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Hands on with Battlefield 3 [REVIEW]

Battlefield 3 Review

After reading raving previews, watching countless teaser clips and even taking part in the BETA testing, Battlefield 3 is out and living comfortably inside my PlayStation 3. After spending a couple of hours playing the BETA I was very impressed with all aspects of the game and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the full game. My expectations for BF3 were set to a very high standard, so high I did fear that the game might disappoint me in some way or another.

Console vs PC

Before I talk about the three modes available to you in BF3 and how it pans out online I will start by discussing the differences between the console version and the PC version, and there are a few.

To start with I was expecting out of this world graphics due to the teaser videos which have been blasted out all over the internet. The graphics are very impressive, it would take a fool to disagree with this, but they have been toned down slightly to enable the game to run at 30 FPS (frames per second) for PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. The game, as it looks on console, is similar to what you would expect to see running the game on Normal graphic settings on PC. Some people will not notice or be bothered about this but I was slightly disappointed due to the visuals I had seen coming from the teaser videos which clearly displayed PC standard effects running on the highest possible settings (DX10 included). To me this highlights that our current crop of consoles are falling behind slightly, meaning we are edging closer and closer to announcements of next gen consoles.  Having said all this, don’t been fooled into thinking that BF3 is a visual let down, it’s far from it and would come out winner in a GFX battle with most and arguably all current console games.

The biggest and most controversial difference between console and PC versions comes from the multiplayer section of the game. PC hosts 64 man servers while console versions are forced to limit the server maximum to 24. Battlefield 3 developers DICE admitted that for the consoles to hold 64-man severs (which they ideally would have wanted) they would have had to remove vehicles and scale down destructibility, which requires a lot of data that’s transferred through the network and CPUs. The maps have also been made more compact for the console versions, DICE have not cut maps in half but they have scaled down large areas to make maps more compact and better suited to the 24-player servers. This makes sense to me. If we can’t have 64 man servers, which by the way, would be amazing, then we should not complain that maps have been made more compact. I wouldn’t like to be playing on a 64-man size map trying to locate and eliminate only 12 enemy soldiers.

Campaign

I am a strong believer that a player should attempt to tackle campaign mode before taking the game online, especially if you are new to Battlefield or shooters in general. As well as being good fun the campaign mode will teach you the basics and get you ready to test your skills online. Last thing you want to do is go online and take a constant beating from gamers who are weeks, months or years ahead in online multiplayer FPS gaming.

A basic, spoiler-free overview of the story would be, set in 2014, you follow and play the previous operations and flashbacks of Sgt Blackburn as he tells them to agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. Agents have taken Blackburn captive for interrogation surrounding terrorist plots to detonate nukes in Paris and New York. The campaign took me around 6-7 hours to complete on normal difficulty. It’s not much and again…..I expected more but let’s face it, Battlefield 3 was built around multiplayer. The campaign, though short, was a great experience and a great way to start the BF3 experience. Trophies and Achievements will give the campaign plenty of replay value and I intend on doing it all again on the hardest difficulty to gain my gold trophy award. I expect a lot of gamers will skip the campaign all together and play nothing but multiplayer online, a mistake in my opinion.

CO-OP

BF3 also includes a CO-OP mode which can be played with friends or random players over the network. The co-op missions are set in similar scenarios as the single-player campaign and feature randomised elements meaning that each time you play the enemy spawns and AI patterns will change. You and your partner take part in co-op missions that put you into a survival type situation where you are forced to survive waves of enemy attacks that get increasingly more difficult the further into the mission you get. Working as a team is what co-op is all about, using your individual strengths to help one another progress and complete the challenge set.

An example of this would be taking control of a chopper. If you are lacking in the ability to control the aircraft then it be wise to leave flying to your hopefully more experienced pilot team mate while you take control of the mounted mini-gun. Personally I have mastered controlling the aircraft but I would also like to be the one racking up my kill total on the mini-gun.

The benefit of playing co-op mode, besides the obvious fun element, is you will unlock weapons and gear that you can use in the online multiplayer mode. This, along with trophy achievements, acts as a good incentive for players to drag themselves away from multiplayer and get involved with co-op.

It can also be used competitively. At the end of each mission you will be given a stats total which is saved, added to leaderboards and can be viewed by friends. On a negative note, co-op has no split screen options so if have been reading this and thinking co-op seems like a great way to spend a night in with a mate and a few beers you’re going to be disappointed. For me it’s no big deal, split screen is a thing of the past and the idea of compressing my view to fit half of my TV screen is far from appealing, especially when I have the option to play with my friends over the PSN.

Multiplayer

This is what BF3 is all about. It’s why you bought the game. Anything else is just a bonus.

Following on from the campaign, Multiplayer plays host to maps set in Europe, North America and theMiddle East. Map size has been a hot topic since the announcement of the scaled down maps for console but DICE have done a good job in setting perfectly sized maps to hold 24 players.

Each map also runs the Destruction 3.0 engine. The engine enables debris to injure and sometimes kill players. Lots of buildings and structures can be destroyed making for a far more realistic feel to the game.

The great thing about BF3 online is that it offers you so many different ways of playing. The game features a large variety of weapons and vehicles which are spread over sometimes huge maps. One minute you could lay in an open field set back from intense action with your sniper rifle attempting to pick out opponents in stealth then the next minute find yourself driving a tank head first into the action causing cannon blasting chaos.

