Here's a quick tip for enjoying the Xbox 360 version of Battlefield 3: if you really want to enjoy the console version of the game, then don’t play the PC version. Ever. I know that sounds pithy and a bit on the arrogant side but playing the game on the console was one of the best console multiplayer FPS experiences I've ever had. The problem is that fact was ruined by the knowledge that a bigger, better version exists. Before I get into the details let's take a look at what Dice has tried to do with the game.
Unlike Infinity Ward, the folks at DICE have not just evolved their game but rather looked holistically at the series and made significant changes to the core of the game. The basic mechanics of your modern shooter are still there but with a few more levels of refinement. John covered a lot of these in his review of the PC version
and the re-vamping of the class system would be enough for most gamers but when you add in all the balancing done to the vehicles you get one of the best multiplayer FPS games on the market.
The Xbox 360 version of the game comes on two discs. Disc 1 contains the multiplayer and co-op portions of the game while the single player campaign of the game resides on disc 2. I'm not sure if that's an intentional commentary on the single player campaign of the game or not but it sure feels like it. It's almost like DICE is saying "The best part of the game is on this first disc but because we have to compete head to head with another game we have to have a token single player campaign. We'll put it on a separate disc so that you can play through it once, put it back in it's case and forget it ever exists."
The single player campaign isn't all that bad but it's no match for what the guys at Infinity Ward have delivered in Modern Warfare 3. It's a bit on the awkward side and it does feel a bit forced at points. There are times when it feels as if there is someone with a clipboard checking off level and mission types that the game has to have to be feature competitive with Call of Duty. There are a few highpoints in the campaign where DICE gets to do something original,including a somewhat breathtaking air combat sequence, but for the most part it's a fairly linear and unexciting stroll through FPS standards.
The biggest failing point of the single player campaign is that it doesn't really prepare you for the multiplayer portion of the game. You do get the usual FPS tutorial about how to walk, duck, and shoot but some training on how to fly the helicopters and jets in the game would have been a great addition and something this ground pounder would really have appreciated.
Don't get me wrong, the series has come a bit of a way since Battlefield 1942's single player campaign which had you playing against some really bad 'bots on the game's multiplayer maps. At the same time, Battlefield 3's single player campaign also feels like a missed opportunity. It feels like the game is trying to one up the Call of Duty franchise at every corner instead of trying to pave it's own way. I can't help feel that if the designers had gone in a different route (let's fight some drug lords in Mexico or invade a suddenly rogue Canada) that the single player campaign might have been a bit more interesting but as it stands, it's a just another FPS experience with some very pretty visuals.
The Battlefield series is known for it's multiplayer component and that's where the world class nature of Battlefield 3 comes through. It's unfair to compare the multiplayer components of Battlefield 3 to Modern Warfare 3 because it's like comparing chess (BF3) to checkers (MW3). Sure both of them are played on a checkered- board but the two games are much differently structured and paced. Personally I love Battlefield 3's multiplayer more because you can contribute to the fight without having the fastest trigger finger.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm fairly average when it comes to deathmatch skills which is why I love the other opportunities Battlefield 3 provides to score points and contribute to my team. DICE has taken the class system from the Bad Company games and winnowed them down to to four classes: assault, engineer, support, and recon.
This is a very good thing as in previous games if you played the medic or engineer classes you could be something of a liability in a firefight. That was mostly rectified in the two Bad Company games but DICE has found near perfect class balance in BF3. I love that I can customize my assault class to have a healing role with med packs and the life restoring paddles or I can swap those things for a grenade launcher and other tools. The other classes have these same nuances which really impacts how you want to play the game.
Like previous Battlefield games, Battlefield 3 has multiple layers due the incorporation of vehicles in the game. Not only can you fight it out on foot but there are tanks, jeeps, boats, helicopters, jets, and even amphibious vehicles for you to pilot. Each of these is perfectly balanced out against everything else in the game. One of my biggest gripes with Battlefield 2 was that there was no way for infantry to effectively combat good jets and helicopters. This has been fixed in BF3 through the addition of anti-air missiles that the engineer gets very early on in his progression. Also helping out are some new anti-air vehicles to the game which can help to make pilots miserable. Can really good jet pilots still dominate a match? Yes but they have a much harder time doing so, especially when players coordinate to take them down.
The game's multiplayer modes include a series of co-op missions that you and a friend could blow through in a few hours. Doing so unlocks a few extra goodies for use in the multiplayer arena but the real meat is found in the competitive Conquest and Rush modes. Sure the game ships with Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes but if you're going to play those modes, Call of Duty is where you want to be. The conquest mode is the traditional mode where teams vie for command points that are scattered around the map. The rush mode has one team attacking a progression of points while the other team defends. The modes are only as good as the maps they are played on and thankfully the maps are world class and support both modes very well. The lone exception is the Operation Metro map which is a fantastic Conquest map but can be a frustrating slog when played as a Rush map.
I’m don't have many gripes with the Xbox 360 version as the game looks fantastic (assuming you install the graphics upgrade to your hard drive) and plays fantastic (assuming you’re not playing with a bunch of n00bs or trolls). Spotting enemies (a key element of the game) is a little tough to do in the game and isn’t in the documentation (you have to press the select button) but the rest of the game is truly class leading. There are a few small clipping issues visually and other small bugs that pop up from time to time but they don’t distract from the game at all.
Back to the comment from the top of the review: the 360 version of the game is awesome and extremely full filling from a gameplay perspective; the problem is that the PC version is even more awesome. Graphic fidelity aside, the PC version has bigger maps to support the larger player count, which means that battles are more intense and the insanity of the war is cranked up a few more notches. Honestly I was having the time of my life until I got into a few big matches on the PC version and then the Xbox 360 version just lost that little bit of luster. That doesn’t mean that the Xbox 360 version of BF3 isn’t worth picking up, it just means you need to skip the PC version if you do.