I'm just going to come out and say it: Battlefield 3 is a better game than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. When the din of the furious fanboys subsides, let me tell you why.
It's been almost a month since EA DICE's entry into the combat FPS arena was released (Oct. 25), the first installment in that series since 2005, not counting the Bad Company titles. It had a couple weeks' head start on MW3, which hit stores on Nov. 8, and took full advantage of it, namely by having an online service that worked to solidify the ever-important multiplayer market, as well as simply being a more polished product.
But let's look at the tale of the tape: Both feature run-and-gun shooter action. Both have loads of true-to-life weapons for players to slaver over. Both attempt to make players fear Russians and Iranians. Both showcase over-the-top campaign stories about nuclear weapons, even going so far as to both feature stages set amid Paris' potential destruction.
The difference is — and this may be an unfair comparison — is that Battlefield 3 gets the nod for being at least somewhat fresh. Sure, MW3 has British bad-asses Soap and Price, not to mention legions of fans who have been running and gunning for the past couple years on Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops.
Still, the BF3 action is tighter, the objectives and story clearer, the multiplayer more, well, warlike.
The maps are expansive and varied, featuring oil refineries, mountains and cityscapes with dozens of people fighting at once, and players can participate as they wish, not necessarily wedded to a specialty. MW3, meanwhile, sticks to smaller maps and smaller groups, tinkering a bit with class systems but generally returning to the style used in the 2009 installment. It's hard not to stifle a yawn.
I prefer a game that lets me man a tank or a helicopter. Sure, BF3's levelling system may be slow, but I'm not forced to play medic to a squad of run-and-gunners (although MW3 did correct this by combining classes this go-'round).
Then there's the little problem of the Call of Duty Elite online service. While EA's Battlelog has been functioning fine since last month, Elite has stuttered and hiccupped and generally kept the die-hard savages from their customary nonstop online boasting. That doesn't go over well when multiplayer is each title's bread and butter, as evidenced by seven-hour campaign times for either game.
So how could DICE steal the title away from the CoD team? Well, the fallout from Activision's Bobby Kotick running off Infinity Ward honchos Vince Zampella and Jason West last year surely didn't help. They eventually took more than 40 other designers, engineers and programmers with them, and frankly, it shows.
That offers a clue as to what ails MW3. It's not a bad game by any stretch, but it feels like a warmed-over rehash of the same old series. The revamped Infinity Ward needed help from Sledgehammer Games and Raven Software to get the package out the door.
In this case, if it's not exactly an instance of too many cooks, it's at least the result of trying to do the same recipe with twice the ingredients and only getting something half as good.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.