So given my roadblocks in the other two game modes, competitive multiplayer is what I’ve spent the most time with. There are plenty of things I like about it, but let’s get a few things out of the way: first of all, EA’s inexplicable decision to run its multiplayer out of an internet browser is just plain stupid. They went through all this trouble of forcing Origin down our throats (their wannabe Steam-like online gaming platform, which you have to use to play Battlefield 3 regardless of whether you got the digital or retail copy of the game), but then they have you go through their browser-based Battlelog website for multiplayer matchmaking, friends lists, etc. It’s just a fragmented set-up that ensures nothing is streamlined; first, you have Origin open, then you have Battlelog open in your web browser, and then you have the game itself being opened up in yet another window. And none of them work without the other being open and functioning, obviously. To top it all off, the whole thing is more cumbersome in a browser window, since you have to load a different page each time you want to navigate the interface.
Why this decision was made is beyond me, and I would also like to point out Battlelog — which attempts to be some kind of social media platform as well, with statuses and updates and whatnot…Penny Arcade’s Tycho aptly named it “Facebook for Murderers” — constantly crashes my web browser. And like I said, when one piece fails, the whole thing stops working properly. Having so many different facets required for online play just increases the chances that something is going to go wrong and hang up the whole process, and believe me when I say that it constantly does.
Perhaps I would find it easier to understand this format if matchmaking through Battlelog worked well, but it does not. With over 5 million people having purchased this game worldwide, how is it that more often than not I’m being put into empty servers? This is an occasional problem if you just do a quick match, but if you apply any sort of filter the issue is severely compounded.
The one thing that I will concede is that I love the wealth of stats that Battlelog tracks. You name it, it’s tracked: Play time, medals, ribbons, KDR, win/loss ratio, time spent as certain classes or with individual weapons, upcoming unlocks, kills with each weapon, etc. I love it and I think it makes for a great stat tracking service that doesn’t require you to be in-game to look at. I just don’t see why multiplayer has to be run through here. You have a semi-working online platform in Origin, so just do it on there.
So the platform may be garbage, but how does it actually play? It’s among the most fun, chaotic, and addicting competitive multiplayer games I have ever experienced. There’s nothing quite like a 64-player match (only available on PC!) of Conquest on a giant, sprawling map, with tanks rumbling around you as jets scream by overhead. It’s absolute insanity and it’s pure fun.
I especially enjoy the new but subtle additions like being able to go prone (I really missed that in Bad Company 2), a slew of accessories like bipods for all of the weapons, and new (and slightly disturbing) knife kills when you catch your opponent from behind. Being the victim of one of these brutal executions adds to the humiliation factor of having your dogtags nabbed from you.
There are also new strategic elements like flashlights or laser sights on your weapons that can actually “dazzle” your opponent when you point them straight at their face; your screen gets washed out in white or red, making it virtually impossible to see anything, but having such accessories on your weapons can also give away your position. Same goes for lens flare on scopes, actually.
But maybe my favorite new addition is that of suppression, which basically occurs whenever you’re firing on your opponent who is in cover. Their screen goes blurry, their accuracy plummets, and they lose the ability to regenerate health. This is a great way to discourage turtling and to help your teammates pin down and kill campers. You even get a point bonus for assisting by way of suppression, which is a nice plus.
And while I initially appreciated the way the responsibilities have been shifted around among the classes — there is no medic class anymore; in its place is the support class and assault class now has healing abilities — I now realize that I don’t quite see the point of it. If a new class-specific ability was introduced, I would get it. But instead, nothing new is being added and everything is just being shuffled around for the sake of doing so. The new support class uses light machine guns like medics did, can equip C4 like recon used to, and lets users drop ammo packs like assault used to. Assault still uses assault rifles, but can now revive and drop med kits let medics used to. Everything is still there, just swapped around.
Speaking of things we’ve seen before, the multiplayer game modes are all basically the same, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a nice variety to choose from. Besides Battlefield’s classic Conquest mode, there’s Large Conquest (for 64 players), Rush (where there are teams either attacking or defending key points called M-COM stations on the map), Squad Rush, Team Deathmatch, and Squad Deathmatch. For the record, Squad Deathmatch is the same as Team Deathmatch in Bad Company 2, with four teams of four wreaking havoc in close quarters, while Battlefield 3’s Team Deathmatch is a classic head-to-head of two teams. Like I said, there’s nothing new here, but still plenty to choose from and incredibly fun to play.
