Battlefield 3 (PS3)

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There was no way of knowing the kinds of chaos that would rock the world that day. There was no way I could have predicted how much trouble I was about to get myself into. It all started with a search and rescue mission in Iraq – dangerous, but nothing our squad couldn’t handle. Rushing through the sun-bleached streets and shadowy alleyways we approached our target… and then it happened: Chaffin was struck down by sniper fire.

As I dragged his limp body out of further danger, a firefight erupted right there in the parking lot and countless rounds of ammunition ripped through metal, brick and mortar to find their targets. My mind was still on Chaffin – would he make it? – the enemy was obscured by dust kicked up by grenades, and explosions rattled my vision. For a split-second, I panicked and stood stymied, not knowing what to make of the confusion. That was my first mistake. That was the first time I died.

Seconds later, I came back to that parking lot and caused a little chaos of my own.

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This opening mission in Battlefield 3’s singleplayer campaign perfectly sets the pace and tone for the rest of the experience and if there was one word to describe the action, it would be ‘intense.’ ‘Urgent’ would be another word to explain how you’re constantly pushed and pulled through the game’s world, which seems to encroach on you at every opportunity. As enemies shoot at you with rifles, shotguns and rocket launchers, tanks attempt to destroy you and fighter jets make strafe runs on your position, collapsing buildings do their best to introduce you to death, too. You’re not safe in Battlefield 3.

The urgency of the game manifests itself no better than during extreme set-pieces where you’re challenged to keep your wits about you as the action explodes. On more than one occasion, I was almost quite literally shell-shocked by the events taking place before my eyes, leaving me frozen in the middle of battle against a dozen enemies. Death came quickly. Battlefield 3 is tough, and even on ‘normal’ difficulty creeping patience is required to get you through encounters – this is no arcade shooter and if you try to use run-and-gun tactics, you’re going to get cut down immediately.

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Your squad mates and allies display this urgency in their actions, too, running and shooting with purpose and precision, and your in-game actions mirror their example. When running, you don’t just plod forward, you lurch ahead with weight behind every footstep. You slam yourself into the ground when lying down to go prone and leap into the air when breaking into a run again. Firing your weapon is frantic and aiming down the sights to better target your enemies is enacted with lightning quick speed.

The chaos of Battlefield 3 is presented in fine style with fantastic and dramatic lighting effects, astounding explosions and incredible visual detail – buildings, forests, underground tunnels, devastation and general bric-a-brac are all depicted very realistically while additional atmospheric details like dust filtered through light, phosphor burns in the dark and floating particles contribute another layer of impressive graphical density. This world is wonderfully realised… but it would be nothing without its sound.

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One of the stars of the Battlefield 3 show is without a doubt the soundscape afforded it by the sound designers and composers to enhance the experience above and beyond its base parts. Explosions rip through the world, gunfire cracks the air, soldiers clatter and clink as their equipment rattles about, reload sounds snap parts into place and footsteps crunch under the heft of burdened combatants.

Even during lulls in action, the world is brought to life with audio mass and when fighting alone the tragedy of your enemies’ deaths rings true as their whimpers, screams and cries echo in the darkness, with only you to hear them. The despair and loneliness of war is brought into stark relief as you fight in shredded city streets and fire at silhouettes highlighted by the light of dusk and car headlamps. And just as the gloom becomes too much, crunchy music stings and stirring combat anthems kick in at the right moment to push any feelings of accomplishment into overdrive. It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster.

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The pacing of any game will determine its overall enjoyment, and Battlefield 3’s designers have injected a healthy selection of scenarios into the experience to ensure you’re never allowed to linger in one area for too long or carry out a single action too many times. By the end of the campaign, you’ll have fought through urban markets and over rooftops in the dead of night. You’ll have battled against tanks and fighter jets, and piloted these hulking deliverers of destruction in exhilarating missions, too. You’ll have taken part in an assault on an emplaced city, torn an office to bits, crept through a sewer system, crawled through a forest and a shot your way through a speeding train.

All of these actions are in service of the story, which revolves around the plight of protagonist sergeant Blackburn as he recounts events which may or may not point to the looming threat of a nuclear attack on some of the world’s most treasured capitals. While the story itself is a little rote and implausible at times, it is a story of tragedy and triumph, sacrifice and loss, with some shocking, sobering moments that can be a little tough to deal with.

