I’ll get to that multiplayer stuff soon enough (although not until I have Europeans to play with), so for now let’s have a bit of a think about Battlefield 3’s single-player campaign. (No significant spoilers.)
The attempt to challenge Call Of Duty’s ridiculous hegemony is now completely transparent. What is happening here is pure linear-shooter action designed, seemingly without any other consideration, to do what Modern Wafare is doing. Only prettier. As such there’s almost nothing you haven’t seen before, and the most exciting moments are often those in which you’ve pressed “E” to initiate an animation, and then you watch it play out. “Cinematic” is the word that gets applied to this stuff, I suppose. It’s often thrilling, and often frustrating. And like it or not, this is what sells. You can sort of see why.
This is the formula: you play through a storyline of contemporary combat, involving a potential conflict between Russia and the US, from the perspective of a number of combatants. Cutscenes lace together the action bits. You generally get told what to do. The challenge lies simply in using cover at the right time, and shooting the bobbing heads of the endless shootermen who stand in your way. Battlefield’s campaign does all this, and also throws in a couple of vehicular experiences, and even a stealth bit, to provide some variety. When it works, it’s an easy thrill.
But, like my accuracy with an AK, it’s hit and miss. There are some brilliant firefights, and some hair-raising (also like to typo “hare-razing” here) moments. Yet for all that there are some serious frustrations, including the astounding rigidity of the scripting, the occasional flailing about in darkness, the purely checkpointed progress (no manual save) and the peculiar inclusion of some genuinely tedious point ‘n’ click shooting galleries, the worst of which was the one aboard a plane. It goes on and on. Let me off!
Most of the game, however, sees you fighting on foot. As a rifle-carrying soldierman you blast your way through corridors, gullies, offices, ruins, ditches, riverbeds, more ruins, bank-vaults, with a couple of other guys alongside you. These NPCs offer a continuous angry and incredulous commentary on what is going on, allowing you to avoid having to worry to much about what’s happening. Fail to listen and, no problem, waypoints are there to direct you, too.