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Modern Warfare 3 versus Battlefield 3. It's the new fanboy war du jour. Both games have their supporters, and both sides will go at the opposing game's throat like a rabid vampire wolverine at the mere mention of its title. And frankly, now that both games are out, that needs to stop.
So having respectively reviewed MW3 and BF3, Charlie Barratt and I have decided to finish the argument once and for all. We've played through both games. We've discussed each game's strengths and flaws at length for several days. And now, in conference with Mr. Barratt, I have produced this feature summing up our collective feelings. You'll find no apologist arguments here. You'll find no excuses. You'll just find the experiences comparatively celebrated and lambasted as they deserve, warts and all. Want to know what we concluded? Read on.
Modern Warfare 3
A fast drum beat is exciting. An even faster drum beat is technically impressive. But when a drum beat becomes even faster than that, it turns into one long droning note. Modern Warfare 3, although consistently exhilarating, falls somewhat towards the end of that scale at times. How you feel about that will come down to how you feel about big, glossy, summer action movies. This game knows that its audience wants fast thrills delivered at an insane rate - thus, the pacing of nearly every level is now utterly relentless. Billions of easy-to-kill enemies pour onto the screen from every corner. You usually don’t go for more than two seconds at a time without killing someone, and when you do, it’s only because a stupendously large - often stunningly-realised - set-piece is exploding around you. Every level basically plays like the most frantically full-on part of the last level of any of other game, so frenetically so that at times it actually feels more like an old-school Doom or a Serious Sam than the recent CoDs.
It might be somewhat moronic, but at least it’s gleefully moronic, smashing you so hard and so fast in the face with the adrenaline hammer that you’re too constantly wired to stop to think or care about anything outside of what you're currently doing. It's still CoD of course, but it's a super-charged Turbo Edition. That said, the level design now frequently has a rather different, improved feel, the barely-disguised tunnels of previous games now replaced by many more multi-leveled optional routes and opportunities for flanking. It’s actually somewhat less of a shooting gallery than CoD has been lately, even threatening to feel more like a free-flowing FPS at times. It’s like eating a giant bag of candyfloss in one sitting. An exciting, desperately giddy pleasure at the time, but not terribly nourishing long-term and liable to make you feel a bit woozy afterwards. And it's doubtful you'll want to go back and do it again. It’s vacuously exciting, and if that does it for you then you'll have a great time. Though don't expect to remember much bar the stand-out set-pieces in any great detail by the end.
Where Modern Warfare 3’s campaign gameplay is gleefully moronic, Battlefield 3’s is just moronic. Futilely trying way too hard to emulate well-known Call of Duty tropes which its rival has, ironically, evolved away from slightly in its latest entry, the combination of insanely rigid scripting, clairvoyant, overly aggressive AI and a total disregard for the player’s involvement make Battlefield 3’s campaign an utterly indefensible misery. Managing that rare balance of being both boring and infuriating at the same time, it’s a master-class in hackneyed linearity and non-interactive pseudo-drama.
It has a couple of stand-out moments that feel like its own. The North-by-Northwest-inspired plane attack towards the end is rather good, as are the semi-free-roaming tank bit and the obligatory night-vision sniping section. But overall, Battlefield 3’s campaign is a big pile of potentially cool ideas bludgeoned to death by disregard of player input and a whole load of sloppy, buggy, bargain bin execution. Imagine being forced to do a Rubik’s Cube underwater with oven gloves on, while being repeatedly shouted at and punched in the face, and stopped and tied up every time it looked like you might be getting somewhere rewarding. That’s basically Battlefield 3’s campaign. It's bad. Don't play it.
WINNER: Modern Warfare 3
Modern Warfare 3
Like most things in MW3, multiplayer is essentially a highly-focused distillation of everything that has previously proved successful for the series. It’s fast, it’s punchy, it’s instantly gratifying on a second-by-second basis. And from the time we’ve put in so far, it seems one of the tightest, slickest iterations yet. Our favourite improvement? The ability to set up streak rewards for support play rather than just the simple hunt for a high K/D ratio. Not only does this finally acknowledge and reward players below the 1337est of the 1337, it also shifts the emphasis of CoD’s multiplayer away from simple brute aggression and will (hopefully) pave the way for a more thoughtful overall game in the future. Similarly, the rather excellent game analysis feature of the Call of Duty Elite service could help casual player just as much as hardcore Prestige-whore.
On top of that addition, the total line-up of game modes is now a rather excellent package, turning CoD’s core shooting mechanics into an eclectic spread of quirky, radically different themed experiences. New addition Kill Confirmed is rather a fast and frantic hoot, and the Private Match pre-sets for custom games like Infection and One in the Chamber really emphasise MW3’s predilection for witty, arcadey fun over the more serious multiplayer offerings of old. That said, the core shooting really has not evolved, so don't expect anything particularly fresh in that area, despite the multitudinous forms it now comes in.
Make no mistake about it. In terms of depth, intelligence, camaraderie, emergent, minute-to-minute variety and the sheer, gratifying sense of the importance of your actions, Battlefield 3 is miles ahead of any other multiplayer shooter on the market. There’s a reason that BF was a resolutely MP game for years. Its multiplayer is so vast, so full of content, so packed with things to do, tactics to master, and dynamic, organic, purely player-driven spectacle that it really is a full-sized game in its own right. It’s what you really buy when you pick up a box with the word Battlefield on the front. Everything else is just window dressing.
The best way to describe BF3 multiplayer is as an ecosystem. With more possible weapon and equipment variations within each of its four classes than many shooters have within their entireties, the actions available to a player and the differences each can make to the evolving shape of an overall battle are boggling in scope. Make the right shot in the right place, kill or repair the right tank, airlift or resuscitate the right guy, and you can tip the whole war. Snipers attack and defend ground troops. Ground troops support and maintain each other and their vehicles. Ground vehicles bully the hell out of enemy objectives, while air vehicles survey and reshape the whole warzone from above (including taking out those snipers). Battlefield fights are long, drawn out, and as intensive on the brain as they are on the trigger finger. What they never are though, is anything less than thrilling, unpredictable, and deeply, deeply satisfying on an epic scale few games ever match.
WINNER: Battlefield 3
Next: Who's best at co-op, looks and innovation?
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