Modern Warfare 3 vs Battlefield 3: The final verdict

Co-op

Modern Warfare 3

MW3’s co-op offering is a rather complete and damnably fun package. While the new Horde-style Survival missions are decent, offering a frantic yet enjoyably tactical spin of the now rather tired enemy-wave killing action via weapon load-outs, perks and sprawling map design, the linear Spec Ops missions are really where it’s at. There’s an absolute stack of them, and the invention that’s been ploughed into them is really impressive. They’re short, but they’re often as spectacularly scripted as the campaign, and on a conceptual level there’s some damnably clever stuff going on. How many other co-op games allow one player to inhabit a piece of gun turret control software, transferred from computer to computer by the ‘human’ player in order to tactically cover different parts of the map?

Battlefield 3

BF3 does some cool things with its co-op missions at times too, and occasionally they even feel closer to the spirit of its multiplayer main event than the dreadful campaign. The free-roaming chopper mission for instance, in which one player pilots the whirly-bird (or attempts to) while the other handles gunning duties is inspired, even if it goes on for a little too long. The problem is, there is also a fair bit of forgettable “two men fighting through a linear path full of bad dudes” stuff here. Similarly, synchronized sniping missions are nothing we haven’t seen before. And while none of that stuff is unenjoyable, you can’t help feeling that Battlefield’s strength in more open, tactical play really could and should have set up some more interesting ideas here. Also, there are only six missions in total, which is a paltry amount compared to Modern Warfare 3’s line-up.

WINNER: Modern Warfare 3

Presentation

Modern Warfare 3

MW3 is a good-looking game. It’s become fashionable to pelt Call of Duty with the stinky rotten eggs of ‘LOL, OLD ENGINE!’ mockery these days, but the fact is, Modern Warfare 3 is mighty slick and polished on a visual level. Between the solid, chunky production design, the silky smooth frame-rate, the bold lighting, and the 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 completely at odds with the traditional current-gen browns and greys, it’s a tight and impressive production from start to finish. Okay, it’s not Rage or Uncharted 3 in technical terms, but for what it sets out to be – a linear, guided, vibrant FPS spectacle – it achieves everything it needs to with gusto. It's a triumph of strong technical execution combined with shameless production design dazzle.

Battlefield 3

BF3 blows Modern Warfare 3 out of the water in terms of pure visual fidelity. It’s that simple. Ignoring the controversy of if you don’t (or can’t) install them, even the console versions are visually stunning. The lighting in particular is staggering to behold, adding an at-times overwhelming realism and tangible sense of place to every area in the game. Filtered through the wide open spaces and emergent cinematic action of multiplayer, it’s just damn breathtaking, and that’s before you even get into the insanely impressive dynamic destruction. Find yourself in a particularly frenetic, tightly contested urban skirmish in multiplayer and you’ll genuinely find yourself boggled that all of this is being rendered out on the fly. It’s just that impressive.

Shame then, that for all of the set-pieces, the production design in campaign always settles for beautifully rendered grit over genuine visual thrills. 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.

WINNER: Neither. It's a draw, because graphical fidelity is no more important than striking production design.

Originality / Ambition

Modern Warfare 3

Originality? Not here, squire. Aside from the slight tweaks in the openness of the level design and the drastic upping of the sense of scale, there’s nothing here that isn’t just iterated upon things we’ve already seen elsewhere in the series. And why should Call of Duty innovate now? It knows what its audience wants and it knows how to deliver that. All it needs to do it deliver it bigger and brasher every time. And Modern Warfare 3 certainly succeeds in that goal.

Battlefield 3

Not much originality here either. The campaign, as we’ve said, is largely naught but a collection of Call of Duty tropes dressed up in better graphics and more serious delivery. And multiplayer, while a staggering achievement of balance and scope, essentially iterates on what Battlefield has done before, only expanding slightly by including no-vehicles team deathmatch options to draw in the less tactically-minded player. There are a few flashes of inspiration from time to time, namely the campaign’s desert-patrolling tank level and the free-roaming helicopter co-op mission, but overall we’re not looking at anything that changes the medium forever.

That said tough, even when Battlefield multiplayer is just building on what it’s done before, its level of ambition leaves most of the games choking in the dust.

WINNER: Battlefield 3. Just.

So, conclusions?

If we were to break this down purely on the number of categories won by each game, we'd have to call it a tie. But we're not going to cop out like that... we're going to cop out in another way. You see, as any decent games journalist will tell you, numbers are a fairly arbitrary way to sum up the quality of a game when you compare them to words. If anything, what this test of ours actually tells us is that Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 are very, very different games, despite their surface trappings and the misguidedly contrived public rivalry between their two publishers. The situation is just more complicated than a straight mathematical comparison.

One is an immediate, arcadey, blockbuster movie experience. The other is more like a dense, long-running TV show, delivering its greatest joys through slower-burning, more thoughtful content. One of these games is consistently good throughout, while the other contains more satisfying highs but surrounds them with a lot of sub-standard lows. Both are very different products which offer very different worth, and at the end of the day it's up to you to read those all-important words and contextualise which one offers the best value for you personally.

Hell, you could even go crazy and buy both, enjoying each for the completely unique things it offers without even choosing a side. Just imagine that.