That’s what Battlefield is like. It’s not just two collections of players slogging away at each other until the time runs out or a kill-count is hit. It’s a living, breathing ecosystem. Playing a Battlefield match provides a very similar feeling to playing something like Oblivion. You’ll go in with a single, simple objective, but along the way you’ll get sidetracked by comrades in trouble, and new objectives within objectives born out of the chaos of the sprawling warzone.
You might stick with a newfound pack of friends you ran into while randomly drawn together by the need to spontaneously defend an objective. You might jump in a jeep together and spin off to a brand new adventure God knows where. A stricken plane might fall out of the sky and pound you to death with wreckage. Or it might hit the enemy, or provide new cover just when you need it most. It’s pure, emergent gameplay at its best, and it’s happening on a vast scale all the time.
Battlefield isn’t really about who wins or loses. The class-specific assist skills mean that you’ll level up regardless, as long as you really get involved. No, it’s really about a bunch of people coming together to dynamically choreograph the biggest, most ostentatiously epic war movie imaginable. And it happens every time you spawn in.
New stuff this time round? There are a few tweaks. Most obviously, the Rush and Conquest modes (concerned with progressively destroying bases and the taking of a map-wide spread of control points, respectively) are now joined by Bad Company 2’s Squad Deathmatch and a more generic new Team Deathmatch. The latter is obviously rather vacuous compared to the objective-based games, essentially consisting of close-quarters run-and-gun and demanding little in the way of class support skills like healing or vehicle repair. But it is rather fun on its own terms. It’s certainly the fastest, most brutal TDM I’ve played in a long time, possibly ever if we’re just talking about military shooters. There’s also the option to play infantry only, cutting out the vehicles altogether. Again, doing so feels a bit like taking the Battlefield out of Battlefield to me, but the option is there if you want it.
In contrast to the Bad Company games, you can now go fully prone when in combat. Don’t worry about this unbalancing things though. A good counter-sniper will still be able to flush out a prone camper, and the ability to spot enemies for team-mates means of course that even fleeting glances from afar can be ultimately deadly. And besides, going prone also makes you more visible from above, and with jets joining helicopters this time, the chances of death from the skies is doubled.
The only new thing I’m currently unsure about is the Tactical Light, a torch attachment for firearms which dazzles any opponent looking directly at you. At the moment it feels a bit over-powered – even moreso given that it seems just as effective in broad daylight as it is indoors – but it can technically be worked around with strong co-operative play and tight squad communication.
If I was going to review multiplayer on its own? It would be a straight 10/10.
And speaking of co-op play, it’s worth mentioning the separate two-player co-op missions too. Because they’re not bad. Little 20 minute vignettes with a particular angle or theme, they often provide little slices of what the solo campaign could and should have been. Frustrating, but at least it means that there’s a remnant of non-multiplayer quality here. They range from Horde-like defence missions to intense siege escapes over branching open-plan routes, with both players providing covering fire for each other. There’s even a rather brilliant free-roaming level, in which a pilot and a gunner must provide air support for a ground-based mission, with full control over one of Battlefield’s fiddly but rewarding attack choppers.
It’s also possible to unlock multiplayer weapons through scoring more points with better performances in co-op. That does rather feel like a bit of a carrot-dangle though. Because for their intermittent high points, I find it debatable how much replay value the co-op missions would have in and of themselves.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2? Yes. Both Battlefield games' have campaigns which are overshadowed by their multiplayer to the point of playing a tiny second fiddle made out of matchsticks. Both have staggeringly involving multiplayer with mind-boggling scope. But BF3's additional vehicles, features, map variety and game modes make it the definitive version.
Call of Duty: Black Ops? Yes. In terms of campaign, some of the same criticisms can be levelled at both games, though while I found Black Ops campaign duller than BF3's, I also found it less irritating. But Battlefield's multiplayer is on a whole different level.
Medal of Honor? Yes. MoH as in many ways EA's dry-run for its attempt at taking CoD's crown with Battlefield 3. Both are military shooters in which - again - multiplayer is the star, thanks to DICE's involvement. But while MoH's online is a decent but stripped down version of the Battlefield model, BF3 is the full-size, full-fat genuine article.
You should interpret this final score based on what you really want from a shooter. If you're a resolute campaign player who avoids multiplayer like a shark with a gun, BF3's single-player is simply not up to scratch in a year that has already given us Resistance 3 and Deus Ex. But if online is where it's at for you, Battlefield 3 is going to be one of your games of the year.
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