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Review: Battlefield 3 is EA’s biggest fumble since Medal of Honor

Battlefield 3 is easily the most important holiday release for Electronic Arts. All year the publisher has aggressively hyped the DICE-developed sequel as a Call of Duty-killer, and with Modern Warfare 3 still two weeks from release, EA has the vital first-to-market advantage. Although EA seems to have bet the farm on this title, analysts still expect Modern Warfare 3 to outperform Battlefield 3 by a 2:1 margin. Last year’s Call of Duty game, Call of Duty: Black Ops, generated over $1 billion in revenuewithin its first six weeks on the market.

Unfortunately, a host of technical shortcomings and a disappointing overall package make Battlefield 3 not only one of the biggest blunders of 2011, but it also positions rival Activision Blizzard’s upcoming blockbuster to be the clear winner of the first-person-shooter fight that, ironically, EA picked.

The game debuted on Oct. 25, on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. This review is for the Xbox 360 version.

Single-player offers tons of expletives, not much else

I’m not going to spend too much time on the single-player portion of the game, since obviously the developer didn’t either. One of the most common things you’ll be hearing (or saying, if you’re a rabid Battlefield apologist) is that Battlefield 3 didn’t need single-player, and that it’s all about the multiplayer anyway. I find it hard to swallow that a seasoned triple-A developer such as DICE (Mirror’s Edge, Battlefield series–including the story-driven Bad Company spin-offs) should not be expected to deliver single-player campaign in their biggest release yet just because they’re not good at it. It’s like saying Anna Kournikova doesn’t need to play well to be a great pro tennis player simply because she looks good on the court. Battlefield 3’s campaign is mercifully brief, clocking in at an average of five hours, even on the hardest difficulty setting. I have no problem with the brevity of games like this. I actually prefer shorter games, so long as they’re engaging and entertaining, and eschew the endless room-clearing, wave-spawning nonsense that most games implement to artificially increase the playtime listed on the back of the box.

While Battlefield 3’s campaign isn’t particularly horrible, it is soulless. Regardless of how good a level looked (assuming the HD texture pack is installed), I always had this nagging familiarity as if I had already been there in one or more of the hundreds of shooters to come before it. At least it should be fun to blow stuff up, right? After all, the upgraded Frostbite 2 engine is the leader in physics-based destructible environments in the industry, according to EA. Sadly, any meaningful destruction is few and far between, and it’s all scripted. Likewise, the few dynamic destructible walls or environments are very limited, and look like a piece of hard candy that’s been snapped in half, rather than an actual building that’s been eviscerated by a rocket.

Who the hell are these characters, and what are they going on about?

DICE decided to copy Infinity Ward’s (Call of Duty Modern Warfare developer) multi-character narrative, yet forget to duplicate their superior story-telling and tension-building. Some of the playable main characters talk, some of them are inexplicably mute. It is completely asinine for a fighter jet co-pilot to not speak during take-off, when spoken to, or during an actual dogfight with enemy targets. The supporting characters all talk, but in-between F-bombs they don’t really have anything interesting to say, nor are they fleshed out the same way the cast was in Battlefield Bad Company. And don’t you dare take cover where your artificial intelligence (AI) comrades are scripted to go, lest you literally be pushed out into enemy fire by your selfish and invulnerable squadmates.

The game is also lacking that “epic factor” that even the shooter games Crysis and Homefront were able to capture to some extent, and that the Call of Duty series is so well-known for. In addition to all the aforementioned reasons, the musical score straddles the line between underwhelming and non-existent. Am I the only person who noticed that they seemed to outright lift their new “theme” from the Terminator: Salvation trailer?

The single-player campaign begins and ends in a sitting, and there are a few decent moments interspersed throughout, but it’s all just so hollow. I will give credit to DICE for creating what I feel is the best dogfight sequence in any game to date. I’ve struggled for years to enjoy games like Ace Combat and HAWX, and I’m grateful that I’ve finally gotten it out of my system, even if I did so on-rails, where your pathway is pre-determined. The last stage is also the game’s most unique and exciting sequence (though also the most implausible as any New Yorker will know). It’s just unfortunate they couldn’t extend that level of energy and urgency to the rest of the game.

There’s also a handful of co-op missions, though these are essentially variants of the single-player content for you and a friend to suffer through together. Like any disappointing Hollywood blockbuster, if you’ve seen the Battlefield 3 trailer, you’ve already derived about as much enjoyment out of the single-player as this game has to offer.

Next page: Multiplayer offers few surprises

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