What really deserves to be praised, though, are the maps on which you can enjoy the different multiplayer modes. The fact that all of them (there are 9 currently, with more on the way) are huge and –not to mention remarkably detailed—allows them to easily be cut up for different modes. So if it’s Conquest that you’re playing, you’ll be playing on the whole thing at once. If it’s Rush, you’ll slowly move through it in segments. If it’s Deathmatch, you’ll be quarantined to a small space within it to duke it out. You can enjoy all of the maps regardless of your mode of choice, and there’s definitely plenty to enjoy. They’re well designed, with good cover and no obvious bottlenecks that offer inherent advantages for one side over the other. And, of course, they all look outstanding, with some being cloaked in the dark of night while others are well-lit during the day so you can see the sprawling landscape (or ruin, as it usually is) around you.
To keep you hooked, the game offers a ridiculous amount of unlockables, including dog tag designs, award ribbons/medals, specializations (perks, basically), guns, gadgets, and accessories. These accessories probably make up the bulk of the unlocks, because they are earned for each individual weapon as you rack up more and more kills with it. In other words, besides being able to unlock new gadgets and weapons (of which there are over 70), each gun has anywhere from 16 to 19 of its own unlockable accessories that you earn by using it. That’s a lot of unlocks, and it’s sure to keep you busy for many hundreds of hours’ worth of playtime.
But, just like the single player and co-op modes, multiplayer can be and often is a flawed experience. EA requires an online pass and DRM to play Battlefield 3, so that means that they have authentication servers that make sure the copy of the game that you are running is legit. If their authentication servers are down — and in the first week, they have been more often than they should be — that means no Battlefield 3 for you. I was sort of expecting launch day to be tough, what with so many people wanting to play, but even two days after opening day, I could not get into Battlefield 3 because the servers were down. Again, I think it’s fair to call this a failed launch.
There are also plenty of bugs once you’re in the game too, between sound glitches, crippling bouts of lag, and an all-too-consistent bug of the game locking up at a very specific time. If I’m in a server and the round ends and we’re waiting for the new round to start, about a third of the time, the screen fades out as if it’s going to load the new round, but instead it just freezes. This is a very consistent bug that causes me to crash and can be particularly annoying if I’m in a server that I like. But let’s be honest, this game has a lot more to worry about than just that one little bug.
At the time of this review, Battlefield 3 on PC is an unfinished product; EA hurried it out the door and what we’re left with is a broken, incomplete game. When I read some of the earliest reviews of this game, I couldn’t help but wonder why, despite the recognition that there were numerous bugs and technical issues, the game was still pulling in scores anywhere between 9s and 10s. Granted, those reviewers probably didn’t have issues as severe as mine — and I’m sure not everyone will — since it appears that they were able to finish the single player and co-op campaigns. But I know I’m not the only one whose progress has been halted, and bugs still abound regardless, so let’s not forgive a game for its faults simply because it’s a AAA title. If these kinds of bugs marred an independent title or a game out of a smaller studio, reviewers would rip it a new one and it would never be heard about again.
The truth is, this rating would probably be somewhere in the 4 to 4.5 star range if it worked all the time, because when it works, it’s fun and it’s a pretty solid game. Single player and co-op may or may not be good experiences on the whole, but multiplayer is addicting as all get-out — what with its metric ton of unlocks, excellent game modes, and well-designed maps — and the audio and visuals make for an incredible sensory experience.
But it doesn’t always work. In fact, it rarely does. And not only is it full of bugs and glitches, they’re the kind that literally stop me from being able to play and experience the game. When I can’t progress any further in two out of the three modes that the game offers (and the third is plagued with its fair share of bugs too), I consider that to be a failure of epic proportions. I’m a huge Battlefield fan and I wanted to see it win this fight with Modern Warfare 3, but I’ll be the first to admit that this is one battle that the series has lost.