As always you carry a knife, the close combat weapon for what seems to be all FPS titles, but this time you get to use it in a more tormenting way. Apart from the humiliation you cause to your knife victim by sneaking behind him, not only will you kill him but you remove his dog tags, something that will stay forever in yours and unfortunately for your victim, his statistics.

BF3 really gives you great player satisfaction, destroying vehicles and taking down opposing players feels great, it feels like you worked hard and earned your kill. This satisfaction and reward is what gets you hooked for hours and brings you back to play more.

Class Act

Players can take their pick from 4 classes; Assault, Recon, Support and Engineer. Each class will level up the more you play it by using an experience points type system, giving you what seems to be an endless stream of weapon unlocks, attachments and gadgets.

Assault

The Assault class is a kind of run and gun class with the added bonus of medic stills. You can support your team by dropping healing kits and also use your defibrillators to bring back fallen members of your team. A good thing about being revived is that the fallen player has the choice to accept or decline the revival, this means if your being revived in the middle of a hectic war zone where there is a good chance you will get to your feet and be killed again you can decline the revive and spawn away from the action.

Support

The support class is my least played class. As a support soldier your main strength is heavy fire and by attaching a bipod to your Light Machine Gun, this class becomes a real force. The bipod can be laid down anywhere you want, from standing to prone positions giving your LMG a massive boost in accuracy and recoil reduction. A support player also has the ability to provide your team with much needed ammo recharges, proving you a very worthy member of your team when playing Conquest or Rush games. One of the drawbacks to the support class would be that mobility is not great, your carrying some heavy equipment so rule out beating most players in a sprint race.

Recon

Recon is your usual sniper based class. He packs a sniper rifle with a couple of useful gadgets. He can create a spawn for his squad and place down a motion detector, useful if you want to avoid getting sneaked upon and knifed! Since coming back to console to play FPS games I have avoided using the sniper rifle due to being unable to react as quick when using a control pad compared to the keyboard and mouse of PC. Having said that, the Recon class is important to BF2 due to the map size. You can find yourself a nice hidden spot and take people out from huge distances.  Recon is the class I hate to come up against more than the class I love to play.

Engineer

The engineering class is my most enjoyable class. Engineers can carry a repair tool which can be used to fix vehicles, so if you’re planning on spending a great deal of time in tanks then by taking on the engineer class you can nip out of the tank or any other chosen vehicle and repair it before the enemy disables and terminates it. As engineer you are also adapt to taking down vehicles, the engineer is kitted out with an RPG and can damage and take out armoured targets, as well as blowing holes in most buildings and structures.  Once you have upgraded the class you are also given the option to swap your repair tool for mines. The mines are super effective and can wipe out tanks with ease.

Multiplayer Modes

All nine maps are available to five different game modes in multiplayer. Rush and Squad Rush is played in two halves, attacking and defending. The goal of the attackers is to destroy COM stations A and B while the defenders try to defend the COM stations. It’s possibly my best multiplayer mode as its constant race against the clock action.

Squad Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are the classic multiplayer game modes, nothing fancy, nothing to think about, just kill as many players from the opposing team as possible, the team with the most kills wins. Team DM is played on compact maps with no vehicles. Squad DM is very much the same but includes one Infantry Fighting Vehicle per team. Key to winning Squad DM would be to keep your IFV alive.

The final mode is Conquest, the Battlefield classic and very much about vehicle warfare. The goal of each team is to capture and hold as many of the available flags for as long as possible. While your team holds flags the opposing team will lose tickets until a winner is announced.

Online Pass Controversy

When you buy BF3 it comes with an Online Pass Code. This requires activating from the game menu before you can take the experience online and can only be activated once. That means if you were to sell your game after activating the code then the buyer would be required to re-purchase the code from the PlayStation store at a cost of around £7 (800 Microsoft points on Xbox360).

DICE have said that the reason for this is server cost and new user creation cost. Servers cost a lot of money to run (and they have many) and they do not get anything from the sale of pre-used games, explaining that to them it’s compensation and not to punish people.

This has upset a number of gamers but I can understand the issue from both sides. Players will argue that the online pass was purchased with the game and DICE made their money from the original sale and should they wish to register a new user to that pass then they have every right to do so, even if this is someone they do not know (from second hand sales). The people who feel the effect of this most will be those who share a console with their family members. Only one of the family members would be able to register the free pass to their account while the others would have to buy a new online pass.

On the flip side, if you think that DICE have to account for each user account that registers to play on their servers and cover the costs to host, upkeep and maintain all their servers then who can blame them for requesting payment for each user? And let’s face it, if you are sharing a game with others then it’s a small price to pay for unlimited access to online gaming.

Room for Both?

Battlefield 3 has to be regarded as one of the best online games on the market. No doubt it’s going to be hard to convince some of the Call of Duty fans (and I am one of them) to make the switch to BF3, especially when you consider that BF3 has been released at almost the same time as MW3.

I have followed the Call of Duty series from the beginning and have been slightly put off lately by the speed in which new COD titles and map packs are being released. It seems like we are forever pumping money into the franchise which in reality never really changes. It’s very much same old same old, which can be a good thing as well as bad.

BF3 has no kill streaks so forget about releasing a pack of flesh hunting dogs to take out your opponents while you cower behind a bunker. BF3 really makes you earn your kills and you feel a better sense of reward when you’re sitting at the top of the scoreboard.

My advice would be to not miss what BF3 has to offer, BF3 and COD are two different games which share the same genre, meaning it should not be a case of one or the other and more a case of which one to buy first. BF3 came at the right time for me, it was the refreshing change I needed in FPS multiplayer PS3 gaming. Do not miss out.

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