After a brief respite, Shooter Season 2011 returns with Battlefield 3.
I'm so fucking thrilled that my cheek muscles are about to wrap around the top of my head like a Ms. Pac-Man bow, because Shooter Season 2011 has finished catering to people who will only ever touch a vagina if they found a job at the funeral home and has now moved on to the realistic shooter stage for the benefit of your racist dad. And the reason I'm so thrilled is because I consider myself a connoisseur of box art depicting soldiers slowly walking towards the camera. Call of Duty 's a strong contender, especially the Modern Warfare 2 box showing the man looking off to the right as if someone off-panel is trying to point out that his trousers are about to catch fire, but the Battlefield series has to be the master of the art. The cover of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 experimented with a groundbreaking image depicting a slowly walking soldier with a big orange smear all down his front like he had an accident with a lasagna, imagery so striking they've used exactly the same thing for Battlefield 3. Only now he's walking away from a city, as if to say "I am never going to that restaurant again!"
EA recently went on record that they consider the single-player campaign to be just as important as multiplayer, so I'm gonna take that as validation for only talking about the single player as usual. Actually, I did play online for like seven-tenths of a second, during which I shot at something a very great distance away and died a lot, so I don't see it being massively different to the single-player experience.
Anyway, the modern realistic shooter random villain generator today landed on terrorists, with Russians in the secondary villain roll and a nuke as the principle MacGuffin, at which point someone may have raised their hand and said: "Do we want to reroll this? Because it's going to end up a lot like Modern Warfare otherwise." But EA is a strict Dungeon Master that tolerates no random roll backsies, so here we are, a game without a single original thought in its head. From Black Ops we have the American soldier being interrogated by the CIA as a framing device, from Modern Warfare 1 we have nukes knocking around in the Middle East, and from my prescription medication we have a weird yellow blancmange-like creature floating in the corner of the ceiling.
Battlefield 3 was built on the Frostbite 2 engine. I know this for a fact, because it can't go five minutes without banging on about it. This is a game that isn't trying to sell an engaging experience or even the military lifestyle, it's trying to sell destruction physics and the lighting engine. This becomes clear around the second time a building collapses with the camera angled in such a way as if to say: "You may now appreciate this. A minimum level of appreciation is required to continue." My spirits were raised at one point when it seemed we were about to have a flying vehicle section in a jet plane, until my character sat in the gunner's seat and I realized shit was going down rail-shooter style, except with a modern-day missile targeting and shooting system, which is about as involving and skillful as heating up a sponge pudding in the microwave. "Just look at those clouds," sighed the game with a dreamy lack of awareness. "Maybe you could make a flight simulator in Frostbite 2. Don't you think so, publishers?" Well, since you want me to notice the engine so much, EA, it's got more pop-in than a warehouse full of jam jar lids, and I made a game out of spinning around really fast trying to catch blurry textures before they loaded back in.
And there are quick-time events, which, unless you count the ones in Rise of Nightmares which were more like spontaneous exercise routines, I hadn't seen in a while. For an all too brief, happy time, I thought I'd achieved at least one thing in my life in communicating that QTEs are gameplay design at its absolute worst because they're essentially the same as pressing the unpause button on a DVD remote except you have to rewind the film five or ten minutes if you don't do it fast enough. But never let it be said that EA have ever allowed themselves be bossed around by common sense. Except Battlefield 3 's QTEs are often that variety that's somehow even worse gameplay design, where there's a rather insultingly generous time limit on pressing the button. So it's not even "press X to not die," it's "press X to continue whatever it was you were doing." It often happens during scripted melee combat sequences, so your attacker will just repeatedly punch you in the face until you press the button to block him or point out an interestingly shaped cloud, although I might recommend holding off for an hour or two if you want to actually get some amusement out of all this.
Come to think of it, most of the game exists in the spirit of the quick-time events, meaning it's another game with one and only one very specific thread of continuation that does everything it can to stamp on your troublesome free will. On one occasion, the game instructed me to go to point B, but I hung around point A for a while - because I'm stubborn like that - and I started hearing ambient sound effects from point B, like the game had already assumed I'd obeyed like a good little drone. Then I had a game over during a chase sequence when I caught up with my pursuee too quickly, and the words "Game Over. You failed to catch Mr. Terrorist-Pants" faded in over the sequence of me catching Mr. Terrorist-Pants.
More generally, I had a tendency to die a lot, perhaps to punish me for my hubris, because Battlefield tends to lean more towards realism. But before we all smirk massively at that notion, I will say that it is somewhat more grounded than Call of Duty, with its James Bond snow chases and Russian imaginary friends. But it doesn't seem right that I can be sniping prone from a concealed position and dudes with AK-47s in the next town over can kill me in five seconds, unless my helmet's wrapped in magnetized Christmas lights.
Oh, I'm sure the multiplayer is very lovely for all you online johnnies with higher tolerance for repetition and tosspots, but let me close with a specific moment in the single player, because it took me eight tries to get through and I'll be buggered if I'm the only person whose time will be wasted by it. I had to escort a comrade with a wounded prisoner out of a building and be picked up by an Osprey outside, but it turned out the terrorists were using the building for their annual bullet sampling party. And since m'colleague felt there was no better body armor than a mission-critical prisoner, I had to go out and shield them with the sturdier parts of my face. And then we got outside, fighting off terrorists as we went, and once he was inside the Osprey I ran out of cover to follow before bouncing off a big fat invisible wall at the bottom of the ramp and being turned into a bullet and combat gear burrito. "Escape not sufficiently exciting," went the game. "You must reach a minimum level of excitement before continuing." You must reach a minimum level of suck my cock, Battlefield 3.
- A credit to his people: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- This game has three nukes in it while Modern Warfare only had one so it's better in strictly mathematical terms at least
- Please send my medal of honor by post