Battlefield 3
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It really does look absolutely gorgeous.

We live in an odd world. If, for example, Russian Special Forces were to overrun the cities and nations of the western world, most of the young people of those civilizations would, I’m sure, show a remarkable aptitude for the weapons and tactics they require to fight back against the onslaught. Whole battalions of thirteen-year-olds would form up, armed with AEK-971s and SPAS-12s, rushing enemy hardpoints with battle-cries (generally featuring a questioning of the enemy’s sexual orientation, ethnicity, and/or age) and coordinated grenade-strikes, while BartSimpson563 storms in, kamikaze-style, in an Abrams tank and BOB_Deathkillah flies a chopperload of reinforcements into a concrete wall…

Okay, so it would be absolute chaos. But war always is. In fact, if you would like to see how that exact scenario would play out, there are a ton of multiplayer FPS servers out there that serve up just that type of conflict, time and again.

But personally, I’m not going to worry about any of them except for Battlefield 3.

You see, it’s the season for incredibly enthusiastic Game Debate reviews. We’re spoiled at the moment. Whatever you’re into, there’s something either recently released or on the imminent horizon. So it’s really taking a lot to turn heads right now.

Let me back up a little, and tell you where I’m from. I found out about Battlefield 1942 pretty late in the day, but ploughed into it with gusto. I played a fair bit of Battlefield Vietnam as well, co-piloting the chopper with our very own Felix for many months. I was on Radio 2 once, playing Battlefield 2 (under my old online pseudonym Herr_Smackenfuhrer). I also reviewed Battlefield Bad Company 2 for Game Debate a good few months ago. So I’ve been around the Battlefield block.

If there are two things I can tell you from this wealth of online violence, it’s that the multiplayer games are intense, furious fun and the single-player is dull as dishwater. This is like some universal law of Battlefield. So I think this is a good time to tell you that this latest game breaks one of these sacred laws.

Now, have a look at the score over there. Pretty high, huh? So, here’s a clue: It doesn’t break the rule about the multiplayer. No, the first thing that really stood out to me was how good both the single-player and multiplayer campaigns were. I guess this is to compete with CoD, but whatever the reason I was pleasantly surprised. While some of the maps borrow sections from the multiplayer levels, there are some all-new maps for Single and Co-op play, as well as actual stories and character interaction which, while not ground-breaking or original, were at least enough to hold the attention. Both modes offer gameplay that is essentially one long set-piece, with earthquakes bringing down buildings, bank vaults full of insurgents, and all the stuff you’d expect from a modern army-based action movie.

Yes, yes, all very good. But after the first couple of weeks, all anyone will be coming back for is the multiplayer. Well, it’s easy for me to truthfully say I haven’t played as good a multiplayer shooter since Unreal Tournament 1. Controls are slick; action is insanely frenetic at all times; maps are delicious and devious; visually – well, I’ll come to the visuals in a moment – and weapons feel well-balanced and just accurate enough.

Now I’m not sure if they’ve relaxed bullet-drop and speed, but it just seems easier to hit a moving target at range now than it ever did before. Cover is destructible, just like in Bad Company 2, and there’s nothing like the mounting panic as the concrete pillar that stands between you and a hot shower of lead is whittling away before your eyes. There are maps that cater to all kinds of players – from the tight, close-quarters combat of the Paris Metro to the wide-open fields of the Caspian Border. The game modes of Bad Company 2 return, including Rush and the still-insanely-deadly Team Deathmatch. The experience system, spoon-feeding those lovely unlockable items that we all lust after, is once again cribbed right out of Bad Company 2. In fact, in case you’ve not noticed the theme here, Battlefield 3 is much more a sequel to Bad Company 2 than it is to Battlefield 2.

Except: Frostbite 2. Frankly, it’s really easy to say “It’s got amazing graphics”. So easy, particularly in this day and age, that it’s hardly worth opening your mouth. But this is the game I’ve been waiting to play since the arrival of the Chillaxe, Game Debate’s awesome new test machine. Every surface, every vehicle, every single moment of every single map is just delightful to behold. Everything holds up well under pressure: the game decided that “High” settings were appropriate for the Chillaxe. This was heresy, of course – everything went immediately up to ‘Ultra’ without any slowdown whatsoever.

Oh, there are a couple of other things back from Battlefield 2 that weren’t in Bad Company. Jets make a welcome return, as do the 64-player maps that really give the game its name. And, mercifully, we can now go prone again. Honestly, what were they thinking leaving a prone mode out of Bad Company?

And you’ll need it, because it really is mental out there. I am fortunate enough to have never been in a massive firefight with Spetznaz Vympels in the streets of Paris, but if I had, I can’t imagine it’s any more confusing and intimidating than this. From the well-ordered if lived-in look of the maps before the start of a round, things rapidly devolve to a complete mess: chunks of masonry go flying, the whole place is filled with smoke and shrapnel, the occasional whizz of rocket-propelled grenades go by, although it’s not always possible to tell if they’re coming from your side or the enemy’s… If that’s not enough, the endless gunfire and explosions left, right and centre are enough to fray the nerves of the most stalwart marine. I expect.

There’s not a lot I didn’t like – I mean love – about Battlefield 3. Some weapons come with bipods which you will set up automatically when the possibility arises, and occasionally these deployments leave you with a useless field of vision, which can get annoying at times, and deploying and detonating C4 proved challenging a couple of times, but mostly this is exactly what I was hoping for.

The new Battlelog system is an odd fellow, to be sure. Choosing games and setting up voice chat with your homies is all handled through a web window. Very strange. But it works pretty well. Although it had problems remembering some of my settings, such as the push-to-chat button, and required a fresh team to be set up every time I logged on even if I just wanted to play with the same bunch of guys, it’s a pretty clever system that exists somewhere between a social network and a multiplayer lobby. The folks over at Penny Arcade described it as ‘Facebook for murderers’, and that’s pretty accurate. It looks, feels and operates very much like Facebook.

So I guess people tend to fall into camps of loyalty when it comes to multiplayer online shooters, and if you’re a CoDhead, then all power to you. But if you fancied a change, just to have a look at what else is out there, then this is definitely the time to do it. It’s not a game that fools around with its system requirements, as you’d expect, but if there was ever a game to upgrade your rig for, this is it.

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