The best part of Battlefield 3’s single-player was when I wasn't holding a gun.
Sure, I had prejudices. It's difficult not to, especially after sticking with a franchise whose main strength is maximalist multiplayer warfare. I didn't anticipate innovation. Established shooter tropes — tailing an invincible squad-mate "guide"; manning countless turrets; scripted, theatrical set pieces — popped up with unabashed frequency. Hackneyed quick-time events (some occurring for ridiculous reasons) elicited a roll of the eyes and little else.
I was primed to write off BF3's campaign as developer DICE's tired take on Call of Duty's successful formula — until an opportunity to kiss the sky changed everything.
"Going Hunting" takes place roughly a third into the game. As Lt. Jennifer Hawkins, I'm in charge of the bristling armaments adorning my F-18F Super Hornet. Emerging from the cramped portside hatch of the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, I behold the roiling waters of the Persian Gulf buffeting a fleet of destroyers and carriers. The tarmac glistens with seaspray. "Let's rock and roll," my co-pilot says. All that's missing is a Kenny Loggins mix tape.
It’s when I'm airborne that the amazement kicks in its afterburners. Although the gameplay still sticks to an on-rails experience, DICE managed a top-notch replication of sitting inside a piece of flying war machinery. Banking and establishing missile lock-ons during a frenzied dogfight got my adrenaline pumping faster than any ground-based action, especially when my enjoyment levels are proportional to how many burning cars enemies hide behind. My pilot's quickened breathing whenever we were tailed by a tenacious bandit on our six mirrored my own as we jockeyed for position miles above Iran's craggy badlands.
Ultimately, these jolts of immersion caused a complete reversal of my stance on BF3's single-player. Like nearly everyone, the majority of my play time sits squarely with the game's bread-and-butter multiplayer modes, but I'm also thankful I bothered with the campaign long enough to experience an actual thrill fighting against A.I. opponents in "Going Hunting." If DICE focused its efforts across future products on providing the same level of polish and excitement I encountered while flying the skies, I'll gladly jump into any campaign with wholehearted enthusiasm.