Arts & Events

Battlefield gives Call of Duty a run for its money

The internet is a big place, and one is never surprised to find cutthroat debates that might not register on the average person’s radar: “Firefox vs. Chrome,”  “Kirk vs. Picard,” “Joel vs. Mike,” to name just a few.

One more debate for you: Call of Duty versus Battlefield. Battlefield 3 was released for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 Oct. 25, and with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 out this past Tuesday (Nov. 8), the drawn-out dispute is coming to a head.

At this point you’ve silently affirmed your loyalty to one of the other, or more likely, you shrugged.

For the shruggers, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Battlefield are two of the most popular near-future first-person-shooter franchises around, developed by Infinity Ward and DICE, respectively.

MSNBC reported that CoD: MW2, released Nov. 10, 2009, brought in $550 million in its first week, blowing entertainment’s then-records out of the water: The Dark Knight’s $155 million opening weekend and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’s $394 million week.

Modern Warfare’s next installment should make just as big a splash: Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities expects CoD: MW3 sales to top $1.1 billion in six weeks, reported.

Battlefield 3 has quite a bit of competition, then: can it keep up? No one is suggesting that DICE can compete with Infinity Ward’s sales numbers (although Battlefield’s first week saw 10 million sales) but given the amount of internet lip-service Battlefield has been getting from its avid fanbase—enough to make CoD vs. Battlefield sound like a balanced debate—the game itself must have a lot going for it.

And it does: Battlefield 3 is slick, engaging and expansive—or at least the multiplayer is.  Single player feels like a brazen imitation of Modern Warfare’s campaign mode, and where Battlefield’s campaign falls short—AI, clarity, continuity, fun (it’s just plain grueling, to be honest)—the disparity between the two games is embarrassingly clear.

But in all fairness, Battlefield’s success has nothing to do with single player: both franchises are particularly well-loved for immersive, intense and highly competitive multiplayer modes. It is also clear that the two games approach online play with wildly different values in mind.

These values are what place games along a spectrum fundamental to the FPS genre, a continuum bookended by twitchy, reflex-centric shooters like Halo at one end, and by realistic, tactical simulations like Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six at the other.

CoD:MW, despite it’s reasonable physics and modern setting, belongs at the Halo end of things. Success is won with accuracy and speed, with technical skill rather than tactical know-how—this often means sacrificing realism for spectacle, but it’s a formula that has struck the collective nerve.

Battlefield’s multiplayer model, on the other hand, is farther in from the edge—it seeks to occupy a golden middle-ground between reflex and strategy, and this, we can finally say, is exactly what makes Battlefield 3 worth raving about.

Battlefield 3 has everything CoD:MW does—quick-fire skirmishes,  sweaty-palmed sniper duels, explosions and such—and a lot that it does not, namely massive maps, a laundry list of deadly vehicles (including jets!), and a certain freedom of play-style too often absent in competitive games.

A brilliantly conceived squad system encourages cooperation and forethought. Buddy in a tank? Spawn with him and ride along as his gunner, spot and mark enemies as a distant sniper, or choose the engineer and repair his armor as he rolls.

The sheer scale of the game inspires an awe rare in online multiplayer: you are not just offered admittance to this beautiful, gargantuan, mostly-destructible wonderland, you are accompanied by sixty-three other human beings (twenty-three if you’re on a console) as well.

One downside is Battlefield’s clunky interface (together with EA’s now-notorious Origin digital distribution service), which is as frustrating as it is bewildering.

It feels a bit like having an incompetent waiter at your favorite restaurant: every now and then he’ll butt in and ruin your mood, but as he leaves you to your feasting all misgivings are forgotten.

Until Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is put under the same scrutiny, Battlefield 3 cannot be named winner or loser, and in fact, the terms might be irrelevant here: Battlefield simply satisfies a different need, a desire for depth over polish, and it delivers the goods with style, grace, and characteristic confidence.