Ok! Before I begin, you are probably wondering why the heck it took ages to get this game review out! I mean, Battlefield 3 has been out for MONTHS! It’s been hyped, played, patched – where the heck was MTBS’ review during all this time? We had a very good reason to hold off which will be explained later in the review.
In today’s article, we will give an in-depth review of Battlefield 3, it’s Return to Karkland expansion pack, and of course its stereoscopic 3D gaming support. More than that, given our obvious tardiness, I’m hoping this will serve as a guide on how to quickly progress through the game, and not get held back by repeating my noob mistakes!
Battlefield 3 has a long history behind it. I regularly credit Battlefield 1942 and the original Battlefield as my first real experiences with stereoscopic 3D gaming, and I have looked forward to expansions to the franchise ever since.
Unlike the original Battlefield which was strictly a multiplayer game, BF3 has both a single player component as well as a cooperative (and adversarial) multiplayer component.
Single Player Review
The single player campaign takes place in 2014, and you usually play Sargeant Blackburn who begins the game leading a platoon in Iraq. What begins as a simple mission quickly unfolds into a hunt for missing nuclear warheads held by terrorists around the world, and a chance to wage battle with all of man’s nasty toys.
The first impression I walked away with during the campaign was that the graphics quality is amazing. It was really exhilarating to see the buildings crumble and explode during actual game play (not cinematics), and the image quality is definitely generations ahead of the original Battlefield.
My favorite parts of the game were the vehicle rides like flying a jet and blasting away in a tank. In fact, I would have liked to see more of this as part of the game’s regular fabric, rather than inserts to break up the first person shooter experience.
While the story itself was complicated (it was really hard to follow without the help of Wikipedia), the authenticity of going from one site to the next was beyond words.
For example, in one segment you need to nab a guy in Paris, and it opens up with you sitting in the back seat of a moving car. Having been there a few times, it struck me as being authentic.
While it’s plenty violent (like most every other first person shooter out there), it wasn’t twisted or gratuitous like the recent Call of Duty franchise releases. The campaign wasn’t as long as I expected it to be, and you could probably polish it off in a committed evening.
Multiplayer is the heart and soul of Battlefield 3. It features several modes of combat including conquest, rush, death match, and a new co-op play for a special campaign mode. The flagship choice is still “conquest” where teams race to control waypoints on a map, and cooperatively capture and defend them until they wear their enemies down. I would rank the Rush mode as the second most popular mode where you need blow up waypoints on the map until you defeat your enemy. There are also variations of certain modes (e.g. “Conquest Assault”), but it all comes down to you and your team working hard to control the map and bringing your enemies down to their knees.
Your team is comprised of different types of soldiers: assault, support, engineer, and recon. The Assault class is your run of the mill soldier who can eventually become a talented medic and resuscitate your downed comrades. Support is the dude with all the ammo to give away and the guns that spray bullets – though I don’t think his aim is quite as good as everyone else’s. The Engineer specializes in blowing vehicles up and fixing things when they’ve been dinged way too much.
On the surface, you’d think the game was the same as before, right? WRONG! When your character is born in Battlefield 3, even though it may seem that you are armed to the teeth, you really are quite naked. Your gun has a lousy scope, vehicles are clumsy and don’t have the kick you need them to, and let’s face it…you’re getting pawned!
While it may seem easy to earn points in Battlefield 3, it’s very challenging to earn the RIGHT points. Career points are the easiest to get and let you go up in rank and garner new weapons. So Assault gets lots of points for healing comrades, Support gets ammo sharing bonuses, Recon is great at spotting large groups of enemies and getting bonuses when they get killed off by your colleagues, and if Engineers were paid money, they’d be richer than the best sports car mechanic for repairing vehicles. As you advance, you get new gadgets that can help grow these point values even further.
So far so good! You’re getting better weapons and your rank is climbing. Why do you still suck at the game?!? The mistake I made was I didn’t stick to my guns…literally. When you get a new weapon, you need to take out a certain number of enemies before it gets upgraded. This is how you get things like laser sights, 12X scopes, bipods, spotlights, and more. If you don’t invest the time with each weapon, you’re going to feel underwhelmed with its benefits. Weapon upgrades aren’t transferrable, so the relationship to each gun will be a committed one!
The same goes for vehicles! Sure the tank rounds do a lot of damage, but wouldn’t you like to have a motion sensor to go with it? How about a turret gun with heavy rounds for incoming helicopters? Stick to your guns, and you will reap the rewards!
If you recall, I gave Battlefield Bad Company 2 a glowing review because it was loads of fun and really modernized the experience that first got me excited about the franchise. Battlefield 3 manages to take things up a notch or two with rich graphics, huge 64 player maps, and a well thought out game plan.
