Battlefield 3

As somebody who normally prefers a 50+ hour adventure through a massive science fiction or fantasy world, absorbing the atmospheric worlds of games like Dark Souls, Oblivion and Mass Effect 2, the idea of placing a game's focus entirely on the online features seems a little alien. Warhawk was a terrific game that achieved great things online, but with so many games offering competitive multiplayer experiences, it's difficult for one title to outshine the competition. Dice have decided to roll with the Modern Warfare bandwagon somewhat, offering very similar single-player and multiplayer concepts, but Battlefield does the bear minimum to present a decent solo campaign, with the real energy spent on crafting multiplayer mayhem. What results is a game that may not fully satisfy those seeking a grand adventure to explore alone, but what's important is how the online component holds up.

Battlefield 3

With the usual conspiracies uncovered and war breaking out between the US and Russia, a chaotic single-player set of missions, with suitably epic set pieces, unfolds with all the expected bangs and whistles, and not a single surprise in sight. Solidity is what the solo campaign boasts in Battlefield, but that is all. Bolstering proceedings is a handy co-op option, which is always a favourite feature on this site. This does serve to transform an average campaign into something a lot more satisfying. A decent set of weapons, and the inclusion of the latest Frostbite engine, allowing destruction on an epic scale, all contribute to a good looking game, while everything else from voicework to music is, once again, very solid, if not massively inspiring. Provided you attack the solo game elements not expecting the latest Uncharted, you shouldn't be too disappointed, just don't expect to be blown away.

Clicking on the Multiplayer item of the game's main menu, however, ensures things get a lot more interesting. Enormous, sprawling maps await, packed with meticulously-crafted terrain, offering players with almost any preference to find a way to tackle each map. For example, one of the most spectacular maps is the Caspian Border, featuring sweeping open fields, dense forests, rocky hills and outcroppings, an air base and a gentle river winding through the level. Surging from one side of the map to the other in one of the game's ferocious tanks is a joy in itself, crashing through fences, ploughing through trees and forging a path across the river. How you tackle the game's objectives (including death matches and various capture-the-flag variants) is entirely up to you. One of the game's best modes, Conquest, features a selection of bases that players fight to control. The sheer variety in how you even reach your goal is immense. While one player might hop in the nearest tank or jeep and head straight for the objective, another might have jumped in a jet, while others will stay on foot, sneaking in from cover. Depending on your style of play and the tools you have available, there's a thousand other ways to achieve your aims.

Battlefield 3

Starting out in multiplayer, you'll have every flexibility in the game when it comes to movement and vehicle usage, but the accessories for each situation will be severely limited, including the weapon you hold. In many games, perk systems and kit rewards often seem completely counter intuitive. Why widen the gulf between veteran players and new recruits when it only makes the veterans' wins less satisfying and the recruits' games less accessible? Somehow though, the game strikes the perfect balance of demolition and reward. Although you might begin with weapons that shake like crazy things, and no useful tools, you immediately start to see rewards as you rank up, including weapon mods like upgraded scopes, additional armour and other skills. Simultaneously, your own skills and the capabilities of your kit improve, putting you in the hunt for greater rewards in the game. You're forever given the feeling that one more game will lead to real glory, and players are likely to be hooked for many hours as they work their way up the extensive ranking system.

It's not just your overall rank that can be upgraded though. Even bits of kit improve with experience. More importantly, you can improve your experience within each of the game's four character classes, essentially separated into snipers, medics, engineers and suppliers, but given grander Battlefield names. Each class is granted a few unique abilities and weapon types, and can radically alter the way each game unfolds. For instance, cruising around in a tank may make you feel invincible next to insignificant troopers, but not when they turn out to be engineers with rocket launchers. It's not just about how good your own kit is though. In Battlefield 3, your interaction with members of your own team and, in particular, your squad, has a massive influence on the game. As a secondary concern, there are points bonuses for good teamwork, but the primary advantage is that careful teamwork can help you survive a lot longer in games. For instance, if you manage to stay alive for a reasonable amount of time, you'll find yourself short of ammo without help. Any vehicles you may have might need maintenance as you travel, and if you do fall to enemy fire, it's handy to have a medic on hand. Working together with a mixture of classes enables you to watch eachother's backs and achieve far more in each game than you might alone.

Battlefield 3

Despite games featuring up to 24 players, with vehicles flinging themselves around the arena, the game holds up graphically in every regard. Trooper detail is impressive, with each kit upgrade, weapon and camouflage choice making a visible impact on your character loadout, while the levels themselves are often beautiful. In multiplayer, lag may be your worst enemy, particularly if you have a poor connection to the server, but aside from this issue that afflicts all online games (and many to a more significant degree), things run extremely smoothly. The frame rate rarely drops, and the destructive Frostbite engine allows buildings to get mowed down in front of you, as you look on in horror. Admittedly the visuals and sound are both somewhat better in the single-player campaign, but neither suffer significantly while playing online. There's likely to be a lot of bonding opportunities as you dive for cover as a squad, under fire from tank shells and sniper fire. The fearsome explosions and suppressive effects all impact what you see and hear, leading to some genuinely nail-biting moments as you fight for survival.

As 2011 comes to a close with some truly epic games, a title needs to be truly outstanding to even get noticed. That Battlefield 3 is amongst the most anticipated of 2011's finishing games speaks volumes of its quality. Taking the fight to Modern Warfare 3, Dice have created a multiplayer experience that matches or outdoes anything else on PS3. It may not have the unique online flavour of a game like Dark Souls, but Battlefield 3 presents the ideal competitive multiplayer shooter experience, with great maps, massive customization, brilliant shooting mechanics and endless potential. If you are after a single-player game this Christmas, Skyrim, Dark Souls or Uncharted 3 might be better choices, but for online multiplayer gaming, Battlefield 3 looks like 2011's flagship title.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Electronic Arts

Developer:

DICE

Players:

1

Online:

2-24

Release:

2011-10-28

Trophies:

39

Review summary

Gameplay:

Varied styles and multiplayer mayhem rule

Graphics:

Top-notch graphics even with 24 players on the go

Sound:

Rocking sound effects and stirring tunes

Lastability:

Endless potential in this huge multiplayer game

9.2

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