The enemy AI doesn’t care about anything you do either, and works on such a bog-basic level as to acknowledge only ever one single facet of the game world. Your position. It has no problem-solving abilities. It will barely move, except between the two specific points of cover designated to it. It won’t react to your tactics. It will just keep firing directly at your position while ducking up and down. And best of all, it will do so whether it could legitimately know your position or not.
Example: I’m in the cavernous atrium of a closed-down shopping mall in the middle of the night. Inky darkness covers everything. Enemies are on their way in, having heard that I’m in the building somewhere. I have a night-vision sniper rifle and three claymores. In a modern, AAA shooter, this should be a tactical cat-and-mouse masterpiece. I should be laying traps and causing confusion. I should be using the multiple floors and densely shadowed areas to pick off the goons one at a time, before disappearing again as if a ghost.
But I can’t do any of that. Because whatever I do - even if I shoot out all the lights before anyone arrives - the second I pop my head out of cover, everyone in the building immediately, clairvoyantly starts peppering me to pieces from their static positions, however far away I am and whether they could have sourced my shot or not. These aren’t soldiers. They’re mindless, heat-seeking gun turrets wrapped in meat.
Even if I change positions in total darkness between waves, the next set of guys know exactly where I am and start instinctively firing, on an almost constant basis. This sort of thing happens all the way through the campaign, and it reduces Battlefield 3’s gameplay to a basic, desperately frustrating, attritional Time Crisis pop-shoot until everyone is dead. The level design, while very linear, is at times more open to flanking and breakaway tactics than the likes of the more recent CoD games. But the AI renders these tactics pointless. You’ll kill one guy if you’re lucky, before every gun in the area pins you down in a state of perpetual bullet-rain.
It’s a game suffering an identity crisis, trying to blend scripted, arcadey action with a brutal sense of genuine threat, and finding only a frustrating middle ground in which idiotically aggressive AI is dangerous only by way of borderline-psychic blunt force. Between the enemy’s total inability to change its behaviour patterns and its unerring ability to track you whatever the hell else is going on, the majority of skirmishes feel more like playing Dance Dance Revolution or Elite Beat Agents than an FPS. Success is simply a trial-and-error case of learning, copying and pre-empting the enemy’s repeating patterns and spawn positions. You’ll be speed-running each battle by the time you finish it, but you’ll go mad with the repetition of learning each fight’s strict chroreography in order to get to that point.
This isn’t a smart shooter. It’s a game that operates on antiquated gameplay mechanics so mechanical that you can hear the gears scraping at the start of every event trigger. Streets empty? Squad refusing to move from the spot? Then there’s one guy left still alive somewhere, and your battle-hardened buddies won’t move on until you’ve spent a few minutes trying to find him.
Above: BF3 uses so many arbitrary QTEs throughout its campaign that it ends up feeling like this
Charged with stealthily infiltrating a heavily fortified building without detection? Forget those excitable thoughts of a clever Deus-Ex-style pacing mix-up. You’ll Metal Gear your way in via a three-button QTE and a glorified first-person cut-scene. Immediately before more psychic AI forces you straight into a massive firefight anyway, however stealthy you might have been once you regained control.
The thing about scripted gameplay is that it’s a knife-edge balance.
If a game is going to take a huge amount of control away from the
player, it needs to mask the joins well with convincing enough smoke and
mirrors, and also ensure that the lack of a real driving seat position
never sends the player off course. Battlefield 3 frequently fails on the
above two points. And at its worst that leads to some downright broken situations. Your squad will sometimes run straight through a door (without opening it first). Enemies you're required to kill in order to move on will sometimes get trapped behind a locked door and keep shooting at you through it (though you might well be able to fix this situation by clipping straight through the very door they're trapped behind in order to kill them).
If you need the game's failings summed up in one example, take this final stinker as an example, and then I'll get on to the happy stuff, I promise...