The first thing gamers will notice is that much of the environment is destructible. Whereas tank shells used to just create simulated or “implied” damage to buildings in the original Battlefield, things really blow up now. Parts of buildings can come crashing down, and you can break windows to get into rooms and pockets. I think Battlefield Bad Company 2 did a better job with the building destruction (remember the long squeak sound before the roof came down on you?), but this is still loads of fun.
One thing I missed seeing were artillery strikes. It used to be that the commander could call in air strikes to make the enemy scatter, and even recon had this ability in Bad Company 2. The closest I could find was using a SOFLAM device for recon to designate targets with. You can get a bonus for doing this, but it’s only useful if there is an engineer or tank nearby that can take advantage of the target lock. Regular soldiers can get an artillary weapon in BF3, but it’s not at the same level.
Battlefield 3’s maps are definitely more complex than what its predecessors offered. Whereas before you were limited to climbing up the side of a building or walking through doorways that never actually had doors, many structures now have windows you can break and climb through as well as stairways that can lead to three floors or more.
The map sizes are huge, and if you can grab hold of a vehicle to get from place to place, do it! My favorite maps are Operation Firestorm, Caspian Border, and Operation Metro. Operation Firestorm is neat because in addition to giving you a full arsenal of vehicles to choose from, it offers a little bit of everything including buildings, construction areas, and rough terrain.
Caspian Border is well suited for the sniper in all of us. It is filled with lush forests for hiding, and has some great hill tops with uneven rocks and boulders to get comfortable in. But don’t get TOO comfortable because you will end up stabbed in the back (literally) and have your dog tags snapped off your neck by a sneaking predator. It’s a jolting experience, I assure you!
Metro is the most important map of all, and I will explain why. Let me be the first to tell you that I truly suck at Battlefield 3. It’s not because I play in stereoscopic 3D or because my system is too slow to keep up – I just suck. After countless hours of shaking our home’s foundations with the warzone racket, I’m really not getting much better. In fact, if you see Enterfrize in the roster list, do yourself a favor and go to the other team!
Now, if you suck like me (and some of you will, I assure you), Metro will be the fastest and easiest way to climb the ranks. It takes place inside and outside a Paris subway station (a metro) and can have as many as 64 players. Why is this such a good thing, you ask? Well, if you have enough people crammed into a tight area, even if you are a bad shot like me…how can you miss?
I’ve mostly been playing as a sniper, so that is probably a big handicap for my score right there. You don’t have the best close to mid-range weapons, your semi-automatic guns don’t blast away like a basic machine gun, and you just can’t handle surprises very well. Metro is your salvation!
There are critical map areas where the enemy has to pass. The best are the escalators that people have to either climb up or climb down on. Get yourself situated where there is just a crack between the top stair and the space where you can see someone walking through. Keep an eye out with your sniper scope. When you see a leg or a head – BANG - you’ve got them! They won’t know where that nasty bullet came from either. This technique will probably work for the other classes too, though I think a head-on approach will reap faster rewards because you will have the weaponry for it.
For snipers, your next weapon of choice is the motion detector. This will detect enemy soldiers in your midst, and give you instant bonuses when any of your team members take them out. It’s the difference between making 1,000 points and 6,000 points per round. With everyone shooting at each other all packed together in a sardine can, you can’t go wrong!
While the other classes have similar methods for racking up the points, I think Sniper is the hardest class to play, and I think these ideas will be helpful.
Now it’s time for the big question. How is Battlefield 3 in stereoscopic 3D?!?
Stereoscopic 3D Support
Almost from the beginning, Battlefield 3 was promoted as having native stereoscopic 3D support. Since it’s first patch, it supports AMD HD3D and Nvidia’s 3D Vision options on PC. Here is a rundown of our findings, a really cool development, and the ramifications moving forward.
AMD 1090T 3.2Ghz Patriot DDR3 1333Ghz RAM Windows 7 64 Bit Samsung S23A750D 23" Monitor Catalyst 12.4
HD3D is AMD’s programming method for passing the left and right image to the display without any middleware or stereoscopic 3D drivers translating or mis-translating what the game is supposed to look like in S-3D form. In other words, the visual results are 100% the responsibility of the game developer.
I apologize in advance that I can’t share screenshots of the AMD HD3D results. HD3D is not compatible with FRAPS, and since it isn’t run through a stereoscopic 3D driver, it relies on game developers to allow 3D screenshot saves – which none do. It would be great if AMD could encourage this functionality as it would make our job a lot easier!
