Review: Battlefield 3 (Single Player)

You know it’s November when the Battlefields and Call of Duty’s are migrating to store shelves around the world.  For the past couple of years EA has been making some rather serious attempts to steal some of Call of Duty’s thunder, mostly by trying to emulate Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s success.  There have been some interesting attempts along the way, including the Battlefield: Bad Company series, as well as the Medal of Honor reboot, but Battlefield 3 was their flagship.  A significant portion of the game’s marketing has been to push the idea that Battlefield 3 had what was really lacking in Modern Warfare 2, a phenomenal single player experience.  Well the marketing is done and the game on the shelves so the question is, did they succeed?

I want to take a moment and remind everyone (read: Fanboys) that this review is only focusing on the single player experience of Battlefield 3, nothing else.

The unfortunate truth is that Battlefield 3’s single player falls flat and is really all over the board. Case and point?  Quoting Battlefield 3’s own box art, the single player is “real as hell” and “delivers a true warrior’s experience,” yet the game starts with you jumping onto a moving subway, riding it into the underground transit tunnels of New York and even at one point hanging from the side of it.  The same over the top theatrics that populated Modern Warfare 2 crop up in Battlefield 3, which was a real damn shame.  Medal of Honor was far from perfect, but the game’s single player campaign truly stood out.  When asked once to compare Modern Warfare 2 and MOH I said the former was like a Michael Bay film and the latter was more like The Hurt Locker.  Both can be entertaining and neither are really 100% accurate depictions of war but clearly one is far more realistic than the other.  Battlefield 3 sort of falls in between the extremes, but in almost all the wrong ways.

Take for example the mission, “Going Hunting.”  In this mission you are in the cockpit of a jet fighter, but you’re not flying the jet.  You’re sitting behind the person flying the jet; you are occasionally (when prompted) firing weapons or releasing flairs.  Additionally, you get the exciting experience of sitting through the pre-flight checklist.  This is a case of going way to far in one direction to try and create authenticity.  Yes, there would be two pilots in this plane and yes, they would have a pre-flight checklist but all of that can easily happen “off screen.’  Add to it that this mission was totally unnecessary to the plot of the story (and was even introduced in a very lazy, awkward way) and a picture for almost the entire mid-section of the campaign starts to become clear.

The game starts fairly strong (in the first real mission after the pseudo mission that sets up the story and takes place later on), you are in a squad being sent to locate some missing soldiers.  You are ambushed by insurgents and must link back up with friendly troops and fight your way out.  Then there is an earthquake. The next mission is suddenly a one-man army kind of mission; you are alone and unarmed, but there is no real tension or well… anything to this.  You just easily sneak to a building and then stab a guy and take his gun and shoot everyone.  The following three missions are so forgettable I actually had to go back and look to see how many there were (this includes the “Going Hunting” level as well).  By the end of the 6th mission, boredom was seriously starting to set in.

“Thunder Run” in which another awkward story transition puts you in the shoes of a character named Miller starts to save the game a bit.  In “Thunder Run” as well as the next level, “Fear No Evil,” you are driving a tank and ultimately are sent to rescue the main character.  The ending of “Fear No Evil” is what makes for a dramatic change in terms of actually starting to get engaged in the game, but I won’t spoil why.  After that, in the mission “Night Shift” you are back in the shoes of the main character and are doing probably the most enjoyable part of Battlefield 3; sniping.  Not only was this level actually fun to play, it has a moment that ties into the previous level in a phenomenal way.

The last three levels vary wildly.  “Rock and a Hard Place” returns the game more to the feeling of the first real level of the game, and it is mostly enjoyable. The ending of the level was a little lackluster for various reasons, but for it works.  “Kaffararov” the 2nd to the last level in the game goes right back to the one-many army stuff again.  This level feels so much more like a Bond game than something “realistic,” and for me it killed the flow and feel that the game had finally started to build.  The final level is more of the same, and in a move that completely surprised me, it takes you back to the very first mission (the pseudo level I mentioned earlier) and has you actually replay the entire part you already played.  That’s right, half of Battlefield 3’s final level is exactly the same as the first level.  Then you are done.  The ending isn’t particularly bad, it just isn’t particularly good; it’s not satisfying.

The most frustrating part of Battlefield 3 though was how often your friendly AI seemed determined to get you killed. If there is anything “realistic” about Battlefield 3 it is certainly the fact that even a moment out of cover can mean death.  This wouldn’t be so bad if not for the AI.  First, they almost always take the best cover spots, leaving your far more exposed or incapable of getting a clean shot.  Second, if you are in a good cover spot and the friendly AI moves forward, it will likely come right up and push you out of your cover and take it for themselves. They seem to have no awareness of where you are.  Lastly, they will only advance when you do in most cases.  Put it all together and you are forced to often take the worst positions in a firefight, or fight on your own and if the friendly AI decides to move up they’re likely to push you out of cover and into some stray bullets.  Somewhat related, the game also glitched several times and had the friendly NPC’s repeating the same lines of dialogue, and I mean full on repeating the conversation the level starts with eight or ten times.

The game is also full of a surprisingly large amount of quick time events, especially for a military shooter.  Add to that fact most of the game you are following an NPC who knows exactly where to go and there isn’t much deviation from the script in BF3.  If the game were suddenly put on rails it wouldn’t be a drastic change.  Everything sort of feels like the level in the jet, someone else is doing most of the flying.

Lastly, the sounds and visuals.  The game admittedly looks great if you install the HD textures and notably less great if you don’t  (go ahead and take a moment to look it up, the difference is quite extreme). The characters didn’t look quite as good, in fact most of your allies kind of look the same, and it was routinely difficult to make out enemies (I can’t imagine playing this game without scoped weapons). But saying they don’t look as good as the terrific environments is somewhat unfair. The game’s soundtrack is also solid, starting us off with a little Johnny Cash, and including some fine voice performances from the actors. Ultimately, the game looks and sounds like a triple-A game.

Overall the experience is maybe five hours long, and truly a mixed bag.  Some levels are very fun to play and at times the story in very engaging, but often instead the game feels generic to the point of boring or worse yet, pointless.  To put it bluntly, you start to loose interest far too many times for a five-hour campaign.  Ultimately it is hard to rate the game though, because when it is good it can be really good, and at its’ worse it is more bland than anything.  It never really sinks to the level of being bad; it just never really rises to the level of a “Triple A” game.  The single player kind of feels like an after thought, and the fact that it is on “Disc 2” rather than “Disc 1” kind of speaks to that.  I wouldn’t say “Don’t buy Battlefield 3” but I would say that you shouldn’t pay full price if all you care about is the single player.

Final Rating: 7.5/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Gamer Score Earned: 365/1000
Time to Completion: ~5 Hours
Price Bought at: $49.99
Current Price: $58.99 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: $20 or under if all you care about is single player

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