Electronic Arts and DICE have managed to pigeon hole themselves into a little problem. For years, the Battlefield franchise has built a reputation for large scale battles and scenarios that rewarded teamwork. That and the series also allowed you to pilot tanks and planes. It was a successful formula, but one area that Battlefield was known to completely avoid was the single player aspect, something that rival Call of Duty built their franchise upon (with a very stout competitive multiplayer included).
Between the recent success of Call of Duty, the decline of the Medal of Honor franchise and Battlefield’s nearly non-existent campaign, EA sought to at least emulate the success that Call of Duty possessed.
Two things happened: The first, DICE created the Bad Company spin-off, a Battlefield title that had the same amount of open-world exploration that the series had become known for, but contained a rich (and comedic) story that was one of the most enjoyable single player campaigns in recent years.
Second, EA rebooted the Medal of Honor series to focus on the modern era and contain true-to-life scenarios focusing on the Middle East. While sharply executed and ultimately a solid title, the MoH reboot felt too short and almost soul-less.
With Battlefield 3, one might hope the two ends of the spectrum would meet a sound accord. But somewhere along the line, the campaign chemistry went astray. What should have been a perfect combination of the lively script writing of Bad Company and the intense combat sequences of Medal of Honor became everything but.
During the cinematics used to set up the story between missions, the main character, Sgt. Blackburn, is being interrogated by two agency men. In these sequences he has a developed character, attitude and is extremely chatty. Yet come campaign time, Blackburn and every single player controlled character, never utter a word.
This itself isn’t a deal breaker, but early on in the campaign you are constantly told to just follow a squadmate. In fact, if you don’t follow a squadmate and run ahead, the mission threatens to fail. If you’re not close enough to a squadmate, mission sequences don’t trigger. Battlefield constantly removes control from the player and places the story in a orchestrated series of events as dictated by how closely you follow orders.
Restricting where the player can go is essentially asking you to play the game as a spectator in an on-rails shooter. Between the excessive following and gratuitous Quick Time Elements, you might forget that you’re playing an FPS.
Ultimately, Battlefield as a single player experience is not horrible, it just could have been so much better. I found myself enjoying the campaign as I came to terms with the shortcomings of the system. In the end the missions were well thought out and played pretty tight. At the campaign’s conclusion, I was actually enjoying the story and felt satisfied at the end.
DICE is a studio that has done so many things right over the past decade, it is hard to root against them. But really, the single player campaign left a bit to be desired following their success with Bad Company and the surmounting expectations surrounding its inclusion.
7/10 Exceptional at times, but hampered by questionable design choices and awkward presentation.