There is a rather enormous amount of hype surrounding DICE's official sequel to 2005's Multiplayer Shooter Battlefield 2. First because it's supposed to look amazing, second it's back on the PC as lead and with 64 players returning, and finally it's supposed to destroy another military shooter that's coming out in the not so distant future. Realistically though, who cares if it's better than another game? If both are good, pick up both; simple.
But that's not the point of this review. No, the point is to outline why Battlefield 3 is such a great game in so many ways, but suffers from a fairly large amount of technical problems that hold it back from being amazing. Yes, the game has flaws. Among all the hype and steam that it's managed to rise up, it's not the perfection that many fans thought it would be. But since when is anything ever perfect?
Before we jump into the main course of the pretty meal laid before us, we'll jump into the entree which is the Single Player, though unfortunately it's a fairly stale tasting one. DICE have gone ahead and added a campaign similar to that of the Call of Duty games in progression and linearity, but with a story that simply proves ineffective until the very end; but by then it's already too late. The story bases itself around the seen before concept that there are terrorists around the world and they're killing marines and bombing countries with nuclear devices, and it's all told and outlined for you through a series of flashbacks. Eventually, after the five hour trip you'll come to the end, and all will be well within the Universe once it's all said and done.
While the single player has some fairly jaw dropping set pieces at points (for those who play it, the jet level is worth seeing), the overall package feels very stale and you can't help but feel you've done this somewhere before, more than once. It's extremely linear and littered with QTE's too, so the campaign feels a lot like a point and click adventure posing as a tech demo rather than a fully fledged single player experience. It's a very, very nice looking experience, but an extremely forgettable one; eventually becoming a massive drag by about the four hour mark. While we mentioned that there are some pretty fantastic looking set pieces and triggered events within the campaign, it's simply not worth getting into for those who have little interest in the campaign, and DICE really should've stuck to the tongue in cheek and more dynamic structure that Bad Company 2's campaign had.
But enough about the campaign, as that isn't what you buy a Battlefield title for. The real reason about 99 percent of people bought it is for the Multiplayer, and of course DICE deliver the goods here in mostly great condition. 64 player combat has made a triumphant return (but only on PC, 24 is the max on Consoles) and it shines quite brightly on most maps, making the now standard Conquest and Rush modes a chaotic and frankly somewhat insane battleground where you can die from out of the blue from practically anything, including team mates. Most maps do compensate for the player size with good scaling and plenty of vehicular (and anti-vehicle) warfare to go around, balancing out the infantry to vehicle ratio, though some maps in 64 player are quite frankly ridiculous in that they're a little too chaotic, often resulting in deaths the very moment you spawn. A good example of a map like this is Operation Metro, where though it's fine with 32 players, in Conquest mode with 64 players packing the server it is simply a giant spam fest of explosions and bullet spraying - and that's only with infantry too. Some maps tend to be overkill with vehicles and players on Rush maps (Operation Firestorm Rush with 64 players is stupid), so it's a bit odd that DICE got these maps through QA and decided they're great for 64 people.
With that said though, you'll have a lot of fun with the game most of the time, particularly with the varied classes combined with friends in your squad and capturing points as a team. There is no title quite like Battlefield 3 on the market and with the amount of unlocks and levelling available to players, they can be playing this for hundreds of hours and still be receiving new content.
But regardless of the chaos and the amount of enjoyment Battlefield 3 can provide, in come the plethora of issues that also plague the game, which can quickly turn a bout of fun into an immense level of frustration. The first layer of this frustration is Battlelog, the new browser based interface that is used to access everything including the Campaign, Multiplayer servers, Co-op modes and statistics.
