Battlefield 3: Realistic Fun Simulator

I must confess, I was never really interested in the Battlefield series. Despite being having the marketing potential of its publisher EA, it managed to stay under my radar for many years, as it was for most intents and purposes a niche title. Truly a hipster Call of Duty, it was a modern military shooter before modern military shooters were cool. By the time that EA seemed committed to a mainstream marketing push for the series with battlefield 3, Call of Duty had already cemented its position as the biggest game in the industry, and I was busy catching up for lost time with Modern Warfare 2. I had no room in my life for another appalling guilty pleasure.

However, two whole years after origin launched, EA seems to have gotten the hang of making its products attractive to its customers. With its price now down to a permanent £14.99, and even offering the Close Quarters DLC for free during E3 2013, I finally felt motivated to buy the game and check out this ‘Call of duty for multi-cellular organisms’.

I was impressed. Briefly.

Clarity is obfuscation

One would assume that any problems with a game would arise after beginning the game executable. However, Battlefield 3 goes out of its way to change the way you game, and offers you a browser-based ‘battlefield hub’ in the form of Battlelog. For players of all three platforms, Battlelog acts as a social hub for players of the game, but for the lucky people who choose to play the game on PC, the game itself is launched from battlelog, via a browser plugin.

This is, all things considered, a bit silly; that starting even the singleplayer portion of the game requires you to navigate from Origin, through a browser and finally into the game itself. The service itself is interesting, but I see absolutely no reason why 95% of the functionality couldn’t have been implemented within the game itself, even having an HTML renderer within the game engine would have made for a better experience. Battlelogs main advantage is to the publisher, not the user; it acts a useful advertisement platform, with most of the spare screen space at time of writing being dedicated to pre-hyping for the pre-release hype of Battlefield 4.

In order to give you an idea of the approval of Battlelog within the battlefield community, I shall use the internet opinion staple, google autocomplete.
BF3_1

I was warned before purchase that the joining battlefield 3 late would not a forgiving experience, and surely enough, the first few hours were quite unhelpful, to say the least. The starting loadouts are fairly useless, and you’re not given the helping hand that Call of Duty gives you with well-specced starting  loadouts. These starting weapons are pretty poor, and hence the starting message is “die a lot, and perhaps you won’t later on”. Mercifully, when you actually manage to get kills, which is considerably easier in one of the meat grinder maps like metro, it doesn’t take a huge number to start unlocking upgrades. As for vehicles, Don’t even think about ever getting in one of them. Ever. Noob.

This would suggest that one ought to stick to playing a support role in one of the more team-oriented games, but there’s very little actual supporting you can do. Dropping health kits is fairly useless when kills are so quick, and the defibrilator – which revives fallen teammates – isn’t unlocked for newcomers, and the revived teammate is usually shot before being able to get up. The support class drops ammo, but given how short the expected lifetime is, isn’t really much use. So you can’t force your way into teamplay, and players very rarely will go to the effort of teaming up in any other way.

Advantages are hindrances

The base mechanics of the game work fairly well, given the nature of the game. The shooting is standard for the genre, but works well regardless, and I enjoy the suppression mechanic, though it isn’t actually severe enough to stop players from just running around the map.

Latency, however, is a huge problem on many servers, a majority of which have a ping (latency) of over 100 ms . I was consistently playing with pings around 30ms, a vast improvement over the ISP I had when I used to play Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, and yet tell-tale signs of latency plagued my gameplay. I noticed many times that I would die after passing sufficient cover for me to be impossible to hit, and I often took damage a split second before leaving cover to shoot. This made gameplay feel extremely unfair, and the ‘latency-resolving’ code, for want of a better phrase, seems far inferior to a game like Call of duty, where at least the player with less latency will get the most accurate gameplay. When I found a sub 30ms ping server, the game felt considerably better, but these servers are a needle in a national hay stockpile.

BF3_2

Cooperation  is anarchy

Quite simply, the game is ruined by a complete inability to promote cooperation, this truly is the breaking issue of battlefield 3. There is hardly any medium through which quick communication is possible. A text chat is available, but given the nature of the game it is seldom used. There is a quick menu of voice commands which is nearly impossible to use with a mouse, hence nobody uses them either. The game also lacks voice comms, which really is the be all and end all of the situation. The result is a team-focused game completely lacking in any sort of team play.

