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Battlefield 3: Limited Edition
Score: 96%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Digitial Illusions (DICE)
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 24 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Battlefield 3 introduces Frostbite 2, DICE's new engine, and it's a real looker. It's not as big a visual jump as the one between Bad Company and Bad Company 2, but it's still a great-looking game. The chaos of the battlefield is not always constant; this ensures that every time something huge happens, you're in a state of shock and awe. It's really something when your squad is trying to make a stealthy approach to a capture point or an M-COM station only to be violently interrupted by the sudden combustion of an enormous fuel tank. DICE has the explosion down to an art form. Grenades sound mean enough, but tanks and aircraft go out with bangs that make the immediate area tremble. The highly-touted destructible environments may not be as all-encompassing as many have hoped, but watching tons of concrete spill onto the ground after a stray RPG blast is still dangerously thrilling. The interface is smooth and high tech, featuring a silky smooth neon blue HUD that is rewarding in and of itself, regardless of whether or not it's informing you of the points that are cascading into your persistent multiplayer experience bank.

Battlefield 3 features technologically sound audio design, but more importantly, it's smartly-designed. The quiet moments are full of intensity, and the near-silence is almost pronounced. The rustling of equipment and the deliberate footfalls of you and your allies is all you hear, but it's what you don't hear that is unnerving. When everything finally goes down, it does so with wild abandon, often resulting in a total sensory overload. Explosions sound as horrifically violent as they are, but each nearby blast induces temporary deafness within a split second. The soundtrack is odd, but great nonetheless. Most of the original stuff is heavily distorted techno that sounds like it's being blared out of a busted stereo. Believe it or not, it works. The music has an interesting way of bleeding in towards the end of each match, and it gets louder and more intense as the final kill or M-COM destruction approaches. And your fellow Marines have great taste in music; if you need proof, play the campaign for about ten minutes and don't even try to fight back a smile when they start playing Johnny Cash's version of "God's Gonna Cut You Down."

If you don't play online, close this window and forget about Battlefield 3; it simply was not made with offline gamers in mind. That doesn't stop it from featuring a campaign of its own. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 featured a thrilling campaign with a cast of colorful, endearing characters. So it's with a heavy heart that I confess that Battlefield 3's single player experience is drab and dour by comparison. It may be more plausible than most Call of Duty games, but it is far less entertaining. I can only imagine what this game could have been if the resources spent on the single player had been applied elsewhere.

Battlefield 3 features six two-player cooperative missions that offer a change of pace from the single player campaign and offer you the chance to unlock extra weapons in multiplayer. It's decent, but more missions and better objectives would have made this mode a better sell.

Okay, we're out of the woods. "So," you may be asking, "how can a game have a subpar single player component and a somewhat underdeveloped cooperative mode and still earn a place among the Top Picks?" The answer is simple: when the game's competitive multiplayer component is so incredible that it forces the rest of the game's shortcomings to the very back of your mind. Battlefield 3 manages to do just that with a competitive suite that is clearly playing for keeps. It easily bests its current competition, but I can't ascertain whether it will outclass its primary target; as of this writing, that game has not yet found its way to store shelves. What I can say is this: Battlefield 3 offers such a distinct and electrifying brand of online warfare that everyone with even a passing interest in competitive play should immediately make it their next purchase.

Battlefield 3 doesn't really bother with new modes outside of the cooperative two-player missions, but this sequel is all about tweaks and refinement. It shows, too.

Classic Battlefield gameplay at its finest. That's Battlefield 3 for you. Over the years, this franchise has built two star players from the ground up: Conquest and Rush. Sure, you can partake in a little Deathmatch, but it's nothing special compared to Battlefield 3's bread and butter.

Conquest is as old-school as Battlefield gets, and it's very well-represented here. A number of capture points are strewn about the map, and both teams must vie for control of these points. The team that controls the fewest number of control points bleeds reinforcement tickets (respawns) at an uncontrollable rate.

Rush charges one team with the preservation of a pair of M-COM stations. The other team must destroy them. When both are destroyed, the defending team falls back to a new base of operations with a new set of M-COM stations while the attacking team conquers the recently fallen base. Rinse and repeat with new environmental features, and you've got a recipe for strategic shooter success.

