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Battlefield 3: First Impressions

I played Battlefield 3 at a friend’s house. But before I talk about that, first I want to tell you a story about a different game. There’s a reason for this. I swear.

The first time I played Left 4 Dead 2 it was with some friends who were very fluent in playing Left 4 Dead 1. I’d never been exposed to the franchise before, though. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Left 4 Dead is a co-op survival shooter where four players progress through several linear levels while mowing down legions of zombies. Enemies spawn in regularly whether you’re moving forward or not, so lingering at one location is inadvisable and on high difficulties it can be very dangerous.

As such, when I played with my friends for the first time the experience was very frustrating. My friends were moving forward and constantly asking where I was and why I wasn’t keeping up. I felt like I was being constantly pulled along, like I was a ball on a chain, and I know it wasn’t much fun for them either, because one of them actually yelled at me for not moving quickly enough.

Once we made it through the first campaign I quit out and was ready to smash the game disc, but another friend of mine told me I should play through the game in single player on Easy mode first.

Since Left 4 Dead is a coop game where the coop is actually necessary, playing single player means playing with three AI partners. And while the bots can be rather stupid at times, they follow you around and don’t push you to move forward or curse in your direction when you admire the scenery or try to decide which weapon to use. This allowed me to play at my own pace, and I suddenly enjoyed it. It got repetitive without having friends to play with, but once I’d played through each of the campaigns on my own I was sufficiently familiar with the game so that I could actually play with my friends and have a good time.

Left 4 Dead 2 is one of my favorite multiplayer games now, and if it weren’t for the option to play at my own pace, I might not have ever fully experienced it.

Anyway, onto Battlefield 3. I didn’t play the multiplayer at all, but I played the first few missions in the campaign. I’ve heard a great deal of praise for the game’s visuals, about how the graphics look so real and the animations look so smooth. The game does look pretty good, I have to admit, but it’s hard to appreciate that when you’re not really immersed in the game, and here’s why I could not immerse myself in Battlefield 3.

As with many shooters these days, you are one member of a squad of troops. The narrative is driven by the squad’s actions, not your actions. This is par for the course, but whenever I decided to wander off and look at the scenery or play with the physics, a big flashing warning appeared on the screen and let me know that if I didn’t go back to my squad I was going to lose. It said something about me “leaving the combat zone” or whatever.

We’ve seen this sort of thing in games before, but typically that only appears when you’re leaving the map, because the level designers didn’t create more space beyond that border you’re crossing, which I suppose is fair enough. In this case, though, I know that I can walk down that road. That road is part of the map. And when your squad moves forward after you kill the immediate baddies, then you can walk down that road too.

For me this felt like the Left 4 Dead 2 nightmare all over again. I couldn’t enjoy the game on my own terms; I had to do exactly what my teammates wanted and when they wanted it. I had to step in line. The crucial difference, though, is that this was the single player mode. I should be enjoying the game on my terms, shouldn’t I?

As if the linearity of the level design wasn’t enough, the designers had to completely hogtie the player, destroying any sense of exploration or freedom the game might have otherwise preserved. It changes the game from an immersive, continuous experience to a series of gunfights and nothing more. Having a squad is not inherently bad in a single player shooter; both Left 4 Dead and Half-Life 2 did it quite well, but in both of those games the squad follows you rather than you following them.

I normally roll my eyes whenever I hear people complain about “handholding” in modern games, because this usually boils down to some absurd anger over the game openly teaching its mechanics rather than forcing you to read a brick of a manual. But in this case I can definitely agree that this is the bad kind of handholding; it restricts you rather than merely guiding you.

Mind you, the whole restrictive railroading thing isn’t the only horrible flaw with the Battlefield 3 campaign. Even in the short time I played I noticed a plethora of issues. There’s a pretend-stealth section where you crawl under a ledge where guards are looking out from above. Out of curiosity I moved away from the ledge and right into the guard’s flashlight, and nobody noticed me. The guard was literally staring right at me and he didn’t budge. That isn’t stealth. That’s crawling through an empty corridor.

The game is littered with quick-time-event sequences, some of which are laughably arbitrary and stupid. Grey Carter already pointed out the QTE rat-stab, which caused me to reload my game after succeeding at it just so I could see what happens when you fail (the rat bites you, and then you get shot and die).

