Amongst shooter fans, there are two camps: that of Call of Duty and Battlefield. For years these two sides have thrown venom at each other. To be fair, it was mostly EA throwing the collective monkey-poo but animosity has flowed both ways. As heir to the throne apparent, EA and DICE (the studio behind Battlefield 3) have worked hard to seed the gaming community with doubt for CoD’s killer formula. There’s more to shooting guns than shooting guns, y’know. The games have gotten better and better, each series coming more into its own with every iteration, but one thing has kept Battlefield from seizing the throne. You, America. You’re the problem… but maybe not for long.
Sit a minute while I weave a tale of two matches. In Call of Duty, you join the game, pick the load out, then sprint around the map, shot-gunning, grenade launching, and knife-killing noobs before someone snipes you from a far off window. In Battlefield: Bad Company, you do pretty much the same, except for one key difference: you spawn on your squad. You take cover in trenches and behind crumbling buildings. You rush towards the objective only to find you’ve run off alone and — you’re dead. In CoD your K/D ratio soars. In BF it doesn’t much matter. CoD makes you the army. Battlefield makes you a soldier.
And that, my friends, is why Battlefield has lost to Call of Duty each and every year smack has flown. The game makes you rely on other people in a time when players want nothing more than the world itself; it forces teamwork or it makes you fail. And you know what that means. Mics. No one ever has a mic (on PS3). No one even wants a mic because, well, you’re on the other end. And they’re playing like it’s CoD. Call of Duty makes no such gestures. You have a team but you can safely ignore it. Battlefield doesn’t reward you for playing it like a game but like a war simulator; you don’t act as a squad in a real battle, you’re dead.
That’s also why Battlefield 3 is so important. The match-up against Modern Warfare 3 will be the last before we know if the shooter audience is changing hands… and DICE-EA seem keen to make sure the Call of Duty franchise plays second fiddle. By making a number of small tweaks to weapon damage and health, DICE has blended the best of both worlds. Guns, even pistols, seem powerful and never weak like Bad Company 2. Enemies drop fast if you’re aiming and it’s easy to feel deadly – even when you’re squadless. It fits like an old glove on a Call of Duty players hands and adds depth they didn’t even know they wanted.
Reading that, you might be tempted to think Battlefield 3 has finally cracked and embraced the CoD model but you couldn’t be further from the truth. Players who work as a team will always do better than those who don’t. Location, plan of attack, and load-out choice are still as strategic as ever, if not more so. XP rewards highly encourage that teamwork, too; a player who attacks and defends objectives, or the players attacking those objectives, will always outscore stationary sniper. Finally, the addition of prone and many tweaks to loadouts and gadgets make surviving a close-call much more likely. Machine gunners are also medics, so when you drop to your belly under a hail of fire, there’s a much better chance of hitting a first-aid kit and making it to cover.
Modern Warfare 3 will almost surely outsell Battlefield 3, but if they want to keep their top spot, they really need to impress. If their final product feels like an iteration when Battlefield seems like an evolution, the days of “Call of Duty #1!” being a foregone conclusion might well be over. By this time next year, the landscape of first person shooters might be swinging in a new direction.
Battlefield 3 releases October 25th, 2011
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 releases November 8th, 2011