- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2011

A U.S.-forces-based operation to stop a Middle Eastern paramilitary group and a Russian terrorist from detonating nukes in famous cities around the world signals the return of one of video games’ premier first-person shooters.

So pull out your F2000 bullpup assault rifle and turn some heavily armed members of the opposition into bloodstains on a wall in Battlefield 3: Limited Edition (Electronic Arts and DICE, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $65.99).

A fairly linear solo campaign greets the player as he works through a dozen missions (many via flashback) within team-based, infantry-style combat scenarios starring characters such as U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Henry Blackburn, Russian agent Dmitri Mayakovsky and weapons systems officer Jennifer Hawkins.

Although I’ll never have to participate in a live war experience (I will forever thank my lucky stars), I could only imagine it’s this intense, chaotic and stress-filled as soldiers attack and as quickly die at the end of some modern firepower.

Yes, it’s a lesson in survival of the most brutal kind as rockets and bullets whiz by. By the way, hiding, even behind objects, becomes a fool’s strategy thanks to Battlefields’ often fully destructible environments.

Playing as Dmitri during one mission, I basically shredded an entire floor of an office building, one cubicle and false wall at a time, while trying to pick off some of the lead villain’s thugs.

My first thoughts on the insanely difficult action (let’s report that pulling a Scarface [-] “Say hello to my little friend” [-] is not going to work) were confined to the desensitizing assault on the eardrums. It was a thought often confirmed by female audience members passing by and asking me to turn down the yelling and gunfire.

I also found the profane chatter from the squad members a bit too much. So much so that if I could capture all of the F-bombs dropped by the game’s characters and feed them into my M320 grenade launcher, I would be unstoppable.

As far as the design, the somber and scattered theatrics of the war event combine with an eerie cut-scene style (interrogation scenes of Blackburn take on a rotoscoped look, but his predicament is all too familiar to any Black Ops player).

Vehicle-based missions are back and defined down to riding shotgun in a F/A-18 Super Hornet jet and controlling an Abrams tank (equipped with a 120mm cannon) in the Kavir Desert on a march into Tehran.

Action includes such standard shooter fare as seamlessly taking cover (but never feeling protected), picking up and carrying a pair of weapons scattered by the dead (more than 50 weapons to appreciate), literally lying on the ground and crawling into battle if it warrants, and dying often.

While some moments stand out in the story, as far as the gaming cinematic experience — don’t hate me Battlefield faithful — I found much better solo campaigns in Batman: Arkham City and Uncharted 3.

So let’s just call the seven-hour Battlefield 3 an interactive movie that acts more as a training tutorial and challenging boot camp for the virtual soldier to move toward cooperative missions and a much more fulfilling multiplayer mode.

Under cooperation, a pair of players can enjoy a half-dozen missions running parallel with the main campaign. Each player can help the other when near death, and events include flying a helicopter (one player is the pilot and the other shoots) and disarming bombs while neutralizing a key terrorist.

The multiplayer mode works hard to shine with a glorious selection of customization options down to special loadouts for vehicles, and adding scopes and secondary attachments to weapons along with an insane feature that actually blurs the screen as you take more damage.

The action stays frenetic throughout the five game modes spread over nine impressively large maps (from the streets of Paris to scenic regions of Northern Iran) with matches tied to up 24 players (12 per team).

What really stands out is the ability to use and destroy vehicles. While in the midst of battle, nothing was more gloriously satisfying than lining up an enemy helicopter on the attack in my rocket-propelled grenade’s sight and taking it down. Players in the copter can be seen parachuting to safety (or becoming lambs to the slaughter as my 11 or so teammates waited) as the craft smoldered and crashed into a fiery wreck.

I’ll mention the uses of heavy armor, such as tanks, also can decide a match in seconds, depending on the level of players in command.

Sadly, the only miscue of the multiplayer action was occasionally dealing with the junior Neanderthal buffoons playing the game, bunches of whom are younger than 17 and need to have their mouths washed out with soap.

Overall, Battlefield 3 won’t disappoint and differentiates itself enough to even hold its own against the latest Call of Duty. What it lacks in the brevity of storytelling it makes up for in difficulty, gritty charm and the picturesque use of heavy-duty vehicles in multiplayer mode to turn the tide of war.

Owners of the Limited Edition also get such goodies such as a code to unlock co-op and multiplayer matches and access to download (in December) the Karkand Expansion Pack.

The pack includes remasters of four of the most popular Battlefield maps — Strike at Karkand, Wake Island, Gulf of Oman and Sharqi Peninsula — five new dog tags, three new vehicles (such as the F-35B STOVL jet fighter) and 10 iconic weapons.

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