Comparing Call Of Duty with Battlefield is like comparing Fuji apples and Braeburn apples. The differences are subtle, and preference is a matter of taste. Battlefield 3’s core differentiator is vehicles. The military shooter’s campaign and online firefights allow players to pilot tanks, jet fighters, and boats into battle. Heavy armor adds a level of chaos and unpredictability to multiplayer matches. And when you’re hunkered down behind a rock with cannon fire raining down on you, it might even feel a little unfair. But Battlefield 3 gives players the tools to claw their way out of any hole. Aircraft are countered with surface-to-air missiles, tanks with landmines and C-4. These David-vs.-Goliath pairings can be extremely satisfying when you’re the little guy who prevails.
Battlefield 3’s best online battles favor organized, team-based play. Soldiers are encouraged to stay on task, help their teammates, and stick together. And for doing so, they’re rewarded with a tantalizing series of upgrades to their weapons, rank, and gadgets. Subtle play tweaks, such as the ability to go prone, may favor snipers in the long run—especially those who take advantage of glitches and are able to hide parts of their bodies in walls and rocks. But for now, the change seems to encourage smart play. Those who don’t want to get shot don’t charge into the open.
The game’s launch was marred by crowded servers and a matchmaking system that fails more than it connects. Wisely, Battlefield 3 offers an option to browse servers manually, allowing players to queue for games that are less likely to fill up. Its hard to shake the sense that in the rush to beat Modern Warfare 3 to store shelves, Battlefield 3 came out of the oven a little undercooked.
Particularly gooey is the single-player campaign—a thin, linear, trite (even by military-shooter standards) thriller that imagines a plot by rogue Russian and Iranian terrorists to nuke Paris and New York. A lousy framing device means that much of the plot is told by way of lame interrogation. And much of the action takes place in Iran after an earthquake—which feels like a cheap shortcut around delivering a vivid recreation of Tehran. Of course, all nitpicks around Battlefield 3’s single-player content are just that. Online, where it counts for games of this ilk, Battlefield 3 is big, taut, and hard to walk away from. Unless, that is, you prefer the slightly different flavor of Modern Warfare.