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.