Everything you heard about Battlefield 3 is exactly what you're getting. You're getting a visually beautiful single-player campaign mode and an incredibly deep multiplayer mode.
But it's not perfect. Let's talk.
Single-Player Campaign more goodies than guts
The single-player campaign included with Battlefield 3 is one that isn't exactly perfect. What you get in the campaign is a stunning amount of visuals that are currently unrivaled by any first-person shooter, mixed with a subpar story of a man that 'knows too much'. Much like how it felt with Call of Duty: Black Ops, the story is simply there to push the 'new' stuff along. You can complete the campaign in around 6-7 hours of time, which is more than typical these days with first-person shooters in the war genre. Call of Duty: Black Ops and Medal of Honor both ran around that amount of time, so this isn't a surprising or disappointing element of the single-player campaign. What is disappointing is how just disconnected the story really was from the game. I felt nothing for the main character and simply could not get into it. To make up for that you get a variety of missions to go through as our lead character, Marine Staff Sargeant Henry Blackburn, is telling his story about several incidents that led him to believe that a radical group called the People's Liberation and Resistance (PLR) was plotting to set off a nuclear explosion on American soil. You get to experience ground warfare, flying a fighter jet and tank stuff. Plenty of things to go around, and each one looks spectacular.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with what DICE did with the single-player campaign mode, it's just that I wish it had a bit more cohesiveness with the missions, and I wish the story was something the gamer could connect with. Medal of Honor had a great story with it, so it was sort of disappointing to see this one kind of drop a bit. Don't let my dismay for the story bother you, as I absolutely adore a good story when it's attached to a game (see Batman: Arkham City for details). You will still have plenty of moments in the single-player campaign where your hands will be sweating just a bit and you will feel a little intensity with the missions. That's certainly not disappointing.
With that said, the missions in the campaign single-player mode were nothing short of outstanding. You get a wonderful taste of everything that DICE has in store with its new Frostbite 2 engine. For example, during the fighter jet mission, just being in the cockpit of a plane with environments that are teaming with life is something to behold. Just getting to the plane during the cutscene is joyous eye-candy with waves crashing around the aircraft carrier and everything as far as the eye can see brimming with life (missiles firing from other ships, clouds moving, etc). The shadows in the distance, the smoke effects and the very detailed character and vehicle models really show how far of a leap it has been from the first engine to this one. It's absolutely everything that EA and DICE promised it would be, and it delivered without a hitch. From what I have been hearing from the PC side of things, the consoles can't touch what the PC can put out with Battlefield 3. That's scary considering how it looks on the Playstation 3.
Anyway, the single-player campaign mode really does show off the Frostbite 2 engine pretty well. Seeing a building crumble, or a wall blown completely out is impressive. The sheer amount of destruction you can achieve with the environment will keep you playing the campaign. If you misfire an RPG and it hits a wall then more than likely that wall will come down. You'll have leftover brick with plenty of gorgeous dust effects. If you can take anything away from the single-player campaign it will be that EA and DICE have a nice engine on their hands to work with. Hopefully we can see this engine rear its head in other EA titles in the future.
When Call of Duty: Black Ops and Medal of Honor came out last year there was a great discrepancy when both multiplayer modes were compared. Black Ops had a deep and very customizable experience with simple maps and fast gameplay. On the other end, Medal of Honor had simple customizations and deeper maps and gameplay. Call of Duty: Black Ops won out with the fans thanks to their rich multiplayer experience, and it wasn't even close (which is regretful because most people missed some good MP with Medal of Honor -- which I still play regularly).
Well, Battlefield 3 puts both to shame. The multiplayer mode for BF3 is insanely good. You get a variety of maps that can be compared to maps in M.A.G., but are deeper, more detailed and they just make sense for the game's theme. Here's a breakdown of the maps, and what you can expect:
Caspian Border: Lots of fun places to climb and hide on this map. It's one of the more flat maps to work with, and it is spread out quite a bit. Plenty of green around the area and plenty of complexes on the main part of the map. It's a pretty even local for close quarter firefights.
Damavand Peak: This map is huge. It's not the width that makes it huge, rather it's a sniper's paradise of multi-level complexes with some hidden gems. It's a large amount of small bunkers that surround a single giant complex in the middle. On the outside of the map you have a multi-level road that lifts up slightly into the mountainous backdrop. Advice: Plant a beacon in the outer road and when you spawn in that point you will be dropped via parachute (which is the in the game too, and wow does that save a sniper's ass when you have to leap from a tall complex), which allows for some interesting drop point possibilities.
