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Hands-On with Battlefield 3: Too Hyped for its Own Good?

Battlefield 3  - 869774

Here’s the situation, guys. I’ve been doing videogame previews professionally for three years now. In that time, I’ve played a lot of games in various states of development, but I have never played a game with such an anticipated pedigree as Battlefield 3, and be so prone to technical problems.

Let’s be upfront: Battlefield 3 is launching on October 25. In two weeks, EA’s big competitor to Modern Warfare 3 has to establish one hell of a foothold for it to quote-unquote “win” this holiday season.

So if I’m sounding particularly negative, please understand that Battlefield 3 is supposed to be the next big shooter. This is supposed to be the game that makes gamers turn off Halo and Modern Warfare and play DICE’s main event for 2011. That’s why I find these bugs to be so concerning. This preview build was prone to crashes on the PC, 360, and PS3 versions of the game. Pop-up indicators would remain frozen on the screen, or level objectives wouldn’t be clear. These are big and small issues that unfortunately add up.

Battlefield 3 PC Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Gameplay

Now, before I go too far complaining, I must indicate that EA had some serious issues with internet connectivity at this preview session, and that many of the complaints about the game’s multiplayer beta have been addressed in this updated version. Many of my problems with the game could have been updated with an even more final build, or that the game will launch with a patch solving many of my problems. I’m willing to give EA and DICE the benefit of the doubt, because when Battlefield 3 is on point it is a great gameplay experience.

Last week, EA presented a broad, daylong play through of four levels of the single-player, one mission of the co-op mode, and all of the modes and levels of the multiplayer. Unfortunately, you’ll have to hear my impressions about the multiplayer later this week, but trust that it is certainly a high point of the game.

The single-player of Battlefield 3 tells the story of Sergeant Blackburn through a frame narrative. After an initial, quick tutorial level I’m not allowed to discuss, we are properly introduced to Blackburn. He’s being interrogated for some military crime he supposedly committed, and there is an obvious “good cop-bad cop” going down between these two superiors. After some angry banter, we are taken to a previous event as Blackburn and his fellow soldiers move into Iran with the American military to deal with a new, apparently Russian, terrorist threat. Called the PLR, this seems to be a multinational terrorist threat, one that the Americans are hoping to take care of sooner rather than later.

After entering a nearby parking lot, players are tasked with taking care of waves of enemies as they pour in from across the park, taking down an RPG-shooting bad guy. After moving into another building and taking care of a sniper in a nearby, concrete highrise, we are tasked with defending our fellow soldiers as they escape from the insurgents.

Battlefield 3 PC Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Gameplay

After a quick escape from enemy soldiers down to an open highway, Blackburn is ordered to follow a wire to a bomb rigged to explode. Exploring a nearby building and finding the source of the rigging wire, he’s attacked by one lone enemy. One quicktime event later, he returns to his comrades, whereupon they address waves of more enemies charging down the highway.

It is then, of all things, that a massive earthquake occurs, toppling a building on top of our soldiers. Blackburn is knocked out, and the next level is the aftermath of the earthquake. It’s night, and the PLR soldiers have taken over the area. Blackburn must sneak past them to escape. While the stealth elements are very tame, getting around takes some finesse. Mostly, however, it’s just a matter of shooting guys. Thankfully for our hero, he meets up with a fellow squad mate and escapes on the back of a truck.

As far as these shooting portions of the game go, they are quite good looking, and the weapons felt solid and powerful.  While very linear and far from a dynamic shooting experience, Battlefield 3’s single-player shooting is quite good. Unfortunately, system crashes and weapon pick-indicators locking up on-screen hamstring what might be a solid shooting experience. Don’t get me wrong, it is quite fun, but it doesn’t feel like anything new or fresh is being done with the single-player, and technical problems pose some concern.

