Battlefield 3 review

  • The best, deepest, most epic multiplayer around
  • Genuinely stunning visuals, even on console
  • Some really cool moments in co-op
  • Campaign is tired, unoriginal and utterly robotic
  • Having to install the graphics
  • Possibly not being able to install the graphics on a 4Gb 360

Tricky review to write, this one. Tricky review indeed. You see Battlefield 3 is really two separate games fighting for attention in the same package. One of them (and arguably the one that most of the series' core fanbase are interested in) is very, very good indeed. The other, despite looking very pretty and seeming to have the best of intentions, is a formulaic, often-shambolic mess of a thing, which stumbles into the territory of the downright broken at times. 

So the question is, does one ignore the crap and rate the game based upon the best bits, or take Battlefield 3 as an overall package and adjust the score accordingly? I'm going to have to do the latter, because Battlefield 3 is an overall package, and a review cannot simply be written for a selected group of gamers. I will however, be breaking things down a bit in my text so that you can contextualise what the final number means for you personally. My position clear, let's get on with this, shall we?

You want graphics with that?

First, one very important point. For whatever reason, the Xbox 360 version of Battlefield 3 that runs off the main disc uses a seriously downgraded texture set for a noticeable amount of the game's graphics. I'm talking standard-def, last-gen or worse here. It's hilarious in places. Check out this video I made and you'll see what I mean.

Above: The installed versions of the textures come first, obviously

The real textures come by way of an optional 1.5 Gb installation taking around three minutes. I say optional, but it's not really. The SD textures look so bad that you will not want to play BF3 with them. Problem is, that so far it seems that if you have a 4Gb Xbox, you might be screwed. BF3, you see, refuses to recognise the 4Gb internal Flash memory as a legitimate storage device, and will not attempt the installation. It seems that unless EA and DICE sort this, without a bona fide hard drive, you're getting BF3: PS2 Edition. We've contacted EA about the issue, and obviously we'll keep you updated. That clear, let's crack on. How about we stay on the negatives for a bit and get them all out of the way?


Battlefield 3’s campaign has a few inspired set-pieces – chiefly the semi-free-roaming tank battle you saw in Grimm's FAP, and a quite tense section inspired by Hitchcock’s North by Northwest – and the core experience of firing a gun is a meaty and satisfyingly affecting one throughout, boosted to no end by DICE’s rattly, mechanical gun handling and sumptuous sound design. Also, it’s one of the best-looking, most visually atmospheric shooters of the generation so far (when it isn’t trying too hard to prove that by throwing a borderline hilarious number of combat-obscuring light, shadow and smoke effects at you).

It’s resolutely linear, but usually does a good job of feeling open. Urban areas in particular effectively funnel you along the right route without feeling too constrictive, though some rural spots jar rather horribly by using a clumsy “Get back to the fight or die” mechanic if you stray past the invisible and often chokingly tight boundaries it has in place. Overall then, doesn’t sound too bad. One thing you should know though. 

Battlefield 3’s campaign does not give a shit whether you exist or not. That Skynet-like disregard for the pathetic, fleshy human form is its defining characteristic. It doesn’t matter what you think. Things are going to play out how Battlefield 3 wants them to. Understand that from the start. If you’re really good and do everything it says, exactly as it tells you to, then if you’re lucky it might just let you feel like you’re involved. If not? Then you’re in for a whole lot of disconnected frustration.

Above: For all its graphical wonder, BF3's campaign is as lifelike as these guys

Experiencing a convincing, narrative-driven video game world is like being the only non-actor amongst an improv troupe charged with accommodating your input while pushing towards a pre-set story outcome. By contrast, Battlefield 3’s campaign is like wandering around a museum full of animatronic waxworks which repeat set, pre-programmed patterns whether there’s anyone in the room or not. Call of Duty takes a lot of deserved flack for its over-scripted, on-rails experience. Indeed, playing CoD is often more like being strapped into a rollercoaster at a Michael Bay theme park than partaking in genuine interactive entertainment. But in trying so damnably hard to ape its biggest military shooter rival, Battlefield 3 almost operates as a parody of it. In fact thinking of it like that was the way I actually got through its worst parts with sanity intact.

Above: Ever felt you're not actually part of the group?

In Battlefield 3’s campaign, we’re talking about a game in which your own AI squad-mates won’t just hog cover, they’ll invariably actively force you out of it if you happen to be sheltering behind the one specific rock or crate that the scripting has decided is theirs. No hint of adaptation. No care for the other six rocks they could take without risking your immediate death during a heavy salvo of gunfire. No acknowledgement that you’re even there. Because to Battlefield 3’s NPCs, you’re not.

Squad behaviour is so prescribed that at one point my team decided that the cover wall I was using was the designated grouping spot. They bunched up around me, locked me in position on the spot, and by some glitchy quirk of clipping, forcing me to stand up (even though they were crouching). I remained a sitting duck until the last enemy was dead. And strangely, by that point I wasn't even surprised.

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: DICE
Franchise: Battlefield
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending


  • HeavyTank - October 28, 2011 6:28 a.m.

