Modern Warfare 3 vs Battlefield 3: The final verdict

Modern Warfare 3 versus Battlefield 3. It's the new fanboy war du jour. Both games have their supporters, and both sides will go at the opposing game's throat like a rabid vampire wolverine at the mere mention of its title. And frankly, now that both games are out, that needs to stop.

So having respectively reviewed MW3 and BF3, Charlie Barratt and I have decided to finish the argument once and for all. We've played through both games. We've discussed each game's strengths and flaws at length for several days. And now, in conference with Mr. Barratt, I have produced this feature summing up our collective feelings. You'll find no apologist arguments here. You'll find no excuses. You'll just find the experiences comparatively celebrated and lambasted as they deserve, warts and all. Want to know what we concluded? Read on.


Modern Warfare 3

A fast drum beat is exciting. An even faster drum beat is technically impressive. But when a drum beat becomes even faster than that, it turns into one long droning note. Modern Warfare 3, although consistently exhilarating, falls somewhat towards the end of that scale at times. How you feel about that will come down to how you feel about big, glossy, summer action movies. This game knows that its audience wants fast thrills delivered at an insane rate - thus, the pacing of nearly every level is now utterly relentless. Billions of easy-to-kill enemies pour onto the screen from every corner. You usually don’t go for more than two seconds at a time without killing someone, and when you do, it’s only because a stupendously large - often stunningly-realised - set-piece is exploding around you. Every level basically plays like the most frantically full-on part of the last level of any of other game, so frenetically so that at times it actually feels more like an old-school Doom or a Serious Sam than the recent CoDs.

It might be somewhat moronic, but at least it’s gleefully moronic, smashing you so hard and so fast in the face with the adrenaline hammer that you’re too constantly wired to stop to think or care about anything outside of what you're currently doing. It's still CoD of course, but it's a super-charged Turbo Edition. That said, the level design now frequently has a rather different, improved feel, the barely-disguised tunnels of previous games now replaced by many more multi-leveled optional routes and opportunities for flanking. It’s actually somewhat less of a shooting gallery than CoD has been lately, even threatening to feel more like a free-flowing FPS at times. It’s like eating a giant bag of candyfloss in one sitting. An exciting, desperately giddy pleasure at the time, but not terribly nourishing long-term and liable to make you feel a bit woozy afterwards. And it's doubtful you'll want to go back and do it again. It’s vacuously exciting, and if that does it for you then you'll have a great time. Though don't expect to remember much bar the stand-out set-pieces in any great detail by the end.

Battlefield 3

Where Modern Warfare 3’s campaign gameplay is gleefully moronic, Battlefield 3’s is just moronic. Futilely trying way too hard to emulate well-known Call of Duty tropes which its rival has, ironically, evolved away from slightly in its latest entry, the combination of insanely rigid scripting, clairvoyant, overly aggressive AI and a total disregard for the player’s involvement make Battlefield 3’s campaign an utterly indefensible misery. Managing that rare balance of being both boring and infuriating at the same time, it’s a master-class in hackneyed linearity and non-interactive pseudo-drama.

It has a couple of stand-out moments that feel like its own. The North-by-Northwest-inspired plane attack towards the end is rather good, as are the semi-free-roaming tank bit and the obligatory night-vision sniping section. But overall, Battlefield 3’s campaign is a big pile of potentially cool ideas bludgeoned to death by disregard of player input and a whole load of sloppy, buggy, bargain bin execution. Imagine being forced to do a Rubik’s Cube underwater with oven gloves on, while being repeatedly shouted at and punched in the face, and stopped and tied up every time it looked like you might be getting somewhere rewarding. That’s basically Battlefield 3’s campaign. It's bad. Don't play it.

WINNER: Modern Warfare 3


Modern Warfare 3

Like most things in MW3, multiplayer is essentially a highly-focused distillation of everything that has previously proved successful for the series. It’s fast, it’s punchy, it’s instantly gratifying on a second-by-second basis. And from the time we’ve put in so far, it seems one of the tightest, slickest iterations yet. Our favourite improvement? The ability to set up streak rewards for support play rather than just the simple hunt for a high K/D ratio. Not only does this finally acknowledge and reward players below the 1337est of the 1337, it also shifts the emphasis of CoD’s multiplayer away from simple brute aggression and will (hopefully) pave the way for a more thoughtful overall game in the future. Similarly, the rather excellent game analysis feature of the Call of Duty Elite service could help casual player just as much as hardcore Prestige-whore.

On top of that addition, the total line-up of game modes is now a rather excellent package, turning CoD’s core shooting mechanics into an eclectic spread of quirky, radically different themed experiences. New addition Kill Confirmed is rather a fast and frantic hoot, and the Private Match pre-sets for custom games like Infection and One in the Chamber really emphasise MW3’s predilection for witty, arcadey fun over the more serious multiplayer offerings of old. That said, the core shooting really has not evolved, so don't expect anything particularly fresh in that area, despite the multitudinous forms it now comes in.

