Battlefield 3 (15)PS3, 360, PC
This time of year is all about the big guns. Getting a pre-emptive strike on gamers before Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is EA's Battlefield 3. Unlike other games in the series, this iteration has its sights aimed directly at the COD market, offering as it does a significant single player experience as well as a multiplayer one.
Now the comparisons with COD are inevitable, mainly due to the obscene amount of money that EA have pumped into promoting the game as essentially a COD beater. And after playing it, more so, as everything from the control settings to the missions and story development are eerily familiar.
First, the single player campaign. Throughout it, you play through as various characters, playing out the main story through their eyes. The main protagonist is a Staff Sergeant Henry Blackburn; after a thrilling opening sequence on board a metro train, we find Blackburn being interrogated by two Americans. It's not clear why he's being treated like an enemy, but his position becomes clearer as the game goes on. It's his statement that becomes the narrative to the story that unfolds.
So, you soon find yourself off with a gun in your hands, looking to track down baddies. If you didn't know any better, you could well be playing a COD title. But there are a number of little things that give it away.
One of the things you do a lot of in these types of games is fire your weapon. You point, you shoot. Hopefully someone falls down that isn't you. Despite having cross hairs for added accuracy, we found the aiming to be quite squiffy. It never really seemed to hit the target, which is quite disappointing for a shooter.
It's also one of those games where it didn't seem to matter how many times you shot your enemy, they were always reluctant to go down. Even the usual bullet to the head didn't seem to be enough to do the job. It's easier to kill the undead: at least a head shot finishes them off. Thankfully there's plenty of ammo to go around.
What was also evident was how much of a bullet magnet we appeared to be. Sometimes it didn't matter which direction we went off in, we'd always be met with a can of flying whoop-ass. This obviously slowed the pacing of the game down tremendously; the matter was only exacerbated by save points far further back into the mission than we would have liked.
And when you aren't being killed, there's also the opportunity to kill yourself. Friendly fire is not acceptable (except for at one point when it is, which is a tad confusing). In fact if you don't heed the warning from shooting your fellow fighter, it counts as a death to you. This is completely understandable. Except the game can get a little muddled.
In one section you're pinned down in a long corridor, with two other soldiers of war helping you out. Now with these two keen to get stuck in, it felt best to hang back and give support. With enemies coming from the end of the corridor towards you, it's only instinctive to shoot at them. Despite your bullets shooting past your teammates with yards to spare, the game struggles with perspective and deems your shot to be friendly fire, even though he's clearly not hurt, being miles away from actually being shot. Next thing you see however is 'You're dead'. Don't people test these games before they're released?
It's not all foot work, as there are a few vehicle missions. The one that should have been quite the spectacle was taking control of a fighter plane. The problem is, you don't; you just sit at the back and shoot one or two enemies down. It should have been a real set piece to savour, but it lacks in almost every department.
There's a little more satisfaction in the tank driving section. For starters, you get to drive the darn thing, as well as blow stuff up.
These vehicle sections just go to highlight Battlefield 3's single player Achilles' heel: there are no set pieces. All the way through, there's not one section that manages to blow you away. Even the much touted Frostbite 2 engine left us cold. There's simply not enough destruction to warrant any kind of wow factor. In fact, we remember being far more impressed with the destruction caused in last year's Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
Something else this game could have also borrowed from that title is the richness in characters. There was very much a group dynamic evident in that game, with some rich banter and a sense of camaraderie. Although the script is well written, with an intriguing storyline, none of the characters in this game make much of an impression.
Overall the single player game feels like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare did, back in 2007. There's just nothing here that feels fresh or original. And to add salt to the open wound, it's also on the short side; it can be finished at a casual pace on normal setting in less than eight hours.
Thankfully the game saves some grace in its multiplayer. Oddly enough, many of the faults in the single player are rectified in multiplayer mode. Suddenly there's a notable sense of accuracy in your weaponry. The Frostbite 2 engine seems to make more of an impact; on one map, up on one of the floors in a building, you can witness the damage the walls in front of you can take, so much so that they can virtually disappear.
And then there are the maps. They are of a pretty decent size, with a large array of nooks and crannies in which to hunt down your prey. The Paris map in particular is very impressive; it's a rare opportunity to have a multiplayer shoot out in a modern city, as opposed to some sandy, Middle Eastern township.
The single player game feels a number of years away from truly competing with the likes of COD. It's a pale imitation in every way. It's just too darn pedestrian.
It's a different story in multiplayer though. Although it doesn't really do anything new, everything it does do is superbly polished. If online FPS multiplayers are your thing, then this game's multiplayer is probably worth it for that alone.
Overall all it does seem that Battlefield 3 is still some way in the shadow of COD, but it only has itself to blame for that. It may resemble the COD franchise in many ways, but it's those small details that COD revels in that makes it a superior title. But kudos where it's due, this is the first time that EA have really attempted to put a grenade-carrying cat amongst the COD pigeons, and it looks like we could have a far closer fight in the future between the pair.