Version tested: PS3
We’re not the kind of site that likes to throw around quotes from Nietzsche, but there’s something about Battlefield 3 that makes you think of Friedrich’s old chestnut: “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Battlefield 3 has, from the very beginning, been developed, marketed and hyped as the game that could take on the Call of Duty juggernaut and win. Somehow, during this process it has become exactly the kind of monster it was designed to fight – a leaden, tunnel-visioned spin on the military shooter, with exactly the kind of sub Tom Clancy plotting and reliance on shock moments that DICE seemed to be working against in Battlefield: Bad Company 2. As a single-player game, Battlefield 3 has all of the failings of Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, but without the assured pacing and big movie moments that make the Infinity Ward and Treyarch games work. In aggressively confronting Modern Warfare, Battlefield 3 has become a second-rate clone.
See also: Battlefield 1
Admittedly, there are some massive ‘buts’ waiting in the wings. The first is that Battlefield 3 is an astonishingly good-looking clone. There’s no question that the Frostbite 2 engine is capable of producing unbelievably detailed human figures, richly textured war-torn scenery and the kind of gritty, cinematic lighting you might see in a Ridley Scott film. On the PlayStation 3 version we’ve spent most of our time testing, Battlefield 3 matches benchmark titles like Killzone 3, Crysis 2 and Resistance 3 for visual spectacle, and arguably exceeds them. The animation, with systems half-inched from EA’s sports games, looks uncannily convincing much of the time, and even the dialogue-heavy cut-scenes frequently look breathtaking.
The gameplay, however? Not so much. Like Call of Duty, Battlefield 3 has chosen to tell its tale of modern warfare and counter-terrorist action by hopping from character to character, with a flashback framing structure to hold it all together. However, it hasn’t really worked. While you could hardly call the storyline of Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops intelligent or coherent, it still does a nice job of propelling you from place to place and ramping up the interest. With Battlefield 3, you sort of drift from location to location and situation to situation, and it’s almost impressive how regularly the big moments are botched. Sequences that are clearly designed to have the shock value of Modern Warfare’s nuclear explosion or Modern Warfare 2’s infamous No Russian mission fall flat, leaving nothing more than a slightly nasty taste in the mouth.
The levels, meanwhile, are gobsmackingly linear. Follow this guy, go here, go there, shoot them. Want to use your own initiative? Take a different route? Forget it. You’re here to follow orders, soldier. It’s all the worse because, with Battlefield: Bad Company 2, DICE seemed to be going down a path that balanced the orchestrated mayhem of a Call of Duty with the more open, unpredictable combat that the Battlefield brand was known for, and the result was a game which felt genuinely thrilling and on the verge of chaos. By contrast, Battlefield 3 feels dumbed-down and generic.
It also feels frustrating. One frequent complaint about the Bad Company duo – particularly the first – was that your AI opponents combined the sharp-shooting skills of a Vasily ‘Enemy at the Gates’ Zaytsev with the heightened senses of a Marvel superhero. Well, the bad days are back again, with regular choke points where you’ll struggle to draw a bead on your foes before multiple headshots put you down in a fraction of a second. You will get past these, but only through an awful lot of crawling on your belly – and who really signs up to do that?