Two Halves of a Trick Coin
HIGH Driving a tank, running into an enemy tank, frantically trying to shoot each other, and then getting out and destroying both tanks with rockets.
LOW I have to launch the game through a web page? Is this 1998?
WTF OH MY GOD GUYS COME LOOK I'M FLYING THE HELICOPTER I'M SO COOL *crash*
A game being split between a dedicated single-player and multiplayer experience is not new. In fact, it's becoming the standard if the previews of Mass Effect 3 are any indication. The problem with this approach is that usually one side of the experience suffers at the expense of the other. As examples, Metroid Prime 2's multiplayer was infamously shoehorned in where it was clearly not needed, but the single-player was still good, if a little lackluster. The campaign in Halo 3 was woefully short and unsubstantial, but the multiplayer was top notch.
Battlefield 3 falls into Halo 3's multi-heavy camp, and thus it presents an interesting dilemma in game evaluation: here we halve two wildly different games in one package. One half is a linear, droning single-player campaign that fails to stand out in any real way. The other half is a massive multiplayer romp that, while not particularly innovative, is still a blast for anyone who enjoys team-based online first-person shooters (FPSs). Is it fair to evaluate both halves together as one game?
I think so. If a game is going to be packaged as one product, then it must be evaluated as one product.
The single-player game is, as I said, a linear slog. Just like countless others in its genre (Homefront, Call of Duty: Black Ops, etc.) the campaign is a simple point to point journey interspersed with shooting and explosions. There is little to say about it, other than when playing I was constantly questioning why it existed. Run to the objective marker, shoot the thing/things in my way, run to the next objective marker. Repeat step three until finished.
Honestly, Battlefield would be better served by a freely accessible set of tutorial missions instead of having this sort of single player mode. Being able to practice things like basic tactics, learning the differences between the classes, and above all else, grasping how to fly the helicopter would have been extremely welcome. Instead, I was forced to find a newb practice server and just stand around waiting until the helicopters and jets respawned.
In contrast, the multiplayer is exactly what one would expect, which is a good thing. Taking part in a 64-player game of Rush was a great time, even without any kind of tutorial I found myself picking up the nuances of the game within a reasonable period. I stuck primarily with the Engineer class (which should not be a surprise given my Team Fortress 2 habits) and sticking to my role of healing the tanks and blasting rockets every which way. It's clear that Battlefield 3's multiplayer was the focus during development, and in this regard I enjoyed myself without question, even with the twitchy helicopter.
The PC is obviously the ideal platform for Battlefield 3, as dedicated servers and support for such a large amount of players would be impossible on a console platform. However, while I had some great sessions once I got into a game, the process of finding a game is far more troublesome than it should be.
In order to do anything online, players must use the Battlelog, a web-based interface for joining games and maintaining a friends list. The Battlelog is a pain to use, as simple things like adding someone to my friends list, setting up voice chat, or even just browsing for a server are hidden within a mess of unnecessary pages. It's mind-boggling to me why they chose to do something like this instead of having a simpler in-game system to handle it, because in the age of sleek infrastructure systems like Steam and Battle.net, this kind of mess is totally inexcusable.
I enjoyed my time with Battlefield 3's multiplayer, and I wish my thoughts about the game could end there. Unfortunately it also tried to force a totally unnecessary single-player game on me, and the browser interface looks like it came straight out of the 90s. It's a shame that the developers couldn't realize which half of their game was the better one, since ditching the single-player in favor of ironing out the problems with multiplayer might have resulted in something truly epic.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 2 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (not completed) and 5 hours of play in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, intense violence and strong language. The level of violence and cursing is about on par with what once could expect in an average war movie, so kids should probably be kept away.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should be fine, mostly. The screen is rife with visual aids and audio isn't a major gameplay factor. However, if you try to play multiplayer in hardcore mode (where visual aids are at a minimum) you will likely have some problems since you'll be far more reliant on sound in that situation.