This wrecks havoc with the game balance. If an enemy tank rolls into the area, rather than just call out for an engineer class player to fire a rocket at it, every other class may as well lay down on the floor and admit their fate. Vehicle absolutely overpower anything but a good 8 player cluster. All regular players of the game seem to have teamplay programmed out of them by the game. The result of this is clear, the closest I got to teamplay was to jump in an allies tank, as he drove past making no attempt to slow down. Had vehicle boarding been restricted with a velocity limit for realism sake, I’d have never once cooperated with a team member.

On one occasion (and I do mean one), the team I was playing with had – purely by coincidence – synchronised in a push towards the same objective, and the game became truly engrossing. With players within such close proximity, there were enough players of each role for vehicles not to become overpowering, and there were sufficient infantry for an truly exciting battle. This was, as I said, purely coincidental.

I’ve played the same game on the same server since, and I’ve never had such an engrossing experience since. The game allows for superbly entertaining gameplay, but makes no effort to encourage it in this fashion.

Mediocrity is perfection

There is no effective way to enjoy BF3 the way you’d like to, or at least, the game does nothing to encourage this. You can run about with something interesting like a red-dot sighted bolt-action rifle, looking for skilful hits, but don’t be expecting to be leading matches any time soon. You can solely use a smoke grenade launcher, trying to get hilarious direct hits, but expect your KD ratio to drop below 0.5 for all but the best of matches. The game simply punishes anybody who want to load out with something more creative than a shotgun. Assault rifles fill almost precisely the same roles as light machine guns, merely trading magazine size for reload times, and SMGs and shotguns, despite what you might think would be considerable differences, are completely interchangeable, the only difference being that the SMGs are actually usable at moderate range, and even this is negated by slug ammunition for shotguns.

This interchangeability is less prominent on the games larger maps, but SMGs and shotguns are pretty much outranked anyway by assault rifles, long machine guns and sniper rifles. One would still be ridiculous for equipping a short-range on a sniper rifle and expecting to do well, as an assault rifle has just as good an accuracy, and a vastly superior rate of fire. Snipers fare better in large maps, but retain the problem they do in most shooters of not feeling like part of the game.

This inability to deviate from the obviously superior methods leads to a very homogeneous experience.

BF3_3

Observations are falsities

Despite looking quite large, the maps in Battlefield 3 are surprisingly compact. On maps like Caspian border, the furthest capture points lie only a few hundred metres away from each other. Larger maps seem distinguished only in the distance you must walk the main spawn area. The maps are small enough for the Air vehicle boundaries to extend significantly past the infantry boundaries, and even then jets have to travel in an almost constantly circular path.

Levels like Caspian Border – shown in the image below – are gorgeous, but nowhere near as big as they look. This maps main playable area is merely from the mast at the center left of the image to the huts on the far right. The open hills surrounding the mast are beyond the map limits.

BF3_4

Despite the small size of maps, 64 players in a large map still manages to feel desolate. There tends to be a cluster of 20 or so players contesting a single point, but any other area of the map simply feels empty. This obviously isn’t an issue on the smaller or more linear maps, but on open maps the atmosphere of large-scale warfare is completely unconvincing.

Enjoyment is an illusion

I have, I must admit, focused on the negatives of the game in this . The game, whilst flawed in its attempts to elevate itself to a shooter with brains, is absolutely gorgeous on PC, especially for a AAA game so far into a console generation, and comes into its own with the close quarters DLC, an experience that even has me hooked. The problem, of course, is that Call of Duty has already has that experience polished to a mirror finish.

Not only does Call of Duty do twitch-reaction, brainless shooting more proficiently, it’s a game that asks you to expect nothing more of it. Whilst playing Battlefield 3, it’s unattained ambition simply reminded me of an intelligent, tactical game with a great community; the game I thought battlefield 3 would be before playing it. Battlefield 3 is a game that looks vast and clever, and simply can’t live up to the expectations of those who are looking for an above-par experience.

The final result is a game that seems to suffer from a lack of direction, like a game pressured to appeal to the general market rather than offering something the general market cannot. Battlefield is a franchise with unrivaled potential, an immensely over funded AAA game with the basic concept to make intelligent, large scale gameplay an astonishing reality. But battlefield 3 simply cannot deliver.

BF3_5

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