Grand Bazaar: Pretty darn grand. It's enormous map that has a lot of multi-level buildings to run inside and snipe people. Mostly consisting of alleyways, you'll find plenty of places to hide in and plenty of places to blow holes in walls (a very good map for structural damage). One of my favorite, right next to Damavand Peak.
Noshahr Canals: This map was built for everyone who doesn't like sniping. This is basically a dock that consists of mostly empty ship containers. You can run through them and hide in them, but you will be always exposed to enemies. The neat thing about this map is that you can dive into the water and sneak up on unsuspecting hoodlums. Don't swim out too far, though, or you will be respawned. Tough map, and not my favorite, but many people seem to like it lot.
Operation Firestorm: There is plenty of fun on this map. You've got giant complexes in the middle with ship containers and vehicles on the outside. Weaving their way through everything is a variety of pipes, which you can climb. This is one of the more even maps in the game and one that will delight every specialty.
Kharg Island: I only saw this map when I played the conquest mode of MP. It has a little bit of Operation Firestorm's structure with a hilly area surrounding. It's probably one of the bigger maps in the group, and one that has plenty of fun 'secrets'.
Seine Crossing: Now this is a map. Giant structures that have multiple levels to them (sometimes four levels), you'll find plenty of ways to take people out on the hilly streets of occupied Paris. The tunnels are particularly vicious, especially if you sprint around the corner without anticipating your enemies. It's a great map.
Operation Metro: Set in the heart of Paris, you get to experience a somewhat limited area, which includes a subway station. It will remind you a lot of the Seine Crossing map, but is a lot more self-contained. It's a quick-hitting map, and one of my favorite (probably third favorite).
Tehran Highway: It's a small town that has a giant highway over it. It's more of a straight line sort of map than a spread out wider area. You will be facing mostly north/south when you attack on this map. You have a few options when it comes to complexes, but mostly you'll do a lot of street fighting.
In addition to these maps, if you pick up the limited edition version of the game it comes with the 'Back to Karkand' expansion pack, which gives you four additional maps (Strike At Karkand, Gulf of Oman, Wake Island and Sharqi Peninsula). That's a lot of good stuff and plenty of variety.
Maps aside, the modes in Battlefield 3 make these maps more or less interesting. You get the following modes to choose from:
Conquest: Vehicles are used in this game mode, which puts two teams against each other to control and hold certain points. This was fun for a few times, but it lasts a really long time. So make sure that you are prepared to commit to at least 15-20 minutes of gameplay. Of course, what's great about this mode is that you can use vehicles in some maps to control the points and you get a large amount of points from this gaming mode. For example, when I played Team Deathmatch I was gaining about 1000 - 1200 points per game. In my first game with Conquest, I gained 5000+ points, which is great for leveling quickly. It's a fun mode, especially when you're armed with a tank and running over enemies.
Rush: I wasn't a fan of this type of mode in SOCOM 4, and I'm still not a fan in Battlefield 3. It's more me than the game, so take that into account as you read this. Basically, one team plays the offense and the other plays the defense. Each round is switched and the point is to prevent/destroy M-COM stations. It's a heated affair, but it feels pretty empty. Again, I know plenty of gamers who love this stuff and they will love Rush. I am personally not a fan.
Team Deathmatch: I spent a lot of time on this one. I like the basic deathmatch games. It's fast and fun, and it's easy. You also get to explore a lot of maps during this, which makes the other modes a little bit better.
Squad Deathmatch: This is an interesting mode that takes the concept of Team Deathmatch and splits it into four teams of four (A, B, C, and D). The first team to 50 kills wins, and the use of vehicles and whatnot makes it fun and interesting. I very much like Squad Deathmatch.
Squad Rush: It's got the same elements as Rush, but it's on a smaller scale. You've got two teams of four doing the exact same thing as the original Rush mode. It's faster with smaller groups of people and more intense.
I like the modes that DICE produced here, but my biggest complaint is spawn points. Unless you put down a beacon then you're going to go to a default spawn point in which someone will more than likely be waiting to shoot your ass. Noshahr Canals is a good example of bad spawn points, as I would respawn behind a vehicle and someone would be there waiting to kill me. DICE has to do an update quick to make this more random. It was frustrating to see some douchebag waiting there to kill me. It's a big problem.
