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"Battlefield 3's" campaign is a treat to look at, but it often plays more like an interactive movie than a game.

The fall blockbuster season and attendant Game of the Year arguments are in full swing. So, too, is obsessive review-score scrutinizing. If a reviewer awards a highly anticipated game the lowly score of 7 or 8 out of 10, the article’s comments will be filled with angry screeds from aggrieved “fans” furious that a game they’re excited about is being “hated on” by critics.

Here’s a little secret: Some of my favorite, most-played games wouldn’t garner more than a 7 or 8 if I gave out scores.

Electronic Arts and DICE’s “Battlefield 3” is a great example of a title that gets a ton of stuff wrong while still feeling polished, compelling and addictive.

Of the game’s three components (single-player, two-player cooperative and multiplayer), two swing and miss, while the third suffers from a steep learning curve. Yet for veteran players and patient newbies, “Battlefield 3’s” multiplayer modes feature some of the deepest, most compelling online play you’ll find.

Taken as a whole, the inconsistent performance makes “Battlefield 3” a poor candidate for a rave review, even if hundreds of thousands of players will spend the next two months playing it to the exclusion of all other titles. In other words, “Battlefield 3” sets up a classic review-score controversy.

As a single-player game, “Battlefield 3” feels derivative and stitched together. Like last year’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” the story uses an interrogation as a framing device. Each level serves as a flashback as Staff Sgt. Henry Blackburn’s interrogators try to assess whether New York City is facing a legitimate nuclear terrorist threat.

The levels are linear and tightly scripted, creating the same cinematic feel as “Black Ops” and Sony’s “Uncharted” series. It feels like you’re watching a movie with a controller in your hand, and there are more than a few Dick Cheney quail-hunt moments that put Blackburn in position to take a perfectly framed shot that looks heroic, but could in fact be made by anyone.

The interrogation scenes tying the plot together feel like they were written after the levels were designed. In one level, players take on the role of a F/A-18 gunner during a failed run to take out a high-level target in Iran, but her connection to the terrorist plot and Blackburn are tenuous at best. She’s never mentioned after that one mission.

The single-player game, which has figured heavily in trailers and TV commercials for the game, looks stunning, particularly running on PC. But it’s so scripted that holes start to appear if you deviate too much from the way DICE expects you to play the game. If you rush ahead of your squadmates in “Operation Swordbreaker,” they still talk to you as if you’re behind them. In some of the missions where you have to protect your fellow Marines from enemy fire, they’re actually indestructible, making it jarring when they die in other, similar missions.

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“Battlefield 3’s” signature online modes, “Rush” and “Conquest,” are as essential as the campaign is forgettable, though it’s worth mentioning that the game’s online multiplayer has been plagued by glitches in the first week since launch. DICE says they’re working on the issue, and there have been improvements, but it’s still annoying when a game launches in a not-ready-for-primetime state.

Rush, in which an attacking team tries to detonate pairs of objectives while the defending team tries to stop them, and Conquest, which melds territory-control and team deathmatch, are perfect fusions of classic competitive modes that date to the mid-’90s and the objective-based missions in games like “Team Fortress 2” and “Brink.”  They force players to work as a team while allowing enough flexibility that lone wolves can feel comfortable playing without a headset.

Part of what makes Rush and Conquest so compelling is “Battlefield 3’s” excellent multiplayer maps. Damavand Peak features a dam you can BASE jump off of, while the spacious Operation Firestorm virtually requires all players to hop into vehicles.  The latter is particularly well-suited to Conquest, as the control points are best captured by ground units vulnerable to aerial bombardment and strafing.  At the start of the match, you can hide out in a building while defending the flags that serve as spawn points. After a few minutes, though, most of your cover will have been blasted to smithereens, thanks to the impressive Frostbite 2 engine.

Though Rush and Conquest are where most diehard “Battlefield” players will spend their time, the game also includes a classic team deathmatch mode, as well as squad deathmatch, in which four teams vie to reach a specific number of kills.

Though modern military-themed shooters aren’t really my thing, it’s easy to appreciate what “Battlefield 3” does well. The deep ranking system and robust suite of weapon upgrades and customizable loadouts will mean DICE’s latest offering is one fans of multiplayer shooters will sink literally hundreds of hours into.

