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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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?!?
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
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.
Intel Core I7 Processor 2.66GHZ
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.
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.
AMD 1090T 3.2Ghz
Patriot DDR3 1333Ghz RAM
Windows 7 64 Bit
Samsung S23A750D 23″ Monitor
TriDef Ignition 3.5.18 Beta 4
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.
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.
How Memorable Is This Game
Stereoscopic Effectiveness AMD HD3D
7.5/10 (Subjective Score = 3/5)
Stereoscopic Effectiveness NVIDIA
8/10 (Subjective Score = 3/5)
Stereoscopic Effectiveness DDD
8/10 (Subjective Score = 4/5)
AMD HD3D Overall Rating
NVIDIA Overall Rating
DDD Overall Rating