The anticipation leading up to the release of Battlefield 3 has been steep. Since Battlefield 2 debuted in 2005 there have been eight Battlefield branded titles released, not one of them was Battlefield 3. Now in 2011, the series that raised the bar with 64 man battles is in its third official edition and the message is clear: Don't fix what isn't broken...lately
First thing you may notice is an entire second disc of game in your case, containing the single player campaign. One of the more popular sentiments regarding Battlefield is "Why include a single player at all?" Battlefield is about multi-player, large scale multi-player at that, but Battlefield 3 strives through an entire disc to stack up to the modern warfare (lower case) games currently available in terms of visual storytelling. Unfortunately it gets more of a "nice try, thanks for playing", rather than raising the bar. The single player was a bug riddled adventure through looping/game-crashing loading screens, teleporting AI, sound glitches and more. The story is yet another interrogation-based "play through the back story" game (Dragon Age 2, Call of Duty Black Ops, Prototype...), but this one reads a little more derivatively. The many Quick-Time-Events strewn throughout the story to help facilitate the non-shooting action are very poorly put together*, and the plot just fails to take any chances. Slight spoiler, but most of the good guys are dead by the end of the game and even the final scene is a major downer. There's no real sense of personal victory at all at the end of it all and so the campaign is just not enough to attract even campaign-only players to the table.
*Side rant: During the final QTE of the game, if you miss one of about a dozen, fast-timing inputs you fail immediately and are killed, forced to sit through another loading screen. However, you can miss the final input of the game and it will pass you no problem. Bad form. For lessons in QTEs see From Software's Ninja Blade. Load fast from a failure, and give the player a cue..
Onto the meat of the sandwich, Battlefield 3's Frostbite 2 engine is amazing. In single-player level design holds back the full power of this great tool, but in multiplayer there's no shortage of jawdropping effects to enjoy. The laser beams from snipers in your vision is a great touch both to balance gameplay and for look and feel, while systematically destroying the whole building the sniper is in is both accessible and satisfying. When being fired on the new supression system blurs your vision, numbs your hearing and messes with your accuracy, adding a new level of intensity to close quarters combat. Vehicles such as tanks, jets and choppers dot the map. Devlish though they are to control, they are one of the main draws to the Battlefield style of game. Nothing beats picking up a squad from the spawn, delivering them to a drop point as they rain hell on enemies in the LZ, and doing it all again. Good luck dealing with greedy teammates however, as most of the good vehicles go fast and the good pilots keep them.
The four staple classes (Assault, Medic, Recon, Support) have all been given slight facelifts, with new equipment like the tactical light, bipods and the radio beacon rounding out the arsenal. The game modes now include Team Deathmatch (finally), but outside of this and the previously mentioned changes Battlefield 3 feels a lot like Battlefield Bad Company 2. "Don't fix what isn't broken," is definitely in action here, and to good effect. The co-op campaign is a great distraction from the solid multi-player, but you'll probably have more fun sticking with the traditional Conquest and Rush modes. For those not familiar with Battlefield, the pace of single player can sometimes be a little trying (Run for half a mile, get blown away in seconds. Rinse, repeat).
On a personal note: this reviewer greatly misses the 64 player battles of the franchises PC heyday. If those massive fights, and the Commander class made a return in the next console update, Battlefield would realize its maximum potential. Those were two key bullet points that should never have been toned down/removed from the core of the game.
It's the season for multi-player, and Battlefield just makes it over the bar. Ignoring the campaign all together it's an attractive package to compete with the Modern Warfaring crowd, though the slow pace might turn off those who aren't already familiar with Battlefield-type game play. Battlefield is about working with your squad as a team, as having each other's back is a necessity towards playing effectively. Modern Warfare, in contrast, is about the lone wolf soldier, maximing personal potential. Depending on the type of experience you want, pick the right game to play. If you want large scale maps, vehicles, medium-paced battles and the best looking multi-player engine available to date, it's definitely Battlefield 3. But if you don't have Xbox Live... you should probably hold out instead.
The reviwer bought his own copy of Battlefield 3 for the Xbox 360, played the entire single player campaign, half of the available co-operative missions, and several hours of multiplayer. It was developed by EA DICE, and published by EA.