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Of course, as in other similar titles, problems endemic to linear, story-based action games appear in Battlefield 3, too, with infinite enemy respawns (or ‘clown car syndrome’) to push you forward, instant death for players who don’t stick to the tightly written script, and cheap kills arriving if you happen to be too far ahead of where you’re ‘supposed’ to be. The game’s checkpoint system can lead to frustration, too, as you die and are set back far from your last location, while broken event scripts result in a forced checkpoint reload, setting you further back.

Battlefield 3’s campaign has a few frustrating elements to it, for sure, but the reward of careening through the bombastic action is enough to overlook these stains. Some Battlefield fans may not even bother with the singleplayer portion of the game and go straight to the multiplayer, and while I wouldn’t recommended that (you’ll be missing out on an excellent thrill ride!), these players will find the same level of chaotic, urgent and satisfying bombast in the competitive online modes… only ratcheted up tenfold!

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The setup for multiplayer in Battlefield 3 will be familiar to fans of online action, but Battlefield aficionados in particular will be right at home with the large-scale, vehicle- and infantry-based warfare. Battlefield’s signature approach to multiplayer may be a little strange to gamers who have cut their teeth on other online offerings, but once you get used to the freedom of hopping in a tank, jeep, assault vehicle or amphibious vehicle in order to traverse the nine included massive (and excellently designed) combat arenas, you’ll never look back.

Similarly, the option to pilot an attack helicopter or fighter jet in Battlefield 3 will soon make you wonder why these awesome contraptions aren’t available in other games, but be warned: you’ll need to put in the time necessary to master their controls if you wish to use them effectively… and not crash into the ground seconds after takeoff.

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You’ll be using these vehicles, as well as an enormous range of weaponry, to help your team stamp its authority on the provided theatres of battle, as 32 players (64 on PC) work together to capture flags in Conquest mode, destroy and defend targets in Rush mode, kill each other in a free-for-all in Team Deathmatch, and take part in ‘Squad’ variations of these with set units of players competing for glory. The ebb and flow of combat in these modes is absolutely exhilarating and you’ll constantly be pushing forward towards your goal with the help of your team.

In all of the games I’ve played so far (quite a few let me tell you) I was amazed at the level of teamwork that naturally results from clear, distinct goals being provided – it’s a rare sight to see a lonewolf team-mate blazing his own path in Battlefield 3 multiplayer, most probably because that’s a sure-fire way to get sliced by enemy gunfire!

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Governing your own soldier’s ability progression are experience point rewards for certain in-game actions (like killing an enemy, making a headshot, capturing a flag, assisting with a kill, destroying a target and many more), and the more experience points you earn, the more gear (like guns and additional weapon equipment) and abilities (like increases in ammunition, extra protection and enhanced sprinting capabilities) you unlock. Experience is earned exclusively in one of four classes, namely Recon, Assault, Engineer and Support, as well as across whichever weapon you choose, so it’s a good idea to select your class and equipment wisely and level them up to perfection.

If you want the best of both campaign and multiplayer worlds in Battlefield 3, then the co-operative mode is for you, allowing you and a friend to play one of six special missions inspired by locations and events from the campaign. This means that you’ll be doing things like defending against dozens of incoming soldiers and a handful of tanks in the streets, piloting a helicopter while helping friendlies survive against waves of enemies, stealthily extracting a VIP and enduring a spot of intense urban warfare, and a few other hectic scenarios. I must once again warn you that these missions aren’t for the faint of heart and short of patience as they will test your combat skills (and temper) to the limit. Tight teamwork is a must in these missions!

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The rich and rewarding multiplayer of Battlefield 3 will keep many a competitive online player busy for hours, days, weeks and months to come as we all improve our soldiers’ capabilities for destruction and learn the ins and outs of the maps (and vehicles) to continue to dominate, which immediately makes the game worth the price of admission. Additionally, the singleplayer campaign, while a little short-lived, provides some of the most intense first-person shooting action available this year and the option to play co-operatively with a friend in six distinct missions is a fantastic bonus.

First-person shooter fans (and multiplayer enthusiasts in particular) definitely won’t be disappointed with Battlefield 3, while action gamers and thrill-seekers owe it to themselves to discover one of the best games of the year.

Battlefield 3 comes highly recommended!