Liam Stockley Studying Computer Science, Nottingham Trent University7 years ago
I have to wonder how much of a hand EA had in deciding how DICE did the single-player. The original Bad Company was very similar to standard Battlefield - big maps, with multiple ways to solve problems - but Battlefield 3 is almost a copy and paste from the Modern Warfare games.
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The single player reminds me of the Black game format
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters7 years ago
@Richard Yaxley - Multiplayer is neither more "modern" nor inherently "better" than single player. You may enjoy multiplayer more, but some people hate it and much prefer to get immersed in a single player game away from the distractions of other people.
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Corey Skiffington Programmer/Scripter 7 years ago
Single player is also handy when your internet goes down or as a warmup before jumping online. I personally don't think an FPS gives me my money's worth unless it has both modes, though I've never found a game that 100% delivers on both.
I haven't gotten stuck at any point in the SP campaign so far, but agree it feels more like an FPS Dragons Lair than a fully fleshed out SP component. I'm running the PS3 version and I've found more bugs in MP than in SP.
Spotting enemies is hit and miss a lot of the time and the AA gun on the aircraft carrier can sometimes get it's movement slowed to zoomed-in speed while in zoomed-out mode, getting stuck in geometry etc... The game could have benefited from a closed beta with all levels and modes included.
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Ryan McGeough Studying Msc in Strategic Management, Dublin Institute of Technology7 years ago
As it has been said the combat is very similar to Black, it's a fun enough experience, but ultimately it's a bit hollow. For the large variety of weapons available it seems too frequently to lapse into shotgun/rifle territory where the difference is rarely enough to make you bother switching. The single player campaign is relatively well put together but never really excites or makes you jump.
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If one looks at the single player as a interactive gaming tutorial, what is there not to like?
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Phillip McCafferty Studying Extended diploma in creative media production (Games Development), Belfast Metropolitan College7 years ago
The SP is good, sans the CAS jet sequance & quicktime events. Enemy's up close will actively try to knife you & it's a refreshing change to see the AI adopting the ever popular human tactic of grenade spam.

There are 1 or 2 little attention to detail issues, such as the Spetsnaz using US made grenades & the M320 Grenade launcher using the GP-30's model when mounted on Russian weapons, but the overall experience is absolutely brilliant. (So long as you avoid the more "meatgrindery" multiplayer maps.)
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Justin King Creative Digital Producer, mattel7 years ago
i have to say i think its much ado about nothing in many ways regarding this game vs mw3.

i think the single player bf3 is as fun as these things get in their limited way. i think in many respects i'm enjoying it (the single player on the xbox360) more than cod mw2.

i have no issues with the graphical glitches, of which i've seen very few. nor do i particularly mind the 'on rails' sections, though i'd rather have been flying the jet than just the gunner, but it works for what it is.

its a console game, its delivering amazing visuals - not high-end pc visuals, but an xbox360 is few hundred dollars worth of console and not a grandsworth of high end pc hardware. comparisons are unfair.

i think now that the game reviewing industry is as bad as wall street for playing on the hype that publishers generate to promote their title, and then speculating like mad to generate 'controversy' and 'news' and 'analysis'.

bf3 is a good solid fps, that delivers on fun and frantic action, and does its best with the genre.

i would say its well worth $60. and if you play it on hard (re named insane), you'll get enormous value for money, and see the death animation a bajillion times :o)
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