Battlefield 3

Make no mistake about it. In terms of depth, intelligence, camaraderie, emergent, minute-to-minute variety and the sheer, gratifying sense of the importance of your actions, Battlefield 3 is miles ahead of any other multiplayer shooter on the market. There’s a reason that BF was a resolutely MP game for years. Its multiplayer is so vast, so full of content, so packed with things to do, tactics to master, and dynamic, organic, purely player-driven spectacle that it really is a full-sized game in its own right. It’s what you really buy when you pick up a box with the word Battlefield on the front. Everything else is just window dressing.

The best way to describe BF3 multiplayer is as an ecosystem. With more possible weapon and equipment variations within each of its four classes than many shooters have within their entireties, the actions available to a player and the differences each can make to the evolving shape of an overall battle are boggling in scope. Make the right shot in the right place, kill or repair the right tank, airlift or resuscitate the right guy, and you can tip the whole war. Snipers attack and defend ground troops. Ground troops support and maintain each other and their vehicles. Ground vehicles bully the hell out of enemy objectives, while air vehicles survey and reshape the whole warzone from above (including taking out those snipers). Battlefield fights are long, drawn out, and as intensive on the brain as they are on the trigger finger. What they never are though, is anything less than thrilling, unpredictable, and deeply, deeply satisfying on an epic scale few games ever match.

WINNER: Battlefield 3

Next: Who's best at co-op, looks and innovation?

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  • zeek1227 - February 9, 2012 5:03 a.m.

    ok, first HUGE let down by the authors of this post. they went on for like a whole paragraph about how they were gonna give the FINAL verdict, then they say "tie".stupid. also i have played mw3 on all of the consoles xbox, ps3, and wii, and it was fun for a few weeks. then i prestiged and it got boring again. I got bored of just running around blasting everything that moved. I picked up bf3 and loved it instantly. it provides me with tactical gameplay mixed in with some of that call of duty shootingstuffness (thats a real word) so yeah it is better online. but then one rainy day when i lost internet connection i went to play a campaign, which i thought would be epic. It was not. very boring, hard, and half of the time it doesnt even tell you what to do, so you can stand around waiting for like 5 minutes just to find out you were supposed to go stand by a specific team mate to trigger him opening a door. this is compared to mw3s epic single player. also mw3s coop is way better. so really i guess it is just a question of do you want good online, or good single player/coop?
  • Jasman - December 8, 2011 8:48 a.m.

    99 Comments? Unacceptable. I must remedy this oddly numbered situation :P
  • Pwnz0r3d - November 21, 2011 4:09 p.m.

    The odd thing is, Black Ops tried to shake things up a LOT, and it received a lot of hate for it. I did like the new economy (that way you can get weapons and perks in any order you want, instead of keeping better weapons to a specific level, meaning you don't get demolished because you got the game later than everybody else), wager matches were amazing, but the only problem (and it was a HUGE problem) was that some weapons were grossly overpowered, and others laughably underpowered (AK74u. You little bastard. And the sniper rifles were practically useless, only 2 maps made use of them, and they had designated sniping points. no areas for improvised sniping.) Perhaps if they improved on the new features Blops had, this game would've been better than a mod. You really have to give Treyarch credit; they brought new ideas to the franchise, and some of it worked brilliantly. Black Ops was the most innovative game in the whole series after COD4, and it's the most hated. For good reason, undeniably, but my dislike for it comes from the disappointment that the game could've been amazing if not for horribly unbalanced gameplay (and in some instances, horribly OVERbalanced (useless knife is useless)). And I finally got my hands on a copy of Battlefield 3. And man, this game is a lot harder than I remember it used to be. BF2 was hard online yes, but this is just brutal. Then again, I had very little time with Bad Company.
  • talkraider - November 21, 2011 3:27 p.m.

    I'm a big cod fan, but it really brings my piss to a boil that they took out so many things from Black Ops. It really is Modern Warfare 2.5 (no cliche intented)
  • alphafour - November 20, 2011 9:02 p.m.

    Dear Mr David Houghton, Can't you just give us an actual verdict? In other words tell us which one YOU like the most. Don't give us all this "oh if you want strawberry pie go to starbucks but if you want chocolate cake go to walmart".. just tell us which one YOU like. It's YOUR article with YOUR name on it so what's the problem. Sure you'll get flamed either way but now you're getting flamed for just sitting on the fence which is absolutely boring as fuck. I'm gonna go out and say I definitely prefer BF3. Both campaigns are short and full of cutsences so you don't actually PLAY the game in the campaign all that much whichever game you play. As a result, the multiplayer is the deal breaker in my view and I am sick of COD's multiplayer. I would still rather play BF2 over COD's kneejerk luck of the draw multiplayer bullshit. There. I said it. It's MY opinion so what are you going to do about it. Piss off; that's what.
  • quincytheodore - November 21, 2011 10:07 p.m.

    I second that. Not about what's better, but about the writer should have determined which is better. Especially after that passionate opening statement. If you didn't give conclusion, it seems that you just wrote this for the sake of using the hype of both games to gain more view or comment. In that case, you succeed.
  • AuthorityFigure - November 20, 2011 3 a.m.

