Normally on the day after the review embargo for a major video game release is up sites like Metacritic are flooded with fresh opinions waiting to be woven together into one of Kotaku's Frankenreviews. Not so with Battlefield 3.
As of this writing there were only 18 critic reviews of the PC version, four for the Xbox 360, and two for the PlayStation 3 (and the two PlayStation 3 ones were the same as their Xbox 360 counterparts). That's really not a lot of popular opinion floating around for a game that's been hyped to hell and back. Makes me wonder where everyone else got off to. Are they waiting for their copies? Did they have to wait until it hit store shelves? We're they killed?
Okay, they probably weren't killed. I'm sure their reviews will be up soon enough. In the meantime, let's see how early opinion is stacking up.
I discussed the single player campaign in my review of the PC version, and my critiques still stand: It's a competent, but disappointing eight hours that can't seem to decide whether it's closer to Call of Duty or Generation Kill. If you're looking for a single-player experience, you should not buy Battlefield 3. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a multiplayer experience you can't find anywhere else, this is the game for you -- even if it's a bit downsized from its PC roots. The game's issues are outweighed by the fact that no other game on the market plays like this.
Battlefield 3's campaign isn't just a straight line, it's tactically linear. Firefights almost always unfold the same way. This is partly due to enemy AI that often seems stuck to a six foot leash from where they initially appear, but it goes deeper than that. For all the talk of destruction and immersion, Battlefield 3's campaign is a step backward from the manic calamity of Bad Company 2. There's no more blowing holes through walls to make an alternate route. Environmental destruction is cosmetic or scripted.
None of that is a death sentence -- Modern Warfare drew the blueprint for the modern linear shooter, and it still managed to be fast, fun, and exciting. But Modern Warfare always gave you something to do, and enemies that were fun to shoot. Battlefield 3 is clearly referencing that blueprint, but it fails in this regard. There aren't that many enemies to shoot, and DICE has made up for that by allowing them to fire through geometry with pinpoint accuracy. It leads to a lot of trial by death and memorization. It's not fun.
Tucked inside the online web interface that launches all of the game's modes is a cooperative option for up to four players. There's a tree of missions that give you some flexibility in how you move forward, but the mission types are so varied that any path will do. Light on any sort of story, these standalone missions take place in environments ripped from the campaign, but with different objectives. Some ask you to simply survive an onslaught of infantry and tanks, while others put specific weapon mastery to the test. In many ways, it does a better job of preparing you for the online environment than the story option. At about 15 minutes apiece with no checkpoints and one life to live, dying at the finish line can be disheartening, but ample ammo boxes and teammate revives help to balance the curve.
The multiplayer experience of BF3 begins with Battlelog. Granted, all BF3 experiences start here, but it's crucial to the MP, because through the Battlelog you can team up with friends, organise parties, start the built-in VOIP and choose a server. You can sort by mode, region, number of players, expansion pack support - if there's a specific server you want to play on and it exists, you'll be able to find it.
A lot of hate has run the way of Battlelog, but if you ask me it's a crock of ****. Thanks to the server browser being... browser based, it takes mere seconds for the game to sort through all your parameters to find you somewhere to play. Even as recent as BFBC2 I can recall 30 - 40 second waits while the game found servers.
Once you decide to join a server, Battlelog reserves you a spot in the server, starts the game and you get connected. Just like that.
Rush, Team Deathmatch, and the squad variants are solid modes, but with the return of 64-player matches, Conquest is once again the star of the multiplayer show. In my time on the game's pre-release servers, I never encountered lag. Even in massive battles featuring dozens of players and vehicles competing over a single flag, the action proceeded without the slightest hiccup. The size of the maps, variety of vehicles, and overall scale of Conquest rounds make for some fantastic moments that couldn't be recreated if you tried. During a match on the Operation Firestorm map, I was taking out enemy tanks by performing sweeping runs with my jet. After the opposing team lost a couple of vehicles, they sent their own fighter into the sky to hunt me down. Once my plane took too much punishment, I ejected and parachuted down to a nearby rooftop. As my teammates battled for flag control a couple of stories below me, I pulled out a stinger, locked onto my airborne attacker, and took the plane down with a homing rocket. I watched it crash about 100 feet in front of me, then hopped down to join the battle for the flag. These types of moments make the experience.
Here's to hoping the launch of Battlefield 3 goes smoother than its predecessor. It would be a shame for such an amazing interactive entertainment experience to be marred by technical issues. In the long run, though, it won't matter, because once players step out of that troop carrier and see the sun shining in their eyes like never before -- once they see the light -- they'll understand what a special game Battlefield 3 is.
Maybe we should do another when the rest of the reviews come in?