War is hell. Full of intrigue and grotesque glories that blur the lines between good and evil men, leaving us to wonder how far the grey expanse between all these deeds runs. At least, that’s what Battlefield 3 would want anyone pushing their way through the single-player campaign to believe and for the most part, the game achieves this feet with relatively intermediate collateral damage. Yet more often than not, the inherent flaws become gratuitously apparent when pushing onwards through a section of gameplay not once or twice, but repeatedly.
Admittedly, Battlefield 3 had become the more anticipated shooter title to hit this holiday season in my mind, primarily because it wasn’t a Call of Duty game, and easily sat at the forefront of my excitement. So, when finally able to sit down and meld with the game for several, uninterrupted hours, it became apparent pretty quickly that I was dealing with something that was both unique and interesting. Sadly though, it was a rude awakening that there were some incredibly disheartening flaws present, that became increasingly frustrating as time went on before the single-player felt more like a chore than something I had any urge to finish.
Namely, that even on the normal difficulty setting, players will die a great many times. Routinely, it felt as though the difficulty curve would spike with almost unrealistic candor at several points in the game causing an eventual breakdown in play where trial-and-error replaced any cohesive gameplay style. This is only made worse by the time it takes to reload a checkpoint from the instant your character is killed to the time you can give it another attempt. What is so demoralizing about such a punishing form of obstacle is that the game encourages you at times to be that badass soldier only to reward you with a slap in the face and a punch in the gut as it sends you scurrying backwards to try it again.
Granted Battlefield 3 is not Modern Warfare 3 in this sense and will go out of its way to remind you of this fact often. You are not the bullet-sponge capable of soaking up gratuitous amounts of damage and if you fail to stick to cover, BF3 will make you pay for it. So, why then encourage players to act like a One-Man Army? Seemingly, somewhere along the way EA seemingly became more desperate for a game capable of toppling MW3 than a cohesive single-player experience – and it shows.
Playing Battlefield 3 will serve to remind players that Modern Warfare is still like two turntables and a microphone – where it’s at – and seeks to make players forget about the Call of Duty series with grim prejudice. Playing through a majority of the campaign feels pretty close narratively to what was seen in the original Modern Warfare, complete with the detonation of a tactical nuclear weapon, international espionage and regular soldiers rising above what’s expected of them. But where Modern Warfare 3 has an off-the-rail, Grade-A bananas story in the same vein of Armageddon, Battlefield 3 never shrugs off its closer ties to reality to shrug off the Deep Impact shackles to which it is beholden.
Everything in this game could be found in an active US Warzone, complete with weapons, vehicles and dialogue, reinforcing the genuine believability of what is presented. This not only serves to vastly increase the overall credibility, but sucks the player in with locales and other factors suffused in reality. But while not as steeped in realism such as titles like Operation Flashpoint, the game still feels like it pushes an agenda via the single-player campaign and tries to drag you along for a ride you may not necessarily want. Again, it essentially gets boiled down to being encouraged to act like Rambo moments before taking two to the face and watching a loading screen all over again. Given enough time and frustration begins setting in like gangrene.
Additionally unsatisfying is the vicious use of Quick-Time Events to push rudimentary story elements forward. Disarming a bomb and CQB are all well and good, but when I can reduce a majority of my experience with Battlefield 3 to QTEs, watching a dying hand reach out in front of me and a bit of shooting in-between, the game no longer seethes fun and instead feels more like an exercise in patience. It just feels like QTEs take a significant amount of control out of players’ hands by reducing a complicated set of actions down to pressing the “B” button or tapping the “Right Bumper”, it’s starting to come off more as an act of laziness than ingenious game design and frankly, I’d be happy to see it go.
Possessing a single-player experience that is, at best passable, there really is little reason for anyone to go through the campaign more than once. The only exceptions of course being levels such as Thunder Run, which genuinely do break up the dubious monotony of the on-foot levels and make whoever happens to be holding the controller at the time feel like a force of nature. That is, if that force of nature happens to be a 70-ton war machine.
But for the few and far between moments of fun, the campaign really left me wanting a lot more despite good initial impressions and a marketing run prior to release that was almost able to put Modern Warfare 3 to shame. Succinctly, it feels like EA wanted a slice of what makes Call of Duty so popular with the general gaming populace, but didn’t inch their finger towards the proper place on the pulse instead branding their single-player simply as preparation for online play. However, that isn’t being reviewed here.
More or less a disservice to players looking for a solid solo or even co-op experience, Battlefield 3 will give players something akin to that if they can overcome the inherent flaws presented with a staunch difficulty curve and somewhat overutilization of QTEs – even if it is just once. While this definitely doesn’t serve to make BF3 a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, it does leave it feeling little more than average when compared to the CoD intellectual property it sought to emulate, or perhaps even best. Yet, despite imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, it makes the underlying flaws appear all the more brazenly.
For everything that Battlefield 3 could have been a campaign, it was traded-off in an attempt to cash-in on the tidal wave that Call of Duty has been riding for years. There is some fun and interesting gameplay buried under the sand here, but only marginally so. Unless one happens to enjoy the multiplayer the series is historically known for, the campaign is wasted on players who are looking for more.
Final Score: 3/5
Full Disclosure: The Battlefield 3 single-player campaign was reviewed on the Xbox 360 over a course of roughly 10 hours. Multiplayer was not reviewed and therefore had zero bearing on the results of this review. Battlefield 3 is currently available from most retailers for $59.99.
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