Map design is great on some modes and fundamentally flawed on others. For example, Operation Métro's outside portions make for a superb game of Conquest, while the subway portions contain too many chokepoints to result in anything more than spawn camping, especially in Rush. Caspian Border is an amazing Conquest map, but it's a bit too open-ended for Rush. My personal favorite map is Damavand Peak; it's efficient as both a Conquest and a Rush map due to the availability of helicopters that can be a formidable presence in both of the outdoor capture points. And if you're playing Rush on Damavand Peak as an attacker, you have the option to BASE jump off the first AO's helipad.

Battlefield 3's campaign features a handful of difficulty levels, each of which is right on the money, at least as advertised. The challenging part is sticking with the campaign to the end before diving right back into the online component.

If you haven't played a Battlefield game and are instead used to twitch shooters like Halo or Call of Duty, prepare to die. A lot. If you don't have your thinking cap on and fail to communicate with your teammates, the legion of longtime Battlefield veterans will notice and capitalize. Most online shooters feature the killing of enemy soldiers as a secondary objective, not the primary objective. Indeed, it's completely possible for the player who wins the MVP Ribbon at the end of each round to have few to no kills at all. This may turn some shooter fans off, but they are the ones who will miss out. Plus, this is an honest and commendable approach: there are countless ways to make an impact on the war effort. A pair of defibrillator pads has the potential to earn a player just as many points as an AK-47.

Game Mechanics:
Battlefield 3 doesn't play like most online shooters; that is, other shooters that aren't Battlefield games. However, it plays it relatively safe in terms of the franchise.

If you haven't played a Battlefield game, here's where EA's flagship shooter franchise distinguishes itself from the pack. It features some twitch shooting, but make no mistake: this shooter is primarily concerned with squad tactics and on the fly strategizing. The multiplayer maps are several times as big as most of what you see in your average Call of Duty game, so placement is equally as important as twitch skills. Team tactics are an absolute must, so make sure you squad up with a group of friends you trust. After all, you can respawn behind any active squadmate of your choosing when you die.

Customizable classes may be everywhere when it comes to the shooter genre, but Battlefield 3 (and all other Battlefield games for that matter) places a lot of emphasis on its class system. And for good reason; classes determine more than just your weapon selection and chosen perks. In this game, classes govern abilities. The Assault class doubles as a medic capable of distributing health packs and reviving fallen teammates. The Engineer can work towards the destruction of enemy vehicles as well as the preservation of friendly ones. The Support class favors machine guns and distributable ammo boxes. Gamers who run Recon tend to snipe and deploy spawn beacons. Getting kills and avoiding death is only part of the grand plan; if you play your class efficiently to the benefit of the entire team, you will be rewarded far more than the lone wolves who are only in it for personal glory.

Speaking of rewards, Battlefield 3 is chock full of them. The online multiplayer features a number of lengthy unlock trees that shower you with new gadgets, upgrades, and weapons as you earn experience with each class kit. The more you use a particular weapon, the more add-ons you will unlock; this goes a long way in encouraging players to explore the game's undeniably massive arsenal. And let's not forget that classic drive to keep leveling up, which drives your multiplayer profile forward.

Many abilities may only be class-exclusive, but all soldiers are qualified drivers and pilots. Trucks, jeeps, APCs, tanks, attack helicopters, fighter jets, you name it. If you can imagine a certain vehicle (within reason) being used for warfare, the chances are high that you'll find some variant of it in Battlefield 3. Vehicles level up as you earn experience using them, and each of them has their own upgrade tree. But be careful: a highly-skilled Engineer (like yours truly) is more than capable of bringing down any of these implements of destruction in a very small amount of time. If you find yourself faced with a team of Engineers, abandon all hope. You can't win... unless you have your own team of Engineers ready to repair your vehicle and defend themselves at the same time.

If you reserved or made an early purchase of Battlefield 3, you probably found yourself in possession of the Limited Edition. Granted, most retailers still carry this version and sell it to walk-ins, so if you haven't done so, be sure to act fast. Battlefield 3: Limited Edition includes free access to the soon-to-be-released Back to Karkand Expansion Pack. Details are admittedly scarce on this upcoming addition, but we can tell you now that it will include four classic maps, three extra vehicles, and a slew of new weapons to play around with.

In the end, Battlefield 3 doesn't feel like a complete package. All of its components are of markedly different quality. However, the most important of those components is so consistently rewarding, engaging, and exciting that its missteps are easily forgiven. When it comes to online warfare, Battlefield 3 is peerless.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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