I expected a lot from Battlefield 3 because it was being well marketed as supporting 3D on multiple platforms, and DICE already had a great result with Battlefield Bad Company 2 on another platform. I was hoping for more of the same here, and it just didn’t happen.
The first issue is that Battlefield 3’s stereoscopic 3D rendering is reversed. Yes, right side on the left, and left side on the right! To fix this, I had to manually swap the images on my DisplayPort 3D monitor to force the correction. It’s troubling to think how many game reviewers didn’t know about this required fix.
The single player campaign had the toughest time. Some of the top bugs included weapon markers or flashing indicators only appearing in one eye instead of both, or alternately flashing between the left and right eye out of sync with the picture. There were even times where you would see personal damage appearing in just one eye or sparks that seemed to blink in the wrong eye at the wrong times.
The multiplayer component fared much better than single player, and first person mode looked reasonably good. Good enough that most of my Battlefield 3 gaming was done on my AMD machine. If you set things up properly, you can walk through bushes and have twigs peep out at you. The crosshair and nametags are rendered at the depth of the objects you are pointing to which was great to see, and I was able to get decent performance out of my mid-range 6870 GPU. My 7950 was clearly BETTER, but the 6870 was very playable in stereoscopic 3D mode.
While first person looked great, the moment you stepped into a tank or a jet, POOF! It’s a 2D world. This is frustrating because these are the scenes where 3D could be most exciting. The same thing happens after you die and you see a cut scene of your enemy (the @#^&! bastard) who killed you – flat as a pancake.
There are also remaining bugs where your personal damage doesn’t appear in both eyes correctly and certain imagery is missing or uneven.
As I said, most of my BF3 game play was based on AMD, so these bugs aren’t HUGE – just annoying.
Nvidia 3D Vision
Maingear X-Cube Intel Core I7 Processor 2.66GHZ 6GB RAM GTX 580, GTX 275 (PhysX) Windows 7 64 Bit NVIDIA 301.24 Stereo Driver ASUS VG278 27" 3D Display
Nvidia did a much better job with the single player campaign and things look pretty darn good. Nvidia also has the bug where personal damage doesn’t completely appear the way it should, but it’s a minor problem compared to the level faced with AMD’s HD3D. There is also a very minor bug that when you are in the menu system, special effects flash in one eye instead of both. These are insignificant bugs, though.
Another plus is that while this has nothing to do with the software, Battlefield 3 was easier to play on Nvidia’s branded 27” ASUS 278H monitor compared to the Samsung 23” S23A750D monitor on our AMD machine. There is so much going on in Battlefield 3 that it really helps when things are blown up on a big screen, and the warmer colors and contrast levels make it easier to pick out the game’s HUD features and warning indicators.
Granted, even though the Quality Assurance score is high, I am admittedly disappointed with the result on a subjective level. Battlefield Bad Company 2 was awesome in stereoscopic 3D. I’ve used it in demos and I always speak highly of it because it was just a fantastic showpiece for Nvidia and DDD. Similar to AMD HD3D, the first person perspective is good, but most vehicles and cut scenes are extremely flat. This just makes Battlefield 3 seem bland in comparison to Bad Company 2, and while Nvidia boasted their way through BF3 competitions on aircraft carriers, I think that the players only saw half of what true stereoscopic 3D gaming has to offer.
Ok, so why was this review held off you ask? My first reason was that Battlefield 3 gets patched regularly and I wanted to give EA time to get the game up to speed. For example, the convergence controls were added later because they didn’t have time in the first stereoscopic 3D patch to implement them. Similar to convergence, I just figured the bugs and setbacks would get fixed with enough patience, and I wanted to give BF3 the fair review it deserves. Months later, the improvements never came either because DICE wasn’t informed about what was needed, or they had other priorities in the game’s development.
The second reason was the time it took to solve things through an alternative method. I currently serve as Project Director for a government funded 3D gaming research initiative called iGO3D, and we will be holding a 3D gaming competition as part of our research.
Electronic Arts is one of our industry partners, and we firmly believe that Battlefield 3 would be a great game to use in the competition. We faced two major challenges, though. First, Battlefield 3’s native support doesn’t work with our lab’s Zalman 24” 3D displays and AMD GPUs. Problem two was that we needed this title spiced up before using it in a competition – we wanted more to be done to make it 3D Ready.
Dynamic Digital Depth came through for us in a big way with an updated driver and Battlefield 3 profile! Whereas before the game’s 3D experience was largely uneven (bordering on 2D in many cases), it’s now loads of 3D fun right through. When you are sitting in a tank, you can see your huge gun pointing out in the distance. When you are flying a jet, you can see the mountains far below. Even the cut scenes are now rendered in stereoscopic 3D, and there is no longer a risk of getting regular shocks of 2D blandness.
