While we touched on the singleplayer side of Battlefield 3 in our last podcast, no one had actually pushed very far into it. Over the last couple of days though I’ve had the pleasure (and it often was a pleasure) to gun my way through the 5ish hours of Global Terror Threat plot and, you know, it’s fine, generally, if often peaking and troughing in the most dramatic ways possible.
You can see the problems appearing from the very first level, and whether you enjoy that experience or not will dictate completely whether this is going to be your sort of thing. You dramatically fling yourself onto a train by pressing space when a big blue icon flashes saying SPACE at the bottom of the screen. Then your controls are taken away so the game can make your guy kick through a window, knock out a Terrorist and take his gun. Then you’re given control again and you shoot terrorists down a corridor (train carriage) – debris flinging through the air and men dying in very satisfying animated ways. You follow a blue marker to a door and press E when a big blue icon flashes saying E and then the controls are taken away again as you dramatically dive through another window and something explodes and then you get control and shoot the men and then press SPACE when it says press space and the controls are taken away and something cool happens dramatically and then you get control and shoot the men down a corridor. Repeat forever.
It’s a game of watching – strictly watching – something cool happening and then shooting men. You do what your told. You wait for doors to be opened, you trigger artificial checkpoints, you try not to directly compare it to Call of Duty when you talk abou- oh. Well, yeah, it’s that. It’s the Call of Duty formula, directly lifted, and whether you enjoy that or not you’ll already know. The thing is though, the really annoying thing: there are some really, really cool bits that are well worth sticking around for. You probably don’t have control for them, but they’re cool.
Like, the bit in the jet near the start. You head out onto an aircraft carrier and it’s hammering down with rain. You walk up to a jet, climb a ladder and buckle in. E TO SHUT CANOPY. You press E and the canopy shuts. Radio chatter between flight control, you and your co-pilot goes through all cool fighter jet pre-takeoff things. “Weapons check” _Beep_ “Radar check” _beeep-beep_ “calibrating” _beep_ “starting engines”. You are now 8 years old. The jet takes off and the Battlefield theme kicks in hard. You’re a grown man grinning like an idiot because Fighter Jets and That Music and Speed and Missiles. But then, slowly, you’re a games critic again and you realise that you’ve been doing nothing more than pressing the same button as what’s flashing big and blue at the bottom of the screen for a good couple of minutes now, and you’re not even allowed to fly the jet.
More often that not though, you’re just shooting men. Over and over. So many men. And yes, this is a shooter but what I didn’t really expect from a game whose main draw is large environments and destructible scenery is for it to be not much more than just a shooter. The normal criticisms of whack-a-mole and endless respawning enemies apply, which in a franchise that’s so deeply embeded into the PC community makes for a a disappointing experience. I’m not expecting ARMA, but maybe leaning a bit more towards the latest Flashpoints (flawed as they were) might have helped because here, you’re an actor playing by a script and not much more.
And you are following a script – a very detailed one – always and to the letter. What’s most frustrating is when Battlefield teases with choice, either with story direction or general shooting. There’s a point, for example, where you’re directly faced with a moral choice – follow bad orders or kill your squad leader – and just when you’re mulling it over: “well, this is a bad situation but he’s my offi-” NOPE. Fade to black, choice made for you. Sorry, we don’t care what you think. And in the rare situations where you’re given some space to manoeuvre in for killing men, you have to follow that blue position marker exactly or risk not triggering a “progress now please” point.
Generally, then, it’s fine. I can blow through one of these types of thing once a year and not really be offended – it’s the summer blockbuster of games – but it’s just a shame that this isn’t something more. If DICE just laid off a bit on telling you exactly what to do and making progress conditions so specific then I really wouldn’t mind an extension of this. Maybe the ability to open doors by yourself would be nice too, and instant fails for going off the path removed. Basically, it needs to not follow that super scripted CoD forumla so strictly because it’s clear that DICE can tell a crap Tom Clancy story quite well, they know how to make you feel like an 8 year old, and they know how to make guns feel just right.