    Cheers for not going "OMFG 1000/10" and actually being objective.
  • Redeater - October 28, 2011 6:37 a.m.

    That graphics install thing is kind of bothersome but guess we will have to get used to it with games the next couple years. Great review though.
  • Corsair89 - October 28, 2011 6:53 a.m.

    I'd ask why DICE didn't just leave out the campaign if it's so obvious they didn't give two sh!ts about it, but then fanboy dumbasses would bitch about how the game isn't "complete" and how they shouldn't have to pay $60 for a game without a feature they'd never play anyway.
  • Corsair89 - October 28, 2011 6:55 a.m.

    Great review, by the way.
  • db1331 - October 28, 2011 7:30 a.m.

    They did a SP campaign for the same reason Mass Effect and Uncharted added MP. They just want to have as much stuff to put on the back of the box as possible, no matter how bad the content is.
  • BladedFalcon - October 28, 2011 7:55 a.m.

    I agree with db completely on this point. Yesterday someone in the ME3 Multiplayer preview article called anyone complaining about the MP in ME3 a retard, saying that it would be as arguing that BF3 would be better without a SP campaign... And this review actually proves that it WOULD have been a better game had they focused purely on the MP. Dave outright said it, based on the multi-player alone, the game is a 10. I can only hope the reverse can eventually be said about ME3 though... Bash the MP all they want, but that the SP can be considered a 10 on it's own XD And finally. I know it's unlikely it will ever stop, but seriously, companies should stop trying to check boxes and just focus on what's good about a property.
  • GrandTheftAuto - October 29, 2011 6:59 a.m.

    So wait.. He said that without SP, Bf3 would be a clear 10? So that means this game got TWO FU**ING points lower JUST because the goddamn singleplayer? Lets see what score mw3 gets in a few weeks, it will be amusing.
  • flabslapper - October 28, 2011 6:55 a.m.

    I guess it's still too early for the trolls to start sh!tting all over your great review man lol
  • opeth784 - October 28, 2011 6:58 a.m.

    this reads almost exactly like the halo reach review. oh, and might as well...8/10 WTF. But seriously, thanks for the quality review.
  • AlphaSignalSeven - October 28, 2011 7:01 a.m.

    So dave, Had the game just been Multiplayer, which I feel all Numbered Battlefields should be, what would you have given the final score as?
  • idlemindkiller - October 28, 2011 11:51 a.m.

    It said 10/10 right in the review.
  • JJBSterling - October 28, 2011 7:03 a.m.

    This seems very fair, having beat the campaign now I can agree to almost all of your points.
  • tomthespesh - October 28, 2011 7:05 a.m.

    The Bad Company games suffered with the same psychic enemies too. Great review Dave.
  • idlemindkiller - October 28, 2011 7:14 a.m.

    Great review as always David. I'm sure the trolls will be here anytime so let me just say, thank you for the honesty and for taking the time to review the game right. This is why GR is my favorite(yea, that's right I'm American, no u in favorite lol) website around.
  • idlemindkiller - October 28, 2011 7:24 a.m.

    Also, "These aren’t soldiers. They’re mindless, heat-seeking gun turrets wrapped in meat." I laughed hard at that.
  • kor2disturbed - October 28, 2011 7:16 a.m.

    Alright now mw3 just has to get a 9 or above and I'll be happy I picked mw3 of bf3.
  • db1331 - October 28, 2011 7:21 a.m.

    I don't have a problem with anything you said in the review. You do at least realize that the SP isn't what matters here. The Score doesn't bother me either. I'd say the game is a 9.5 right now, and should be a 10 once they iron out some of the MP problems, like being spawned right in front of an enemy and getting shot in the back before you can take a step. Honestly though, reviewing this game based on the 360 build is a bit bonkers. It would be like reviewing MW3 next month based off the Wii version. The same people who are about to flame me for this post would lose their minds if a reviewer did that.
  • HeavyTank - October 28, 2011 7:31 a.m.

    I'm not going to flame, but if there is a SP mode and it's crap, you can't give a 9.5, which is almost perfect. Okay, the game is multiplayer-FOCUSED, but not multi-only, so you have to take one or two points off for that.
  • db1331 - October 28, 2011 7:47 a.m.

    No, you don't. Anyone who knows what a BF game is all about would have paid full price for just the MP, no SP and co-op. When I say "the game is a 9.5", I mean that the MP is a 9.5. Because the MP IS the game. Criticizing the SP in this game would be like going out to eat and having the best meal of your life. Then the waiter comes by and offers you a slice of carrot cake for free, because someone ordered it but never picked it up. You don't really even like carrot cake, but hey, it's free. Then you take a bite, and it's not even good carrot cake. Then in the car on the way home you think, "I don't know if I'm going to eat there again. That was some lousy carrot cake." Of course it's Dave's duty to warn people about the SP. I just can't stand when a game's SP gets blasted for being too much like CoD, and then when the next CoD comes out and does the exact same thing, its SP is amazing.

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