Review: Battlefield 3 (PC)

The beta is over, the release is here, but is this game worth your time?

A few weeks back, I made an ongoing post about the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the Battlefield 3 PC beta.  Well, now that we’re seeing the live retail version of the game, it’s time to take another look and see what was improved, and what was not – Electronic Arts and DICE promised some changes were already set, so let’s take a look and see how things pan out.  Since I already had the prior review, we’ll go through this bit by bit and compare the Beta to what we can play now.

#1, the Origin and BattleLog services.

Beta: I had a lot of criticisms for both services, but my true ire was reserved for BattleLog.  The service had a large number of bugs with matchmaking, and at times it actually prevented you from entering a game unless you closed it entirely.  The service also rarely seemed to update server statistics correctly, as joining a server with open slots listed would almost always tell you the server was full.  Since it’s the first thing you will see before you enter the game, we’ll start with this.

Retail: Going into the full version, I had high hopes that EA and DICE would learn from the Beta, and improve the service.  Sadly, this has not been the case: server selection is still a shoddy process, and joining “non-full” servers often gives you errors that there are no slots (since the number of players didn’t update).  There is a party system, which would be a great thing for friends, if it actually worked correctly.  It seems to have problems with any party over 2 players, and even then is hit-or-miss.  More often, we would let one person join a server, then join directly onto them as friends, but even that didn’t work.  Half the time, BattleLog could not find them when we tried to join, and we had to instead find their server and join that manually.  In many ways, the BattleLog system actually works less than it did in Beta, which I don’t understand; my new “favorite” bug is the random habit it has of me joining a multiplayer server, and having BattleLog instead open the single player/co-operative campaign mode instead.

#2, the in-game menu system:

Beta: Because Battlefield 3 runs directly from the web-based BattleLog, that means you could not enter the menu until you were in-game; even worse, during the beta, you could not pull up the menu in the deploy screen!  This meant you had to appear and possibly come under fire before you could even do simple tasks such as modifying the controls, or changing basic game settings.  As the beta ended, we were promised that a new menu option (usable before deploying/during deploy) would be present.

Retail: Battlefield 3 did come through on one thing, you can indeed get into the menus from the deploy screen.  While this solves the initial problem of having to rebind your keys while possibly under fire, it adds an annoyance: you still can’t do it before either entering a multiplayer server, or the campaign before playing.  Had EA and DICE simply added a menu system into the game like every shooter that’s ever come out, they could have avoided this annoyance.  As I look at it more and more, I honestly look at BattleLog as the brainchild of some executive that was given to the development team, who protested it as foolishness, only to be told “do it or you are fired.”  It seems a likely explanation.

#3, in-game bugs:

Beta: There were a lot of these that showed up, but here’s the short list: players could fall through the map or crawl under it and shoot people through the ground, some players would become distorted while prone and sport stretched necks and creepy firing animations, some players would be seen as corpses while moving around – the only way to kill them would be to find where the corpse graphic was and shoot it (the player would often be elsewhere), corpses would occasionally fire into the horizon as if they had a rocket pack strapped to them, vehicles would occasionally become stuck and flip before either exploding or shooting into the air with brilliant amounts of force.  I’m sure there are others, but this list is getting long.  Let’s see how many of these I could find in the retail version.

Retail: This is the big one, the possible deal breaker for this game, but thankfully after what is probably an unhealthy set of marathon play sessions, I was unable to find any of the major bugs that were present during the beta.  All of the weapons and attachments seemed to work fine, texture glitches were nonexistent, and I have yet to see players falling through the map.  There are a couple of locations that could use a patch (there are some areas where you could back in to a wall to the point where only your gun shows, but still be able to fire out), but by and large, everything looks great!  This note, more than anything else about the game, puts me in a great mood.

It is not all butterflies and rainbows, however, as some of the untested content is showing some very real problems, specifically with the Tehran Highway map.  While some servers may experience lag spikes that can be forgiven, this particular map has at least one of two problems: it either draws too heavily from system resources on the servers, or the coding of the map has errors which create serious latency issues.  Regardless of what server I’ve played on, how many players are in-game, or what game type we are in, the Tehran Highway map suffers from massive lag spikes and is often nearly unplayable.  The best round played on that map, I spent over 45 seconds trying to move from the same spot, and being warped back to it over and over again, so DICE definitely has some work to do.

#4, does PunkBuster help with the cheating at all?

Beta: Let’s be honest, there were some extremely blatant hackers even in the BF3 beta; I saw one with a 7100:1 kill-death ratio, another with a personal score of over seven million and only two hours of playtime; BattleLog’s leaderboard made it easy to find them and point them out.  There were also reports of non-standard servers adding some confusion, those servers made it so one kill instantly ranked someone up to the maximum beta rank, and awarded millions of points as well.  During all of this, PunkBuster was inactive, so it will be interesting to see how things look when the game goes live.  Honestly, I’m going into this one without much hope, since every shooter seems to get some hackers eventually, and PunkBuster never really seemed to make the difference back in CounterStrike.

Retail: Sadly, the realm of online hacking remains a constant thing in the shooter genre, it didn’t take long to find the cheating players.  Luckily, I didn’t even have to encounter them in-game, however the BattleLog service already shows two players on the leaderboards such as “therussian59″ who managed to amass a score of 3,347,210 and 12,997 kills with a total of 22 minutes of playtime.  That said, it took almost no effort to pick up on who was cheating by using the leaderboards, as somehow I doubt that there are any players who could actually achieve a killstreak of over 10,000 without a single death.  Hopefully, we won’t have the dubious pleasure of meeting these particular players.  I can’t say I’m surprised at this, unfortunately: hacking has become a part of online gaming, so the legitimate players must simply grit our teeth and move on.

#5, what is the overall game score?

Beta: I gave two game scores when everything was said and done: the game itself received a 8.5, while the game’s score including Origin and BattleLog received a 7.5 score.  With all of the changes made during the beta, both of those scores got a boost from my original assessment, but how does the full game pan out?

Retail: We’ll match this up the same way with two scores:
Battlefield 3 (just the game): 8.5
Battlefield 3, Origin, and BattleLog together: 7.0

In the end, the scores actually went slightly down; I still feel that the core Battlefield game is strong, and worth playing; once I get into a server, I enjoy myself immensely, which is the point.  However, the BattleLog service is a god awful, barely working system that was clearly cobbled together by a combination of wishful thinking, and a desperate need of some executive to do something “original and edgy” with the game system that, inevitably, didn’t pan out.  I’m aware that it’s not going to go away, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

Still, compared with the competition, Battlefield 3 is a very strong title: with recent announcements of Modern Warfare 3 featuring dedicated servers as unranked servers only, many among the PC gaming community have expressed their ire (and I know more than one who cancelled their pre-orders of the game).  With a few patches, DICE can at least fix the minor problems in the core game itself, and then all we have to do is put up with BattleLog.

Durandal sits with his LMG 88 and an infrared scope, an ammo pack, and a mortar.  He reminds you that you are welcome to walk towards him at any time, but he will shoot you.

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