It’s only been recently that I’ve come around to war based games, especially those in the first person shooter genre. For that I lay the blame squarely at the developers who, for the longest time, churned out title after title that was just the same as the previous one except for maybe some new weapons or a multiplayer game mode. Thus it should come as no surprise that Battlefield 3 is the first in the series that I’ve bothered to play for more than a couple hours at a LAN. You can thank Black Ops for that as their last few instalments showed me that these games could be more than just mere distractions, and Battlefield 3 is certainly a lot more than that.
Battlefield 3 is the 11th instalment in the Battlefield series coming out nearly a decade after the first in the series. The setting is modern day with the majority of the game centring around the middle east. In the campaign you play as Sgt. Blackburn, an officer who’s been brought in for question because he may know something about a potential terrorist threat. The game is then told through a series of flashbacks to various missions that Blackburn carried out, revealing more about the reasons why he’s ended up where he is. The campaign also serves as a tutorial for multiplayer, introducing you to many aspects of the game.
Now I’m usually pretty gushy about graphics and Battlefield 3 is no exception. Indeed the first few trailers I saw of in game footage were the sole reason why I had intended to buy Battlefield 3 in the first place and indeed many of my friends were also convinced in the same way. I do get hit by tech wonderlust though so I was sceptical about how realistic it actually was until my wife, who was about 3 meters or so from my screen, said “Is that real?” when she saw the scene pictured below. Given that she’s seen me play my fair share of games having her ask such a question means that Battlefield 3 really is another step up in graphics technology, putting DICE at the forefront of what’s possible in the realms of computer graphics.
Surprisingly the incredible graphics of Battlefield 3 doesn’t seem to come at the cost of performance. Now my machine is somewhat of a beast: Intel 2600K, 16GB RAM and a HD6950, but even with that I’ve had some recent games slow to a crawl when I’ve put them on max settings. Battlefield 3 however is buttery smooth from inside the smallest corridors to the most wide open of spaces with dozens of players in view. It’s truly incredible that the game doesn’t turn into a complete slideshow when you up the player count to 64 as many graphics intensive FPSs in the past (I.E. the original Crysis) struggled with just over 8 players simultaneously.
The game play in Battlefield 3 is divided into 2 categories: infantry and vehicle. For the majority of the single player you’ll be playing as infantry, slogging your way through on foot whilst you run and gun in your typical FPS affair. There’s a little bit of variety in the missions, ranging from your typical get from point A to point B to providing cover for your allies in the form of sniper fire. The vehicle sections are a bit of a refreshing change from the relative monotony of the infantry sections although they’re fairly limited in scope, serving as only a brief introduction into what you’ll be experiencing in multiplayer.
If you bought Battlefield 3 for just the campaign though you’d be sorely disappointed with it clocking in at just over 4 hours in my play through. This is typical of these AAA titles that are much more focused on providing an on-going experience through multiplayer rather than delivering a single player epic so I can’t really fault it for that. The plot of Battlefield 3 though is somewhat confusing and rather poorly written in sections, taking the cheap flashback route to simply demonstrate the various multiplayer levels in a single player setting. Playing on the most difficult setting will also see all the enemies have sniper like accuracy with whatever weapon they’re carrying, even when they’re blind firing around the corner. It also doesn’t help that your team mates, when you have them, are next to completely useless sometimes walking past enemies and then indicating for you to join them, resulting in you getting gunned down on the spot.
This is where I make a distinction between a game being “hard” on one hand and being just tedious on the other. A game that is truly hard is one that provide a challenge for you to overcome, one that will teach you to be a better gamer for having conquered it. Giving NPCs ungodly abilities like pinpoint accuracy just adds tedium, not challenge, to a game. Indeed I spent much of the campaign of Battlefield 3 explicitly ignoring the game’s instructions because, if I did, I’d be gunned down immediately. Thus instead of it being a challenge where I tried different tactics to see which came out the best I instead found ways to get the game to progress to the next check point, even if that meant doing nothing for 5 minutes whilst events played themselves out.
Of course the real meat of Battlefield 3 isn’t contained within the brief confines of the campaign, it’s all about the multiplayer. Now I was semi-familiar with the lay of the land in multiplayer Battlefield games but after spending a good 20+ hours on Call of Duty: Black Ops I was preconditioned to expect a few things which aren’t exactly the same. That’s not a failing on Battlefield 3’s part by any stretch of the imagination, more I can see why some people stick to one or the other as the multiplayer is a decidedly different experience between the two. The main difference is there’s no vehicles in Call of Duty whilst there’s vehicles aplenty in Battlefield, but that’s really only the beginning of the differences between them.
