On the Frontlines

Courtesy of Electronic Arts

For most of my childhood up until midway through my freshman year of high school, I was cursed with 28 kbps dial-up Internet. This meant that I could never join my friends in online multiplayer games, which is a tragedy for any Asian male teenager. When my family finally upgraded to cable Internet, I was ecstatic; all I needed was a game that I could keep coming back to.

Contrary to the rest of my Korean peers, I never really got into those MMORPGs like “World of Warcraft” or strategy games like “Starcraft.” For me, first-person shooters were my style. While there was “Counter-Strike,” which was the most popular online FPS back then, I didn’t really enjoy it because my dear friends used hacks such as aimbot and wallhack to dispatch me first during matches.

I then met “Battlefield 2” in the summer of 2005, and it was a match made in Heaven. On the weekends (and whenever my parents were out for more than an hour), I played the game as much as I could over the course of a year until my computer (which was running the game at the very minimum specs) gave out. I shed many a tear that day, and bade farewell to my “Battlefield 2”-playing days.

Fast forward over six years later, and my pre-ordered copy of “Battlefield 3” is starting to run on the Xbox 360. My heart begins to beat faster when I hear the familiar theme music of the “Battlefield series,” this time having a more electronic sound. I tightly grip the controller out of excitement, expecting nothing short of magnificence.

In the weeks and months leading up to its release, “Battlefield 3” was widely touted to be the rival to the upcoming “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.” While it’s certainly too early to tell, “Battlefield 3” rightly deserves that title, though it isn’t what most of us expected it to be as a whole.

Though the “Battlefield” series was always known mostly for its focus on online multiplayer, the latest games have featured a campaign as well, and this entry isn’t any different.

For most of the campaign, you play as SSgt. Blackburn, who is being questioned by the C.I.A. for information concerning missing nukes. The missions you play are essentially his flashbacks, though a number of them are played through other characters’ perspectives. The story takes you both on the ground and above the skies, from Iran to New York.

Alas, in spite of how amazing it looks, the campaign is easily the game’s most disappointing aspect. While there are several amazing set pieces to experience, the story as a whole falls flat because it feels cobbled together and cliched, and the level of intensity severely dips and rises over the course of the game. Furthermore, the fact that you can drive only one vehicle (a tank) in the campaign is a letdown, as you are left to learn how to pilot helicopters and jets on your own –– this turns out to be a quite important factor when playing online multiplayer.

For the most part, the gameplay runs rather smoothly. The perception of movement is particularly stunning, for you not only see your limbs (legs included) in game when you move, but the way the camera shudders when you sprint really gives you the sense that you’re moving. In addition, the environment and situations greatly affect your playing experience. Destructible environments are a perfect example of this, as almost any form of cover can be destroyed with explosives, forcing you not to stay at one place for a long time (I’m looking at you, campers).

As with almost every “Battlefield” game, this one has its fair share of bugs and glitches. I encountered an extremely slow frame rate at multiple points in the campaign, and at times, items and objects would disappear and appear yet again whenever I looked around a certain area.

The game’s graphics are nothing short of amazing. Xbox 360 users who install the HD texture pack will be able to notice how detailed the environment and objects are, like words on random boxes, making this virtual world much more realistic. In most of the missions, I found that dirt and dust speckled my HUD (heads-up display), which really communicated the impression of being in fierce combat. The lighting too is superb, and the presence of the sun and any sources of light cast a vast array of shadows in both campaign and multiplayer.

The sound is equally impressive, as it enhances the world of “Battlefield” so much more. You’ll be hearing the crackles and rattles of various assault rifles, bullets hissing above your head and the deafening booms of explosions. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced moments online when the sound was drowned out, even though I was in the thick of battle.

Unsurprisingly, multiplayer (which you need an Online Pass for) is where “Battlefield 3” truly shines. You take on four combat roles on a variety of maps in five different game modes: Conquest, Rush, Squad Deathmatch, Squad Rush and Team Deathmatch. After each match, you earn points (even if you’ve been away from the controller/keyboard the whole time), with which you can unlock gadgets and weapons.

From all the time I’ve spent online so far (about 10 hours), Conquest, where your team captures objectives, and Rush, with one team destroying objectives and the other defending them, appear to be the most popular. Emphasizing teamwork with a large number of players (up to 64 on PC and 24 on consoles), these two modes will prompt players to keep returning for a long time.

I’ve played Team Deathmatch for the first and last time, as I ragequit after being spawn killed nearly six times in a row, which resulted in my kill/death ratio slipping from a 1.7 to a measly 1.3 –– as it turns out, this game mode is played on small maps, regardless of the number of players (I was playing with 23 other people).

A co-op mode is also available, in which two players can complete missions together online. As long as you’re playing with someone who knows what he’s doing, you’ll get the points you need to unlock certain weapons.

But wait, there’s more! The game also features the Battlelog, a cross-platform social network that shows any player’s awards, statistics and unlocks. If you have a friend or two who play the game on a regular basis, you can look him up on Battlelog to track his progress.

The menu is kept fairly simple, though it does annoyingly fizzle and warp when you scroll through certain options, especially on the multiplayer pages. Perhaps it’s my television’s fault, but the text in the game is rather small, so it’s hard to distinguish how many points you have while playing.

I’ll admit it: “Battlefield 3” is definitely not the revolution in the FPS genre that I was hoping for. Its single-player campaign and number of bugs and glitches keep it from being the perfection that it could have been, though multiplayer alone makes this game worth the money. However, it’s comforting to see that the “Battlefield” franchise is still as fun as it always has been, and has a bright future ahead.

Rating: 4 out of 5