Ah Battlefield. Generally the shooter of choice for people wanting a more tactical, team based offering rather than the lone-wolf run and gun of Call of Duty. My love affair with this game stretched back to the 2005 Battlefield 2, which is still the best multiplayer shooter ever made in my mind. Battlefield 3 is the latest offering, and unless you've been hiding under a rock you've undoubtedly seen their "Call of Duty killer" advertising. So where to start with the review?
Well single player is probably the best place to start. Aptly given on disc 2 it is clearly the inferior portion of the game, riddled with infuriating and now-outdated quick time events (push b before the other guy stabs you!) and scripting of the most linear nature. There is no deviating from the path that the game INSISTS you take, or it kills you, with essentially no explanation. There's some hilarious bugs for example, enemies are invincible while going through a scripted animation. Someone getting out of a jeep, easy target right? Don't even bother taking aim, you physically won't be able to kill them until the animation is done. Bizarre. There are some good missions, but in a lot of ways it's tried too hard to BE Call of Duty rather than beat it (I'm sure the interrogation premise was in Black Ops?). Expect it to take anywhere between 4-6 hours, but don't expect any replay value. If you're thinking of buying this for the single player alone, don't bother.
The multiplayer is a completely different affair however, and it's when Battlefield comes into it's own. 24 players (PC gets 64 but frankly 24 is enough) go head to head using a variety of weapons and vehicles (tanks, helicopter, fast jets) to complete objective-based goals to lead their team to victory. And here is the fundamental difference between Battlefield and Call of Duty. Call of Duty rewards those with the keenest eye and quickest trigger fingers. Kill the most people and die as little as possible and you're the best player. Battlefield rewards team-based play, picking up big points for completing objectives, and smaller points for things such as suppression assists (if you're laying down fire pinning someone down but a team mate gets the kill, you'll get points for suppressing the enemy) reviving team members and of course kills. It's still very much a shooter at heart, but it's quite simple to top the leaderboard without getting the most kills by helping out the teams cause. It's a mentality difference essentially. Sure you can run and gun and get the most kills, but if your team lose because you didn't pull your weight, you're not the best player. Teams are broken down further into squads, and helping out your squad members nets you even more points.
So I've covered the rewarding, what about the frustrating? The game is no doubt fantastic to look at (if you have a hard drive for the installable texture pack). It's one of, if not the best looking game on 360, the lighting in particular is simply astonishing in places. That said, this generation of consoles are ageing hardware, and it looks very superior on a powerful gaming PC. However, the engine is quite buggy. You will fairly often see people clipping through walls, or sprinting on the spot. There are also some major annoyances that I'm surprised made it onto the final game without someone saying "Hang on, why are we letting this happen?". You should be invincible for a second or two when you spawn. Unfortunately you're not so if you choose to spawn on a squad member when they're under fire, it's likely you'll spawn and die within the same second. Pick who to spawn on carefully! The best asset of Bad Company 2, the destructible environments, also appear largely to have been abandoned. All destruction in the campaign is entirely scripted and it's been toned right down in the multiplayer. In Bad Company 2, every game would end in practically every building completely gutted or just destroyed. This changed how the game played out over the time of the round, as cover would come and go and you had to pick different routes to places. This simply isn't the case in Battlefield 3. Cover can be chipped away at without ever really being destroyed. Some walls can be taken out but not even remotely on the same scale as previously. It's a massive shame because it was one of the USPs of the series and was ground breaking in a lot of respects.
The main frustration however, is undoubtedly the fact that yet again EA haven't put in place the correct server capacity for the launch, meaning you will regularly try to join a game, only for it to throw back a message blaming your connection. I've had probably at best a 1 in 10 success rate in joining. Hopefully this will improve over time. As for the bugs and glitches, they may be sorted out with future updates, but who knows.
So, is it a Call of Duty killer as EA will have you believe? Hard to say, it's a very different experience, and one that I personally think is more enjoyable. Teamwork and tactics are the name of the game, and vehicles add a whole new dimension which Call of Duty just doesn't bring to the table. However Call of Duty does what it does very well. Battlefield 3 is a great multiplayer experience and definitely worth getting. Seasoned Battlefield players will immediately settle into the more tactical gameplay, and will probably be pleased with the noticeable graphical update from Bad Company 2, but will also probably harbour annoyances that the destruction is nowhere near as good as it was. Players new to the series will get a very solid and enjoyable online FPS that may give them a surprise if they're more used to Call of Duty-style shooters.