Don’t think first-person shooting will be all that players will be doing. The final new portion of the single-player is certainly unique. In between missions, Blackburn’s angry superiors continue to ream him for his actions, and a pilot named Colby Hawkins is mentioned. From there, players actually take control of her as the weapons specialist for a fighter jet. In a shift from the first-person shooting, players are tasked with taking down PLR jets in an on-rails shooting segment. After dealing with this initial threat, we then switch over to an infrared view below the plane, bombing on planes and guiding missiles to various points of interest.

Battlefield 3 Xbox 360 PC PlayStation 3 Gameplay

This flight segment isn’t boring. As a matter of fact, I found it quite enjoyable in the grand gameplay narrative of the game. However, it is definitely different from the rest of the game, and people looking forward to strictly a shooting game will have to deal with these segments. Visually, I found it to be one of the better looking portions of the game, bordering on photo-realistic.

However, this brings me to one odd decision on DICE’s part for both the shooting and flying segments of the game: the player's character is completely silent. Now, I’m by and large completely fine with a silent protagonist. However, when Blackburn is a veritable chatty Cathy in the pre-rendered cutscenes, but completely silent in the missions, it’s jarring. While this can be justified as an example of a dedicated and silent soldier, it is even worse for the Colby sections. The woman does not talk once, even as her pilot wont stop talking himself. It’s incredibly weird that there is a conversation taking place between Colby and her pilot, but nothing coming from the player. Additionally, we never actually see her, as players start off in her first-person perspective.

I’m hoping this is something that won’t be a problem in the long run, but jeez, it’s bizarre to see such a big-name game make such mediocre decisions.

Thankfully, and I can say this, Battlefield 3 isn’t about the single player. At all. Anyone thinking of buying this game for a 6-10 hour experience is delusional, and the DICE representatives basically admitted it themselves. Single-player is training for the enjoyable and solid multiplayer.

Bad news! There’s not too much to say about the competitive multiplayer at the moment, as I’m embargoed from revealing all that I saw until later this week. Keep an eye out for that later!

One new multiplayer addition I can talk about is the co-op mode. A completely separate mode, two players can team up and take on a short mission. We were allowed to play one of these missions, called Hit and Run, where two players start off in a French office building as the PLR forces attempt to take them out. It’s fairly straightforward, and I did have a bit of fun with the game. Unfortunately, like the single player mode, the co-op was struck with various crashes, as well as unclear indicators to progress. For example, in one segment, one player is told to open one door while the other opens a door a flight of stairs below. The thing is, nothing tells the players that each character has different doors to open, so when I activated my door, it locked me in an idle animation while my fellow player was left wondering why I couldn’t follow him to the other door. Come guys, just a quick pop up indicating that there are separate objectives could have really helped us out.

Battlefield 3 Xbox 360 PC PlayStation 3 Gameplay

Honestly, and this is me being perfectly brutal, I was underwhelmed by the co-op sections of the game. Maybe these are designed to be replayed over and over for a high-score, but I generally find that when developers build missions focused on co-op, as opposed to making the main campaign cooperative, these sections tend to be anemic and underwhelming. Battlefield 3 seems to follow along, and while the level I was allowed to play was fun, it offered nothing more interesting than the single-player portion and felt tacked on. I suspect players will play it once and never touch it again.

If everything I have said is very negative, understand where I’m coming from. Battlefield 3 is an incredibly anticipated game, and for the game to have so many simple bugs and mistakes is just poor form. I don’t know if there is going to be a later build released to gamers, or if there is a massive patch lined up to fix everything, but at the moment, the single-player and co-op missions feel straightforward and typical. Even worse, the crashes and bugs, especially for a game launching in two weeks, are not acceptable. I’m thinking Battlefield 3 is going to be a fun game with these issues patched out, I just don’t know when they will be in.

Thankfully, the competitive multiplayer is something that shines and provides the real core of exciting and thrilling moments in Battlefield 3. You’ll want to read about that later this week.

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Ben PerLee
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