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The Battle of the Threes

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The Battle of the Threes

2011 seems to be a year for third installments. Gears of War and Saint’s Row come to mind. But the focus today is the third installment in two of the premiere first person shooter franchises, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Battlefield. I wanted to give Modern Warfare 3 a similar

Released only a handful of weeks apart, Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 occupy essentially the same territory but are, in actuality, worlds apart in spite of similar settings and play styles.

SP:

The single player portions of both games are actually the closest they get in terms of play. Struggling to thwart the evil Russian threat to the Western world, the player battles through multitudes of villains in various exotic locales en route to the climactic battle against the Head Baddie. Of similar lengths, both campaigns are essentially on the rails, giving players very little opportunity to go off script in pursuit of a novel solution to problems. Both are replete with quicktime events that interrupt gameplay to move the plot in the direction the developers need the story to go. I find that IW has a far better developed sense of smooth scripting in quicktime events than DICE, giving Modern Warfare 3 the edge in that department.

Overall though, I found the Battlefield 3 story to be more compelling than the Modern Warfare 3 story. If it weren’t for Soap and Captain Price and the attendant nostalgia, the story in Modern Warfare 3 would have left me far flatter than that of Battlefield 3. In part, I think this is because the Frostbite 2 engine seems to be far more adept at creating what feels like an expansive environment. While playing through the Modern Warfare 2 campaign, I always felt a little closed in even in the big environments of New York harbour or the city. In contrast, the later mission in the Caspian border area of Battlefield 3 feels huge, in spite of being stuck on a fairly linear track. Proportions seem far more constant and correct in Battlefield as well. I found many places in Modern Warfare 2 where I felt sort of squashed, as if I was about half of my height, particularly when standing near some set pieces such as trucks or other vehicles. They just seemed out of proportion in a way that was very distracting. I never found this happening in Battlefield 3.

Weapons and equipment load outs are fairly similar in both games, replete with many modern firearms and attachments and explosives. I honestly found enough similarity in the games that it really is a draw when it comes to hardware and gameplay. Of course, single player is just the fringe of these products, being an almost throw away few hours of garnering achievements and soaking up stories before venturing into the long lasting meat of the games... the multiplayer.

MP:

This is where things get a little more complicated. Both games are entirely faithful to previous iterations in the series. These are evolutionary games rather than revolutionary. Things generally look and sound better than previous installments in the game series. The advancement systems deviate very little from previous games as well. All in all, jumping into multiplayer and knowing what is going on is a pretty simple task with both games. In measuring the advancement systems, I actually found that my prefered method of unlocking weapons and attachments is still to be found in Call of Duty: Black Ops. Allowing players to chose the weapons and attachments that better suit their game play as they earn generic “CoD points” makes for a more flexible and enjoyable experience, even with needing certain levels to unlock the higher levels of weapons. I do like the addition of individual weapon abilities in Modern Warfare 3, making a further customization to the weapon type in addition to the perk system. Customization is a very desirable thing in order to avoid cookie cutter players all slogging away in the same kits all the time. Although an entirely different multiplayer paradigm, this is the problem with the multiplayer games like Gears of War 3. No customization makes for a far blander gaming experience, on that more often than not results in the flip flop shotgun furball that seems to plague Gears multiplayer.

This is also the first place where Battlefield 3 outstrips Modern Warfare 3. The space between matches in Modern Warfare 3 is often too short to make changes to classes, resulting in half finished modifications with the hope that it was enough of a change to combat the players you are faced with. Battlefield 3, on the other hand, allows on the fly changes between lives, giving the player to quickly customize weapons, attachments, and gadgets to accommodate the play styles of your opponents. This leads to far less frustration in my experience, especially considering the addition of player controllable vehicles. Not being stuck with a loadout that is inadequate to the challenge is nothing short of maddening in Modern Warfare 3.

This leads into my second beef with Modern Warfare 3. I can understand a reticence to change the formula on a very successful series but not having player controllable vehicles is a huge detriment to the game, forcing all players to conform to a single infantry play style. Battlefield 3 adds ground vehicles and aircraft to the mix, giving players an entirely different role than simply an infantry grunt. Vehicles are exceptionally well balanced in Battlefield and can be dealt with by the ground pounders relatively easily, making it harder to dominate the map with a helicopter or tank. There is a large improvement in the launchers in Battlefield 3 when compared to its immediate predecessor, Bad Company 2, and this makes it far harder for an excellent attack chopper pilot to dominate a map in the way it often played out in Bad Company 2. This entire dynamic is missing from Modern Warfare 3, launchers being relegated to the initial fury of rockets flying across a map in hopes of a random kill or the shoot down of killstreak rewards as fast as possible. I feel that in a modern combat environment, relegating vehicles to kill streak rewards that are marginally controllable at best is giving short shrift to an important aspect of the combat experience.

The next area I find critical to a successful game is map design. For the style of game, Modern Warfare 3 has excellent map designs. In the first few hours I felt that the maps were a little haphazard and sort of kludged together. After multiple play throughs on the maps I have found that they are all fairly well balanced through the various game types. Choke points and fire lanes are easily exploited by either team but numerous alternate routes mean that even with full teams it is almost impossible to fully lock a map down, giving a less capable team at least an opportunity to turn the tide of battle. There is little to complain about in the quality or number of maps in Modern Warfare 3; however, it leads to another criticism when compared with Battlefield 3. Overall, the Battlefield 3 maps are far more spacious and open than the Modern Warfare 3 maps, leading to a greater flexibility in how the maps play. More importantly, instead of static maps that are identical through the various game types, Battlefield 3 customizes the maps depending on the game type. This leads to a feeling of more ebb and flow of battle than is found in Modern Warfare 3. Put simply, there is a more epic feeling to the average Rush or Conquest game than there is to a Domination or Headquarters game.


Player models seem to be a little better in Modern Warfare 3, being more detailed than their Battlefield 3 compatriots. There seems to be more clipping in Battlefield 3, with player laying down in corners and a good chunk of them either disappearing into the terrain or poking out the other side of the wall. I’ve not run into this problem as much in Modern Warfare 3, though. I do find the animations when climbing over things in Battlefield to be smoother from the players perspective. And while the ladder climb animations and mechanism may be more realistic in execution on Battlefield, there have been many times where it has gotten me killed versus the speedy ladder climbing and dismounting in Modern Warfare 3.

Voice communication is far superior in Modern Warfare 3. Why cant DICE release a game where everyone on a team can talk to each other easily? Easily muted Timmies is far better than not being able to warn a teammate that they are walking into the line of fire.

Conclusions:

While both games have engaging map design, class systems, and advancement, in the end I feel Battlefield 3 is the superior game. While having less game types than Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 offers a more enjoyable experience for what I feel is an important reason. My blood pressure seems to spike when playing Modern Warfare 3. The small maps seems to lead to a more furious twitch based experience than the open maps and more flexible play style of Battlefield 3. I recognize that this is an entirely personal experience and some people will prefer the frenetic Modern Warfare 3 experience to the more contemplative and sedate Battlefield 3. I know that I enjoy both games, even if I find myself less frustrated and more relaxed after a session of Battlefield 3. If I only had to pick one of these fine games to play, I would have to choose Battlefield. Luckily, I have enough gaming time for both, since they have their strengths and weaknesses and provide for an enjoyable distraction and stress relief after a hard day of the real world.
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