I know I shouldn’t expect much from the single player campaign of what is clearly a predominantly multiplayer shooter. But this, this is a new low. This is garbage. If you want an immersive, engaging single player experience, do not buy this game. There is far better out there.

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7 responses

  1. I think this is an excellent point. Single-player has taken a real hit in triple-A titles over the years, what with the multi-player focus and co-op modes being shoehorned in everywhere (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 3). It’s bad enough already, and now they’re adding bossy AI to the mix?

    I look forward to the day single-player bots will be able to call me a feeder and ragequit.

    November 1, 2011 at 7:04 AM

    • JPH

      Yeah, it’s become increasingly clear that the triple-a mainstream games industry just doesn’t give a shit about single player gamers (like me) anymore. It seems like every single player game has to have a multiplayer followup (Bioshock, Dead Space, Assassin’s Creed, reportedly Metro 2033, etc.) because apparently single player isn’t enough for a franchise.

      The Mass Effect 3 coop talk is especially bothersome because they’re talking about integrating it into the story. Why? Mass Effect is very story-and-dialogue heavy; I just don’t see that sort of gameplay working well in a cooperative scenario. When has coop storytelling ever worked properly?

      November 1, 2011 at 1:01 PM

  2. Mr Jack

    As a huge Battlefield fan, I have to say I agree.

    I bought the game expecting the campaign to be bad, but at least playable. But the campaign is so linear that I just gave up on it. Even the much maligned Bad Company campaigns were better than this. In the first one in particular, you were pretty much thrown down onto a huge sandbox level and were free to explore, and make ones way to the objective in whatever manner you saw fit. Pretty much all the vehicle sections were optional: don’t want to take the tank? You can walk if you like. Don’t like flying? Park the chopper and do it from the ground. The freedom was refreshing, and emphasised exactly what Battlefield is good at, large environments, multiple approaches, and choice.

    The campaign in Battlefield 3, (so far) has none of this, there is little to no player agency. The multiplayer has been a complete blast so far, and has not disappointed me.

    I do agree that single player games are sadly neglected, the decision to introduce multiplayer in the third Mass Effect game is particularly absurd to me. As you say, creating any sort of worthwhile story while in co-op seems difficult. Even if you do, most co-op players will likely ignore it. Many fans of the previous two games have expressed their disinterest in the co-op, so whatever story they will create will have to exist separately from the main narrative, so that the single players can get the full package. The co-op missions will have to exist in the same way as the DLC stories do, little asides with minimal impact on the wider result. Additionally, while they argue that the multiplayer will not result in content being taken away from the singleplayer component, I fail to see how this can be true. It irks me to see that less and less of the things I liked in the first game appear in the following instalments.

    Both Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3 have the same problem. The developers seem caught up with what other games are doing: people praise COD’s campaign, and multiplayer seems like a big draw for a lot of people, so they try to do things that they are not good at. I just think that the people they are going after already have games to play that do those things more competently.

    Then again, I could be wrong, and a huge majority of people have just been waiting silently for Bioware to make ME multiplayer, and it could revolutionise co-op story telling. But I find it unlikely.

    November 1, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    • Nerm

      From what i understand the co-op in ME3 is basicly horde mode or whatever its called from gears of war, where you sit in a small arena and fight harder and harder waves of enemies.
      So i wouldnt get my hopes up for any revolutions in storytelling.

      November 2, 2011 at 6:48 AM

      • Mr Jack

        That’s at once reassuring and disappointing. It means I won’t miss anything important if I skip it, and it means I won’t be missing anything important if I skip it.

        November 2, 2011 at 2:46 PM

  3. The part about the ‘stealth’ section is actually straight up insulting to me as a videogame fan. I can’t believe a developer could be that lazy…

    November 1, 2011 at 5:41 PM

  4. Bret

    Well, apparently the plot of horde mode is “Remember when Shepard left hapless disposable mooks behind to hold the line while she goes to get space drunk in space bars? You’re the mooks. Hold the line.”

    Hackett gives orders, and if you do well, it fills a meter saying Shepard doesn’t have to come back and bail everyone out. Again. And most people involved say it didn’t take anything away from single player, so, good for them.

    Also, it works solo. Which is nice.

    November 3, 2011 at 5:21 PM

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