Gamemaker Electronic Arts revealed that its Battlefield 3 drew in 3 million preorders. And then, according to the game tracking site vgchartz.com, it went on to top the 4 million mark in sales within its first week. What's the draw?
Well, right out of the box, Battlefield 3 looks like a graphically impressive but otherwise fairly typical war game. Campaign mode tells the story of a Marine staff sergeant named Blackburn who's pulled into a room with some jaundice-eyed CIA guys. The agents are determined to find out the truth about the Marine's recent actions. And as Blackburn explains what he believes to be the plot of yet another madman to hit the U.S. with a nuclear terrorist attack, gamers flash back with him to various global locations to fight through his proffered scenarios.
Playing as Blackburn and three other characters—including the series' first female officer—you charge through bullet-riddled urban and industrial battlefields, adding your own hot lead as you go. A few times you get to man a tank or climb into the gunner's seat of an F-18 Hornet.
A dozen interrogation-bookended missions end up pitting you against an Islamic terrorist organization called the People's Liberation Resistance. And since Battlefield 3 is a tale of hard heroes and ferocious villains, the explosive gameplay is fast and furious, with bullets whizzing in every direction and PLR foes spilling over every wall. Death dealing is constant. And how could it not be with such a variety of automatic weapons, sniper rifles, grenades, RPGs and miniguns at your disposal? F-bombs and other vulgarities run hot, too. And the immersive battling is tense, destructive and realistic.
But, in truth, all of that is just the warm up for the main event.
The Real Call to Arms
There's only one thing that Battlefield 3 makers and players are really focused on: the game's Internet-connected multiplayer war action. While almost every shooter nowadays has some kind of online component, I rarely spend much time dealing with that side of a new game. There's usually more to say about the game itself than its add-on environments. But there are few games out there that can throw 24 players (64 with the PC version) into as realistic and heated skirmishes as the Battlefield games do.
The online conflict zones are sprawling and graphically dazzling in Battlefield 3. And its nine maps include everything from constricted rat-filled tunnels to desert plains to multistory buildings in which players can operate as a team, recon the enemy and strategically wipe out all comers.
You're given a variety of vehicles with which to traverse these enormous battlegrounds. Humvees, light-armor transports, helicopters and jets are but a few of the weaponized conveyances that can get you from place to place while simultaneously setting the night aflame. And between the co-op missions and multiplayer free-for-alls, it all adds up to what review site gametrailers.com called "as close as it gets to simulating a real war."
The Real Cost of (Fake) Battle
That "real war" aspect also carries over into the fact that there's often an actual person behind the virtual guys who drop at your feet. That fact makes the gun-blazing struggles feel more intense. Your enemy is a wilier prey than a computer-generated PLR and … well, you're conscious in the back of your mind that you're (sort of) fragging a real person. Do it long enough, though, and that becomes part of the thrill, too. And that can't help but add to the desensitization already at play in trigger-pulling fare.
There's also the question of time. Unlike the relatively simple Campaign mode that has a beginning and a defined conclusion, online warring can stretch from battle to battle, map to map, team to team and day after day if you let it. Gamespot.com put it like this: "Battlefield 3 may not offer much beyond the multiplayer, but there are so many ways to contribute and feel like a powerful soldier that after hours and hours of playing, all you'll want to do is play more."
Their words were intended as praise, but they ring just as true when they're tossed in the opposite direction. All those extra hours spent scoping out enemy groupings and bloodying (real/fake) opponents is valuable time that could have been spent … um, studying, working and relating to people in a more significant (positive) way than blowing them away in a virtual gameworld. I say, then, creative warfare doesn't take us far enough down the road. Maybe it's time we gave digital peace a chance.