There are some things you should not ever doubt. There will be death. There will be taxes. But there will also be a certain type of videogame. Can you guess what happens to who? And where does it happen? I think you know this one…
It’s… Battlefield 3!
Jim: The third Battlefield game was one of those long-term inevitabilities that, when it arrived, came on quickly. The first glimpse was impressive, but then suddenly it was with us, and we were playing it. When I first saw it at the reveal in San Francisco in March it was clear that EA’s attempt to push the series into new territory meant going head to head with the Call Of Duty series: noise, fury, hype. Unsurprising, of course, because big corporations have to be seen to be taking on their rivals. What this meant for us was a single player campaign that, while suitably shiny and bombastic, suffered from all the worst aspects of the linear military shooter. This was irrelevant, however, because the real game, the aspect of Battlefield 3 that actually matters to posterity, is the multiplayer.
It’s a dazzling piece of work, and the kind of all-encompassing combat experience that the PC does best. No disrespect to our console cousins, but I can’t possibly countenance playing this kind of game on a gamepad, on a TV. It needs mouse control, it needs my huge monitor and my headphones and a keyboard. I’m relishing getting to grips with something that I’ve already fleshed out so much skill for over the years, through many other shooters, many other Battlefields. It’s a grand thing.
I have to say, actually, that Bad Company 2 felt, in some ways, like an extended practice for Battlefield 3. Everything in that game felt like it was a run up to the more spectacular aspects of Battlefield 3, particularly the sheer scale of the 64-man maps, and the infantry/vehicle cross over that has reintroduced jets and makes tank combat a long-range delight. That said, I think Bad Company 2 actually used scenery destruction technology more effectively. I’ve not noticed its implementation, particularly in the destruction of entire blocks, in quite the same way in Battlefield 3 as I did in BC2. I think that’s basically a level design decision, and perhaps a little subjective on my part, but it’s a nagging thought about what could or should have been.
And so to the bit that I can’t help revelling in: having upgraded my PC this year and seeing some of the results of that on screen. Battlefield 3 is probably the game that will reward the hardware tinkerers most out of any this year. As pretty as Skyrim can be with some work, and as lavish and The Witcher 2’s world proved to be, it’s Battlefield 3 that pours the most pixels into my face. From the sheer amount of burning debris, dust and particles, to the absurd intensity of the firefights, DICE have delivered the most sumptuous audio-visual mixture I’ve ever tasted. The gun action is incredible. Even after I’ve played and replayed the maps, it still remains potent.
Yes, despite some of the rough edges (which are also being slowly patched out) – the single player, a couple of poor MP maps, dodgy squad functionality, a flashlight which a conduit to the heart of the sun – Battlefield 3 is a bold achiever. There’s no way this won’t be on list after list for games of 2011. It is a technical and design achievement that, while expected, is nevertheless rewarding through extended play.
Of course many of us remain unconvinced by Origin and Battlelog. I have a number of friends who, despite dearly loving the Battlefield series, are denying themselves the game on the basis of this new system being a step too far by EA. It’s too intrusive, they say, and gives too much control to the makers of the game. They have a point, because we’ve entered an era in which over-arching control of games is eroding some of things that are most precious about them, the democratic aspects that were so fruitful, such as modding. No matter how good a game Battlefield 3 is, the way it has been delivered is shutting off that vital lifeblood and, long term, it will prove to be a mistake. That thought makes BF3 bittersweet. I hope it can return to the path righteousness some time in the near future.