While you can use DDD’s lasersight, the game works best with their dominant eye system. There are a number of weapons that have a two part gun sight, and in stereoscopic 3D, the sight’s angling can conflict with itself and obscure your view (the HD3D/Nvidia version just makes the whole thing 2D to compensate). The dominant eye system gives you the best of both worlds by maintaining the weapon’s 3D aspects, and letting you aim properly through your dominant eye.
The only remaining bugs I could find are the nametags being rendered in 2D instead of 3D, and the grenade weapon indicators (that orange border that appears around a live grenade) appears in just one eye instead of both. The reason for this is because DICE is rendering the weapon indicators as 2D objects without any depth information. If they could patch some depth info through the DirectX path, this would all be fixed.
The only missing element I could find with the DDD rendition of BF3 are the lens flares. Similar to the nametags and grenade indicators, the lens flares didn’t have depth information to work with, so DDD decided to remove them from the profile.
The Skybox is also fixed for the most part. Due to the limitations of how it’s rendered, there is a vertical clipping border in stereoscopic 3D mode, but you’ll only see if it you are looking for it.
In the game settings, remember to turn off the stereoscopic 3D support from within the game, or it will conflict with what DDD's TriDef drivers are trying to do and hamper performance.
Now I have to come clean here. This is a game review, and MTBS is very particular about never giving driver developers a heads-up on things that need to be fixed before an article is published. We completely went against this policy with Battlefield 3 because we have a need for stereoscopic 3D drivers at a 3D gaming competition, and we couldn’t take any risks. Based on a GameGrade3D submission, DDD had a complete heads-up on the bugs we wanted to see fixed ahead of time, so they had a huge game review advantage the others didn’t. With this in mind, DDD has been tirelessly working on upgrading their drivers for the iGO3D effort, and voila! We got a stellar result!
While many DirectX games can be played with DDD and 3D Vision shutter glasses, I’m sorry to inform you that Battlefield 3 isn’t one of them. It would be a major coup for Nvidia 3D Vision gamers if DDD could make this BF3 rendition possible for them. In the meantime, it should still work properly with passive 3D displays using Nvidia GPUs.
I’ve spent much more time than I should playing this game over and over and over again. Battlefield 3 is an awesome mix of first person action, nerve wrecking exploration, and team play.
If you have played Battlefield 3 in 3D before (or THINK you have played it in 3D before), give it another try with the DDD drivers. It’s a whole new game! In fact, I took the liberty of forwarding these results to the DICE team personally because I really think they will be impressed with how good their game now looks in 3D, and could influence how future titles are developed.
Nvidia 3D Vision gamers will also enjoy a great result, though DDD proved there is plenty of room to take it up a notch.
I have a final remark to share about the Battlefield 3 bug fixing process. DDD’s biggest resource in figuring out what needs to be fixed was a single GameGrade3D submission. It included image samples, descriptions of the actual bugs, and my hardware and software specs. Driver developers and game developers care about tools like this because it helps them put out better products. When posting about required bug fixes and driver improvements, try using GG3D as reference material – it will go a long way!
The other point is more of a debate. GameGrade3D is an objective tool to rout out bugs. While there is a subjective score portion (which ranked DDD above both AMD's HD3D and Nvidia 3D Vision), these results are based on deductions for visual flaws like required game settings reductions, minor HUD flaws, etc.
In your opinion, should we have treated Battlefield 3's uneven 3D coverage as an artistic choice, or should we have considered it a visual bug? Should GameGrade3D have a scoring mechanism to recognize when games aren't fully utilizing stereoscopic 3D in their games (as was the case here)? Would this factor be considered subjective or objective? We'd value your thoughts.
For your convenience all these images and more can be viewed in 3D right away in MTBS' Gallery. It supports AMD HD3D, Nvidia 3D Vision, and most applicable 3D displays.
UPDATE: While the GameGrade3D portion of the scores accurately represents the Quality Assurance (QA) status of Battlefield 3, I also added the "subjective" grades to reflect my opinion on how each solution looked in stereoscopic 3D. I think this is necessary given the huge difference from one artistic outcome to the next in this instance.
UPDATE 2: After discussing with MTBS' membership, we have rebalanced the scoring in GG3D and added a 10% deduction for games that don't apply stereoscopic 3D depth in all aspects of the game play with the exception of maps, pre-rendered cinematics, and menus. This is a new type of score addition, so we will have to see how it plays out as more titles get added to GameGrade3D.