While Battlelog tends to work alright for people going into servers on their own most of the time, a number of issues pop up when trying to party up and join servers with friends. The party up part with your mates is the easy part, but getting into servers can be a massive gamble as some will frequently be unable to join a server regardless of whether or not it's full, or they will simply not receive the notification from Party Leaders that they want to join a game. There are also bugs in that you cannot actually see your friends online even though they actually are, and sometimes jumping into a game results in an instant crash. Plus due to Battlelog's synchronisation with EA's Origin, there can be launch issues plaguing it there too. It just feels cluttered and completely unpolished, as it's riddled with bugs and seems to be more a layer of DRM rather than a well integrated and helpful feature. Why can't we have our server browser and options in the game? Why do we have to go through not only Origin but Battlelog to launch a game? You're going through layers of applications to run Battlefield 3, and it's completely unnecessary and simply not helpful in any way; especially due to the numerous bugs encountered.
Once you actually are in a game, the frustrations may not stop there. The launch week has seen some massive hits on servers with general lag issues and crashes, and though they've been reduced significantly they still rear their ugly head on occasion. Though the one big flaw that DICE have in Battlefield 3 Multiplayer is a decision of theirs to move the hit registration (your bullets hitting people online in english) to the client-side, which can result in some incredibly frustrating moments of instant deaths and being shot through cover, along with the game's general wonkiness when it comes to its hit detection.
To elaborate on what exactly client-side hit registration is, it is when every bullet fired is registered through your, or the clients side, rather than the server. This basically means that you and your opponent's ping is entirely dependent on whether or not you can get good shots in. While client-side registration can work for the most part, the problem that arises is disparity in ping between players, and we're talking 64 players here so it's a rather diverse range of pings. The best example of the flaw behind this form of hit registration is that if someone has extremely low ping and yours is slightly higher, he can hit you well before you jump behind the cover you're near, though on your side you're already behind the cover. This results in you essentially dying while behind cover which leads to frustrating moments for the player that just died. On the opposite spectrum there are high ping issues too, where if you have a very low ping player being shot at by someone with a high ping, the low ping player may suddenly die instantly without even seeing his health drop.
We won't delve into it too much more as it gets fairly complicated with examples, but you get the drift. Bad Company 2 was based on server-side registration which was much more stable and compensated for DICE's notoriously poor hit boxes in their games, so for Battlefield 3 to jump onto client-side and still have general shoddiness in its hit boxes can result in a very, very frustrating experience for online players. It's incredibly disappointing to see the game go this path, as it does tend to ruin the enjoyment of the game because you suddenly die while sitting behind cover. And since we have no way to check pings on players in the server (which is ridiculous), you can never really bet everyone will have similar pings.
Negativity aside though, Battlefield 3 has one major pro that is hard to fault, and that is its presentation. In both audio and visuals, Battlefield 3 is virtually unequalled technically, with some of the sharpest and high resolution texture work seen in a video game to date, and the most incredibly crisp and intense sounding effects you will hear. We (if it wasn't obvious) played the game on the PC with a very high end setup, and when everything's cranked up to Ultra it's a sight to behold. Animation in particular is quite incredible, with near flawless execution in blending between poses and sense of weight emphasised greatly on each character. It runs suprisingly well on a variety of systems too, with mid-range hardware running it fine on a mixture between Ultra and High and low end performing admirably on Medium to Low. Though the general consensus prior to the game's release was the game needs a monster PC to run, it's proven to be untrue and the game is extremely flexible. If you're looking for a game that will test your PC's power out and will showcase the raw power of what the platform can do, then Battlefield 3 is certainly the game you've been waiting for.
When all is said and done, we can't help but be a little glum about our experiences with Battlefield 3. It's an absolutely fantastic amount of fun online, and combined with the co-op missions you can do with friends for unlocks and score hunting there's a tonne to do in it. It's just that among the enjoyment of the game, there are layers above it that you sometimes must plow through in order to get to the goods. And when you've got the goods, sometimes you'll hit a sour spot. It's a game that certainly meets the hype the gameplay videos have shown us, but doesn't quite soar in its responsiveness and is held back greatly by Battlelog and its woes. If you can live with these technical hitches you're in for the best Multiplayer experience this year hands down. Just don't expect anything when it comes to single player, and hopefully in due time the bugs and problems will be patched out.