Weapons, leveling, controls and other things...
Anyway, maps and modes aside, you get 50+ weapons at your disposal in BF3, which range from a variety of rifles, submachine guns, sniper rifles and handguns. You also get a very balanced feel to all the weapons. There aren't any particular style of weapons that has a clear advantage over another. Snipers have just as good a chance of succeeding with a shot as gung-ho infantry. On top of these, when maps call for vehicles you'll have the chance to experience flying helicopters (like the MI-28 Havoc), fighter jets (A-10 Warthog anyone?) and ground vehicles (tanks, trucks, etc). The good folks at DICE keep you stocked up on methods of disposing of the other team.
Speaking of methods from DICE, one of the mroe interesting additions to Battlefield 3 is the defibrillator. After leveling up to a certain point as a medic, you can gain a defibrillator that will revive fallen teammates if you can get to them in a certain amount of time. This keeps your team alive and gets you a mondo points for being a great team player. In addition, the fallen teammate can choose whether they want to come back or respawn. Regardless, it's a nifty item.
One of the nicest things about Battlefield 3 is the steady amount of leveling that you can do through various means. You can gain points through suppression, through support kills and kills in general. You can also acquire XP through capturing enemy points in games like Conquest. With these points you will level up slowly, as the arc for the leveling system gets steep quick. Unlike a game like Call of Duty: Black Ops, which has speedy leveling, you'll find a slow/steady pace to Battlefield 3's leveling system. This is good because it encourages you to keep playing. It also rewards you with items, cammo and other goodies. People may not be patient enough with this system, but I'm telling it's good.
With that said, let's talk controls.
Having played Medal of Honor and Call of Duty: Black Ops for the last year, it was definitely jarring getting into Battlefield 3. The controls, while similar, are different in certain ways that it takes some getting use to. instead of hitting the circle button to crouch you are now regulated to the R3 button by default. It took about 7-8 deaths to finally get it through my head to use the R3 button to drop on the ground. Once I did get it, the process was easy from that point on. Speaking of ground, going prone was just a blessing with BF3. Medal of Honor didn't allow you to go prone, so it was so nice to have that ability. It's a simple thing, but it's so choice -- especially when you're a sniper.
Other fun additions include switching the knife from R3 to R2. The R2 button is a great choice for whipping out the knife and doing a silent/deadly kill on a person. This was regretfully another grave error in judgment by Danger Close in Medal of Honor. Namely, if the gamer panicked when trying to move sharply, or to aim on the fly, sometimes the player would swipe with a knife. I did this enough times in the MP part of Medal of Honor to open up a lucrative swear jar. Moving that action to R2 makes a bunch of sense, and it works extremely well.
Making proper use of the directional pad was nice to see. You can activate devices such as a spawn beacon that allows you spawn from the place that you lay it down, C4 and other items at whim was useful. What's cool specifically about the spawn beacon is that your team can choose to spawn from that location as well. It's extremely nifty, especially if you want to screw another player over. Anyway, the directional pad makes sense and it works well when you're customizing what you're carrying. Speaking of which....
Customization is an enormous addition to Battlefield 3. As you gain more and more items in multiplayer mode (which we'll get to in just a second), you will be able to customize your loadout. You can choose from a variety of upgrades, accessories, gadgets and specializations. For example, you can choose a primary and secondary weapon, a couple of gadgets (including the Beacon) and a specialization like sprinting. On top of this, you can also adjust your weapons with scopes, add-ons, ammo and whatnot. There are a variety of different ways and unlockables that you can use/obtain to make the customization in this game crazy deep.
Fun, fun and... more fun!
I know that I haven't covered every aspect of Battlefield 3 (sorry co-op folks, I couldn't find anyone to play -- I will update this later), but these are certainly the more important parts. Outside of spawning issues, the entire game as a whole is really quite solid. It brings a visually stunning single-player campaign that might lack in story, but certainly doesn't lack in what the Frostbite 2 engine is capable of doing. The game provides the deepest multiplayer experience from DICE to date. It also provides an insanely fun experience that will probably last until the next Battlefield is released.
Quite a battle...
There's a lot to love about this game, and not a lot to criticize. It's a wonderful experience that brings online and offline intensity to an entirely new level. DICE and EA did a great job with Battlefield 3 and I hope they continue this trend for the next game.