On the PC the difference starts right from the way that get into the game with DICE introducing a new system called Battlelog. In essence its a social networking service built around Battlefield 3, much like Call of Duty Elite is shaping up to be. You can do all the regular social network-y type stuff, friend people, post status updates, etc. but all your in game achievements and unlocks are also put on display for everyone to see. Interestingly enough everything about Battlefield 3 is accessed through the Battlelog system, the only time it doesn’t come into play is when you’re offline and then Battlefield 3 will just kick you into the campaign.
Battlelog is both a blessing and a curse making some things just so darn simple you wonder how you did without them whilst at the same time providing enough pain to make you wonder why you bothered with trying to play some multiplayer in the first place. The grouping feature, allowing you to create a party and then join a server with said party, is phenomenal and appears to filter down to the squad level when you get into the game. This has made it so much easier to jump on a server with friends and have a good time with them, rampaging through maps as an organised group. Finding friends is also easy thanks to the Facebook integration, allowing you to pick everyone up without having to ask them for their in game name.
However Battlelog also seems to have troubles performing some of its most basic functions. The server filter list, whilst working properly most of the time, sometimes forgets or ignores your settings. I’ve had several occasions where I’d select “1-5 slots free” only to end up in a completely empty 64 person server. The voice chat is also borderline useless, being rather low quality and cutting in and out a lot, especially if you use the voice activation option. I also had several games just up and disconnect me for no reason and Battlelog simply reports “Game was disconnected” even though my Internet connection is fine and I rejoin the server immediately. As the multiplayer really is what Battlefield 3 is all about the Battlelog system having such faults really does it a disservice and one I can’t really pass over.
To DICE’s credit though the multiplayer is fun, action packed and highly varied. If you want you can play it much like Call of Duty as they’ve reintroduced team deathmatch, battling the other team to the death. However most seem to favour the conquest style maps, basically a capture and hold style of game play with a limited number of respawns for each team. The large versions of conquest maps are teaming with various vehicles, allowing you to wreck havoc from all directions. Everything from yourself to your class to the vehicles you drive have persistent levelling up associated with them, unlocking new abilities and upgrades as you go through. I’ve already sunk a good 8 to 10 hours in the multi and feel like I’ve still only scratched the surface and I’ll definitely be playing for a while into the future.
Battlefield 3 impresses me on so many levels which is why it pains me so much to point out the flaws that detract so heavily from its achievements. DICE has been rapidly iterating in order to address the flaws but they simply shouldn’t have existed to begin with. The Battlelog is a brilliant idea that suffers from some elements of poor execution, much like Battlefield 3 does as a whole. Still I wouldn’t recommend against buying Battlefield 3 though as despite all these problems once you’re actually in the game it’s very enjoyable to play, especially when you accidentally ram your jet into the ground for the 3rd time that game. Hopefully the issues that I experienced in the past are eventually worked out and then Battlefield 3 will really be a serious contender to take the crown as FPS king.
Battlefield 3 is available right now on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 right now for $79.99, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played on the hardest difficulty with 4 hours in the single player and approximately 10 hours of multiplayer total.
I’ll be honest, hack ‘n’ slash games aren’t really my forte. Sure I’ve played a couple in the past and enjoyed them (like Infinity Blade) but I was never able to get into the big titles like God of War, Bayonetta or Darksiders. I think it comes down to the (usually) rather thin plots and lack of hooks early on in the game that fail to grab my attention, making them rather easy to put down. Still on recommendations from my friends and family I purchased a copy of Warhammer 40K: Space Marine and was pleasantly surprised by how gripping this hack ‘n’ slash game was.
You play as Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, an elite super-human soldier who serves the Imperium of Man. One of the Imperium’s forge worlds, a planet dedicated solely to the manufacturing of the Imperium’s armaments, has come under attack from an Ork invasion. Titus is then sent to the planet in order to delay the invasion for as long as possible in order for an Imperium fleet to arrive. Of course the Ork invasion isn’t the only thing out of the ordinary on this forge world as Titus finds out as the game progresses.
Space Marine does an excellent job of incorporating the vast lore that exists within the Warhammer 40K world. Way back when I was a big fan of nearly all of the Games Workshop games and I’m sure I’ve still got one of the boxed 40K sets sitting up in my parent’s attic somewhere. Right from the start you get the feeling that this particular story is just a sliver of the giant universe in which it is set. Thankfully most of the details of the story aren’t hidden text dumps scattered around the place, with most of the important details being revealed in dialogue exchanges between the characters.
