Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Battlefield 3: Worth Writing Home About?

Was it always this hard? Were there always so many hiding places? Did it always take so long to go prone and take aim? I don't know the objective answers to these questions, but subjectively I'd suggest it's 'no', 'no' and 'Chuckpow! Solider down!'.

The BF series has long been dear to my heart in a way few online shooters ever have been - say hello Action Quake 2, Planetside, Enemy Territory and L4D - so I was intrigued by the third full entry, albeit less so than most of my narrative design students (half of whom didn't make last week's lecture, busy as they were consuming EA's marketing hype and review fixing).

Hit & miss respect for the consumer aside, what's always sold me on the formula is the same thing that made Tribes and the original 1942 so spectacular - the sheer volume of variables. I go on a lot about procedural narrative and Battlefield is a key, if one note point of reference. The tales of heroism and emergent play styles the game promotes will always be of far greater value than the scale of the 'splodes or the faux-realistic setting (and the less said about the me-too singleplayer the better).

So does BF3 deliver? It's honestly hard for me to say. Something's changed in a big way, either in me or in DICE: I cannot play Battlefield 3.

First off, all the movement feels wonky. My rig is a solid yet unspectacular Intel i5, GeForce GTX275, 4GB RAM (or is that 8GB?), and I'm sure that at the least the screen judder when I both move and look around is specific to my machine. This aside, though, I feel half the time like I'm playing a bad RPG.

IF [player is using prone ability] THEN [+50 Accuracy]
IF [player activates prone ability] AND [player is standing] THEN [+10 attack delay]

In essence, I remember a time when spotting someone first or implementing a smart strategy meant you had a decent chance of a kill; nowadays it seems to revolve more around who's got the bigger gun.

Which rather brings up the next usual gripe, and one I can't possibly ignore. It's sad that so many devs take it to be impossible to market and maintain interest in a shooter that doesn't have persistent upgrades, and while I grant it would not take forever to level up one particular class in BF3, the advantages gained are nothing less than significant game winners. Bottom line I find it genuinely disturbing that the two pillars of competitive FPS (you can guess which the other is) are comfortable not only allowing but encouraging unfair competition. We wouldn't take the IRB seriously if next world cup they banned France from kicking the ball until enough tickets had been sold to French supporters, and we shouldn't condone it any more here.

There are other things that bother me about BF3, but it seems reasonable to suggest most of them come down to my lack of integration with the game systems (or, in alternative parlance, how shit I am). I remember being able to jump into a jeep, play chicken with a tank, bail out just before the two go up in flames, then go prone and pick off the remaining defenders you've caught off guard. Maybe these things are still possible for the elite, but I can't help but feel the jeep wouldn't explode and that I'd get picked off before I even had a chance to bail. In short Battlefield Free4Play seems altogether more true to the series' heritage.

I find myself, while playing, genuinely wanting to say "Why is there so much stuff on my screen?" "How is it I can't actually see anyone that's shooting at me?" "What's with all this realistic foliage and destructible scenery?" BF2 was just so much simpler. You could actually distinguish between an enemy and a rock at distance. With that in mind, it seems the truth is that some of this is a genuine gripe, and much of it is an admission that, perhaps, I'm not as young as I used to be. For me, taking a 1:1 kill death ratio isn't really a satisfying experience. Likewise hitting a bottleneck where 20 players from each team trade covering fire for ten minutes may be a valid experience for many, but it's just not fun for me; it's just not Battlefield.

Battlefield 3 is an explosive war game with a huge marketing budget and a browser-based server interface. It is not, at heart, a Battlefield game. It is, however, modern warfare in every sense of the word. That makes me somewhat sad.

Polish: 1 out of 2
Tilt: 0 out of 2

1 comment:

  1. So like I say, I see that a big part of this rather cynical write up is me not being dfown with the kids. I'm going to pick BF3 up again once the BF2 map pack's released and see if some more levels (in both senses of the word) help me find something valuable here.

    What scares me more than anything, though, is my students have never played BF2. They've never played Medal of Honour. Hell, most of them haven't played Doom. And yet BF3 gets them going.

    Complaining about the consolisation of the PC is rare these days, largely I'd argue because it's complete - those games that might have been great PC titles now start life on console, while those that remain on PC only seek ever tighter (and more interesting) niches. It's a setup I can live with for the most part.

    But BF3 (and the things that bother me about it) are a direct result of EA using their PC franchise to compete with a console one. For me, it really shows.