Refined, well-balanced, multiplayer classes; giant, chaotic, detailed maps; jaw-dropping pyrotechnic, lighting, and particle effects.
Unfulfilling single-player campaign; Battlelog is a pain to deal with.
There is a creature in Greek mythology known as the Chimera. The Chimera was an unholy patchwork of a beast, a combination of lion, snake, and goat. Battlefield 3 is the software equivalent of a Chimera—a beast of a game stitched together from disparate parts.
Battlefield 3’s single-player campaign is undoubtedly the goat. The game resorts to every dirty funneling trick to keep you on its chosen path, ranging from invisible walls to flat-out killing you and forcing a reload if you wander. You’ll spend much of the game running a high-speed conga line with your AI squad mates, dashing from one checkpoint to the next.
The action remains maddeningly scripted when you reach those checkpoints. Ever-present mortar, grenade, and rocket explosions, combined with seemingly random enemy spawns, leave you waiting behind cover while the game essentially plays itself. Make your presence felt and your AI squad mates will do their best to get you killed by bumping into you, shoving you out of “their” cover, and getting in the way of your shots, all while the enemy seems to target you exclusively.
And if ever there was a game you didn't want to play staring at teammates’ backs, it's Battlefield 3. This game boasts the most photorealistic graphics we've ever seen, with crisp textures, smooth animation, and almost no texture pop-in, a feat made all the more impressive by the game’s high fidelity and remarkable draw distance. The Frostbite 2 engine's hyper-realistic volumetric effects add to the visual wow factor: Black smoke belches from burned-out tanks, sand blows across desert wastelands, and every explosion ejects chunks of dirt and plumes of dust skyward.
EA’s digital-distribution and DRM system, Origin, plays the part of the snake, slithering into your Battlefield 3 experience whether you want it or not. While we suffered no technical or stability problems with Origin, the client is wholly unremarkable. It gets the job done, but it pales in comparison to Valve’s well-established and feature-rich Steam. EA’s Battlelog, the web-based launcher that serves as BF3’s main menu, is equally unimpressive: Managing and communicating with friends is cumbersome, voice chat is absent, and trying to set up a game with a large group is nigh impossible.
Thankfully, Battlefield 3 roars where it matters most: Multiplayer is nothing short of sublime. Classes are extremely well balanced, weapons are varied, and the leveling and unlock trees entice you to keep playing without overwhelming new players. The game features five competitive modes: squad deathmatch, team deathmatch, rush, squad rush, and conquest. In typical Battlefield fashion, vehicles play a big role, especially in the larger maps. The spectacle of 32 or 64 players firing devastating tank rounds, crashing helicopters, and shooting down jets leads to jaw-dropping “wow” moments of emergent, chaotic goodness.
So, is the Chimera that is Battlefield 3 held back by its worthless goat element and its sneaky snake component? Yes, but not all that much. Battlefield 3’s unparalleled immersion factor and fantastic online modes render it the go-to multiplayer FPS well into the foreseeable future.