Sane game designers would agree that it’s a wonderful idea to let players search for new servers from the main menu. But now, EA’s Battlefield 3 website is the place to be for hopping into the action. Switching servers? Close the game, open EA’s website once again to search. Connection problems? Close the game. EA’s website goes down? Never open the game in the first place. Not even two months after release, Space Marine has lost the title for 2011’s Most Enraging Multiplayer Interface.
EA’s newfound manipulation is driven by their desire to have their very own Call of Duty killer. Battlefield caters to a different gameplay experience altogether, and no amount of executive interference will change that. What’s been tacked onto the underlying experience degrades a strong product in an attempt to attract gamers who already know what Battlefield offers but are interested in something else. Since Activision is offering an opt-in, Facebook-style service for Call of Duty, EA will, apparently, try to do the same whether or not it’s a smart move.
As far as the gameplay goes, the single-player campaign is another obvious counter to Black Ops and Modern Warfare. Instead of Bad Company’s action-comedy about lovable misfits leaving destruction in their wake slapstick style, we get a reheated meta plot about Russians and nukes and terrorists and... I fell asleep. Call of Duty has spent years dominating the Michael Bay blockbuster corner of the market and the polish shows in each new release. Whatever inspired EA and DICE to abandon the distinct, fun style of the Bad Company spinoffs, it was a bad idea. The delivery isn’t there.
So, what does count in Battlefield 3’s favor? The multiplayer builds on the last nine years of the franchise, taking lessons from each incarnation in turn. The crowdsourcing “spotting” mechanic from Bad Company is here in full effect, allowing you to mark an enemy player or vehicle for extermination by your squadmates. When it works, it’s breathtaking; however, Bad Company’s accelerated tempo is abandoned in favor of more traditional, methodical influences drawn mostly from Battlefield 2, the last game in the main series to emphasize modern war.
The resulting identity doesn’t feel entirely original, though. Plenty of Battlefield game mods like Project Reality have achieved recognition and fame while offering something different. The building-collapsing destruction of Bad Company is technically here, thanks to the new and improved Frostbite 2 engine, but the game design limits the chances we get to take advantage of it by comparison. The unbound creativity of 2142 is also missing. We don’t get to revisit the thrills of blowing up floating aircraft carriers in 3, possibly because there aren’t any in the year 2011. Ironically, Battlefield 3’s biggest contribution to gaming currently looks to be its status as the new benchmark by which computing hardware will be measured, just like the original Crysis was four years ago.
Battlefield 3 isn’t the savior of gaming from the depths of non-innovation quite like it was hoped and advertised to be. That will hurt its sales—looking back at the gung-ho advertising campaign that insisted Call of Duty was inferior now seems very childish, especially since 3’s singleplayer campaign is laughable and its multiplayer innovates over its predecessors no more than COD does. But, if you’ve got a love for 64-player teamwork and a strong PC that can wow you with the new Frostbite engine, it’s a definite purchase—just be aware that you’ll be bringing EA’s baggage along to the party with you.