It’s too bad DICE didn’t do a better job at teaching people like me how to play “Battlefield 3’s” multiplayer. There’s no tutorial, or even a way for players to mess around with vehicles or explore maps on their own. The only way to acclimate oneself to “BF3″ multiplayer is to die, over and over, at the hands of more skilled players.

The first several times you hop into a helicopter or plane, you’re all but guaranteed to commit accidental suicide; the best outcome you can hope for is that your jet crashes into something of strategic value for the opposing team. The first-person camera for driving and piloting feels oddly limited, as if your soldier has tunnel vision and is wearing an eyepatch. (Helpful tip: You can click the right thumbstick for a more traditional, third-person-style vehicle camera.)

Some “Combat Training”-style matches against computer-controlled bots, or even a free-play mode would have gone a long way to making the game more welcoming.

Additionally, the core experience on consoles could stand to benefit from better integration with DICE’s stat-tracking/social networking service, Battlelog. While PC gamers have griped that it’s irritating to have to launch “Battlefield 3″ from a web browser (and it is), it’s more vexing that to see anything beyond basic stats, console “Battlefield 3″ players have to fire up a computer.

“Battlefield 3” (rated M) costs $60 on PC, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. For this review, I played PC and Xbox 360 versions of the game provided by Electronic Arts.

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Comments

6 Comments

  1. James

    Helpful tip: Do not EVER click the right thumbstick for a more traditional, third-person-style vehicle camera when flying a jet or heli ;)

    November 3rd, 2011 2:53 pm

  2. Aaron

    For some reason, I always go PC for Battlefield and XBOX for COD. I have no idea why, maybe because that’s where I started both franchises?

    I’m just going to wait until Battlefield goes on sale on Steam, it’s killing me but I have a couple other games to finish first and I think they will take a while (Bayonetta and Dark Souls ;) ). All the regulars will know the maps by forwards and back by then, but there’s always noobs to kill and I love a challenge.

    Oh, and 3rd person pilot has a huge advantages once you learn how to use it.

    November 3rd, 2011 6:57 pm

  3. the rebel

    still not buying modern warfare 3

    November 3rd, 2011 8:56 pm

  4. GameWit

    I like the third-person view for the vehicles because it gives me a little better view of how they respond to my control inputs. I imagine once I get used to that, I’d switch back. I’ll probably keep third-person for the driving, though. The tunnel vision while driving in BF3 was weird.

    Aaron, how are you liking Bayonetta and Dark Souls?

    November 4th, 2011 4:00 am

  5. Aaron

    3rd person is harder to control, but you have such a better field of view that, imo, it’s the only way to roll.

    I haven’t played Battlefield 3 yet, so I don’t know if they’ve done anything to improve the 1st person flying view, but in all the other games it’s really hard for me to tell where bogies and ground based rocket fire is coming from in first person. 3rd person really sucks until you get the hang of it though, not intuitive at all.

    I’m liking both Bayonetta and Dark Souls. Combat overload! It’s hard to switch between the two though, I get impatient with Dark Souls after the pace of Bayonetta. I will have to focus more on it once I finish Bayonetta.

    As I originally thought, Bayonetta is so far over the top that I can’t agree with all the “best action game ever!” stuff I read about it. I like the more deliberate pace of Ninja Gaiden (Ninja Gaiden II went too far towards the frenetic for me too). I’m having a lot of fun with it though, definitely glad for the recommendation; it’s a great game to jump into for some massive, quick mayhem. Maybe once I get really good at extending the combos I will appreciate it more.

    November 4th, 2011 2:36 pm

  6. Sean

    Nice video shame about the game. Truly one of the worst games I have ever played in this genre. Single player has heavily scripted feel and you have to undertake specific tasks to trigger you movement through a level. As such there is no true potential to play the game your way and really decide how things progress. Equally irritating is your predictably stupid colleagues who get underfoot and the lack of choice of weapons before you start a level. The end result is a point and click video that looks a something like a interactive computer game but lacks any genuine interaction. My rating: CRAPPY.

    February 16th, 2013 2:48 pm

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