It’s been only a week since Angus first delved into the ceaseless flame wars erupting between respective fans of competing shooter games Call of Duty and Battlefield.
As the release dates of the next instalments in both series draw ever closer, these arguments are growing in intensity and reducing in coherency at an alarming rate. In fact, most reading this who follow gaming news with any frequency will probably be rolling their eyes by this point. But fear not, we’re here only to give an honest first impression of developer DICE’s opus of destruction Battlefield 3, from two people who’ve spent more time with rival Call of Duty games, in all their hyper-masculine glory, than two full-time students really should have. For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing exclusively on the multiplayer aspects of these games, as both series have climbed to the revered positions they hold today by raising the bar of competitive gaming experiences over the last decade. Our experience with Battlefield 3 thus far has been the public play-testing that DICE have gifted to their fans, a “beta” test where an early build of the game is released and combed for bugs and needed tweaks.
Firstly, BF3 is a vastly different experience to anything in the COD series. The intention of realism and weight can be felt throughout everything from the game’s environment right down to the philosophy that when you are playing, you are looking through the physical eyes of a soldier. This latter element is what makes BF3 so chilling a game at times. COD games, in their modern incarnation, are an intense and reliably manic experience that borrows from the setting and mythos of the more explosive and jingoistic action movies. In that sense, they always feel like an action movie: fast, fun and requiring a certain suspension of disbelief. Their multiplayer experience is geared towards shaping your own playstyle, allowing people to be a running juggernaut, static sharpshooter, acrobatic knife-wielder or an all-around jackass. Call of Duty 4 was not the first shooter to introduce these elements from traditional RPG games, though it helped towards making them much more prevalent in future titles. Teamwork among players is definitely possible, even encouraged by some game types, but is not the norm in these games. The lone wolf, if skilled enough, can always prevail. While BF3 retains the veneer of COD’s “XP”, leveling and customisation systems, awards and unlocks flashing past your screen after every round to the game’s signature thumping electronic sound design, the experience under those systems remains true to the original 2001 Battlefield that launched the series into fame.
The feeling I got when I was first dropped onto the ruined Parisian parklands that host BF3’s beta testing was one of wonder. A feeling I haven’t been given by a game in a long, long time. At the risk of sounding like I am throwing myself down at the altar of the military fetishism displayed in this game, I’d say this will be another title that will raise the bar for future games to to come. Like Doom, Half Life, Battlefield 1942, Crysis and Call of Duty 4 before it, Battlefield 3 will set the standard for big-budget shooter titles to meet in the coming years. This is not only because of the (significant) advances in graphical fidelity and how accessible those higher-level graphics are, but because of the interesting new gameplay elements actually being produced by those advances. The lighting engine will cause enemy flashbangs and laser sights to blind you, causing you to physically recoil from your screen at times. Environmental elements like smoke, dust, rubble, trees, light and plants are not just convincing window-dressing, but strategic parts of how you play the game. Needless to say, these elements almost all require some tweaking, but DICE has already begun to list the changes that will be made to the finished product. Battlefield 3 is, quite simply, a culmination of over a decade’s worth of refinement in the shooter genre, probably one that will be difficult to surpass for a few years to come.
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To wrap up the fairly pointless rivalry between fans of this game and those of the Call of Duty series, Battlefield 3 is a new and vastly different experience to anything in the COD series, but is by no means inherently better. They are to each other as rugby is to soccer, apples to oranges, Ridley Scott to Christopher Nolan. They are two sides of the same coin. Whether you crave the fast-paced arcade-style shooting gallery of COD, or the realistic and intense leap into the future of gaming that is Battlefield, there is definitely something for everyone this summer.