    This is about as important as the Cola Wars.
  • Bugsy - November 20, 2011 12:29 a.m.

    I feel like they trolled on us for presentation and originality. The final verdict was basically a summarization of each section except the troll ones. But I guess this was just a ploy to stop fanboys from going crazy and flaming the fuck out of gamesradar.
  • Arobadope - November 19, 2011 3:33 p.m.

    game’s insistence on shaking up every single scene with shower-upon-shower of particle, smoke and flame effects all wrapped up in a vibrant colour palette And however intent you are on showing off your engine, there is such a thing as too many special effects. At times BF3's campaign throws so much smoke, blur and contrast at you that it's almost as if it doesn't want you to actually see its graphics. Trololololololol?
  • FriedBeans - November 19, 2011 2:18 p.m.

    I am going to stick to debating Rock Band vs. Guitar Hero. I like debating 2 games that are almost exactly the same better.
  • talleyXIV - November 20, 2011 11:45 a.m.

    Yeah, these games are almost nothing alike except for the fact of Modern War. Although debating GH and RB is quite unnecessary as Guitar Hero was cancelled.
  • lewis-barclay - November 21, 2011 1:42 p.m.

    .....Whats the point of STILL trying to cause a rockband/guitar hero debate when they're both dead now......thanks to guitar hero for constantly spamming us with constant no real change games. I think games these days are taking what I call the madden approach. Releasing a game once a year and just throwing 2 or 3 new things in that really doesn't change anything. COD is really starting to do this. They need to chill out before they end up like guitar hero or rockband. I'm not a madden fan by ANY means but my friends who are arent even excited every year anymore when they release a new madden. See the problem here?
  • falcon4196 - November 19, 2011 11:23 a.m.

    I bought BF3 for the multiplayer and rented MW3 in order to play the compagin through once. Combined the two games amount to the perfect FPS for me. The battlefield guys have a lot to learn in term of designing a single player experience. Meanwhile Modern Warfare was full of the usual holy crap moments that I like about the series. BF3 multiplayer is much more in depth.The vehicles and size of the maps actually encourage some strategy and teamwork instead just running around shooting at anything that moves.
  • jmcgrotty - November 19, 2011 9:13 a.m.

    These are FPS'ers. The only difference in any of them is box art.
  • PretzelJones - November 19, 2011 11:24 a.m.

    So all platformers are the same, all RPGs are the same? All MMOs are the same? Why comment when you haven't even played either of them. If you had you wouldn't make that comment.
  • jmcgrotty - November 19, 2011 4:26 p.m.

    Valid point about RPG's. Yes, most MMO's are pathetically the same anymore. Is why, while I regularly try them, I end up not going back too often. But I do give them a try during a free time if some article mentions anything that whets my interest. For reference, I have subscribed to 7 MMOs in my life. None played more than 6 months. But I'm a diehard MUD'er, putting in hours every day to something with legit gameplay. That leads to why I can comfortably make the comment about FPS'ers. I have not played either of these games, but have played FPS'ers for years, like most peoeple. And, I read articles. Thanks to the abundance of points of view and websites, I can grasp pretty well if there is anything in a new FPS that adds anything worthwhile and/or new to gameplay. (Spoiler warning: there isn't). If I do think a feature sounds promising, damn right I will try it. But, FPS'ers have been DOA in innovation for years now. So, I am very confident that these FPS'ers are just the same as the 20 that came out last year, which are the same as 20 that came out the year before that. And, get ready to blast me for this: The biggest problem is online multiplayer. It has ruined the whole genre, and spread it's evil tentacles into other formats. Disgusting and does affect my view of a game. For example, I have all the Halos (-Reach) but have never played it extensively online because of the asshats on there. But even with that, I've still at least given them a modium of a try online at friends houses. By the way, if it slipped by, the reason I expect to get blasted on that last part is my disgust of online play, but I love MUD's to death and play literally hours a day. And it's a 100% online experience. Of course, anyone who has played them know the difference between a MUD and a "real game." Anyway, so, while your point about RPG's are valid, I would say that yes, MMO's are pretty much all the same anymore. And yes, FPS'ers are pretty much all the same anymore. So, believe it or not, I didn't post my comment just to say derogatory things. I posted my comment because I had just read the article to see if anything in the games interested me, and it didn't. So, I commented on the problem with the games anymore. Belive it or not, I wasn't just looking for attention. I actually would look forward into being convinced into trying a FPS these days.
  • FOZ - November 20, 2011 8:13 a.m.

    There's still TF2. People like to forget it exists just because it came out in 2007.
  • Mattossie - November 19, 2011 6:37 a.m.

    I have to agree these are two completey different games. The way I think about it Modern Warfare is a gun game, While Battlefield 3 is a war game. Modern Warfare has its advantages and is more of an arcadey quick games fun fast type game while Battlefield 3 is a more longer game where you are fighting for your squad and your team and not just for your stats.
  • metalgatesolid - November 19, 2011 3:14 a.m.

    COP OUT!!!!