Relic has also done a fantastic job with the set pieces that you’ll come across during you’re adventures in Space Marine. All of the environments have a sense of epicness about them, from the wide open spaces that are filled with countless enemies to the underground tunnels that seem to go on for forever. Yet again this reinforces the larger than life feeling that this game seems to convey, constantly reminding you that you’re but a small cog in the giant wheel of the Imperium of Man.
The graphics as well, whilst nothing spectacular, work quite well within the context. I was never good at painting my collector of miniatures but I always loved seeing the ones which people had done right. Space Marine then evokes that same feeling as they’re extremely well done in true Warhammer styles. This extends to all the additional things like the foley, camera work and use of slow motion to really round out that epic movie feeling. Overall the look and feel of Space Marine is just exquisite, but that would be for nothing if the game wasn’t fun to play.
Combat in Space Marine is meaty, fast paced and just plain fun. There are 2 distinct modes of combat that you’ll use extensively throughout the game. The first is standard 3rd person shooter style which is your standard cover based affair. I’ll be honest and say that this was probably my least favourite aspect of the game as the shooter sections always felt like a distraction from true base of a hack ‘n’ slash game: the melee combat. Still there’s a variety of weapons to choose from (usually placed in piles in front of you) and your choice will determine how easy or hard a particular section is so there’s a definite bit of strategy in Space Marine that traditional hack ‘n’ slashers lack.
However the melee combat is really what makes Space Marine just so fun to play. Initially it’s somewhat of a chore as you’re just set up with a tiny combat knife but you’re quickly paired up with the iconic Space Marine weapon: the Chainsword. After that point it’s just simply glorius as you carve your way through untold hordes of enemies. They also change it up a bit when they introduce two other weapons (the Power Axe and Thunder Hammer) which breaks up the monotony considerably. The fury bar also makes for some interesting moments as once this bar is full you can unleash it, increasing your damage considerably and enabling you to regenerate health as you fight.
Of course this is all taken to a whole new level when you’re given a jet pack which allows you to rocket skyward and then charge back down to earth, devastating anyone who’s in your landing zone. These sections always felt way too short but they are by far the most fun sections in an already amazingly fun game. There’s not much strategy to it but anyone can find the fun in rocketing around the place whilst laying waste to legions of foes.
The multi-player in Space Marine is unfortunately a somewhat mixed affair. The core game play takes all the things you encountered in the single player and mixes them up into the now familiar persistent levelling multi-player experience. You start off with a few basic classes, weapons and perks available to you and as you level more of them are unlocked. The weapons, unlike other similar systems in say Call of Duty: Black Ops, can be somewhat game breaking in certain combinations. This is alleviated by the fact that you can copy an enemies load out when they kill you (for 1 life only) but the balance seems to kick in around the level 10~20 mark, which might be off putting to some players.
The most unfortunate part about the multi-player in Space Marine is the lack of dedicated servers for hosting. This means that you have no choice of who you’re paired up with and all it takes is one player on the other side of the world to start making the game laggy. On the first game that I played it was completely unplayable with me and my fellow LANers being matched to people that were no where near us at all. Changing this up to just us (plus a few other locals) alleviated the lag completely, but getting this in a public game seems to be nigh on impossible.
I played some more multi-player last night just to see if the issues were still occurring and whilst it was no where near as bad as it originally was there was still several occasions when it would starting lagging considerably or delay the game for 10 seconds whilst it waited for the current host to catch up. Talking this over with one of my mates who was a long time player of Dawn of War (another Warhammer based Relic game) this should have come as no surprise as they’ve had a history of atrocious netcode in nearly all of their games. Honestly when all the big names gave up quickly on the idea of serverless multi-player after one iteration you have to wonder why Relic went down this path as it basically ruins what could be an extremely fun and captivating multi-player experience.
The game itself though stands well enough alone though that a bad multi-player experience really can’t detract from the sheer enjoyment I had during my time with Warhammer 40000: Space Marine. The settings are amazing, the lore deep and thoroughly engrossing and the characters believable and aptly voice acted. Space Marine hits all the right buttons and there was never a time when I found myself wanting to put the game down out of frustration, instead feeling myself improve gradually as I mastered all aspects that the game presented to me. For fans of the Warhammer lore I’m sure they’ll enjoy this faithful experience and for regular gamers there’s enough action and thrills to keep you interested right up until the final crescendo.
Warhammer 40000: Space Marine is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $88, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played on the hardest difficulty with around 8 hours in the single player and 3 hours in multiplayer.