When you hit your stride in multiplayer Battlefield 3 is simply phenomenal - it's an incredibly satisfying experience unlike anything else on the market, and in these wonderful moments of bliss the game's myriad problems simply fade away.
You'll find yourself, for the most part, fighting at longer ranges than Bad Company 2 or Call of Duty, meaning bullets have to be fired in the most precise bursts seen since Counter-Strike, and a basic scope will be an absolute necessity for many. The weapons themselves have a fierce kick, wide bullet spread, and the game takes a good long while to look down the sights of your rifles.
Four classes are offered to accommodate a variety of tactical styles, with Battlefield 3's most significant roster change coming from its decision to blend the Medic's resuscitating abilities into the aggressive Assault class - which makes perfect sense, seeing as the Medic in Bad Company 2 was a frontline killing machine.
DICE has chosen a traditional outfit of vehicles, ranging from tanks and buggies to helicopters and jets. Much has been made of the inclusion of the latter, though most players will be completely unable to effectively use them because of their terrifying speed, but you can expect to be frantically running for your life in a couple of months when the air-fit minority have mastered the craft.
Five modes are available, but only the large-scale objective-based skirmishes of Rush and Conquest are worth playing. Nine maps are supplied on the disc, with almost all of them offering the wide, multi-faceted environments the Battlefield series has become famous for.
Like the best multiplayer games, Battlefield 3 sets a stage for you to create your own personal stories. You'll remember that time on Caspian Border when you and a friend accidentally stumbled onto a tank while driving a buggy, and won, or that bit when the squad got lucky and managed to gun down half the enemy team as they base jumped off Damavand Peak.
It's a shame, then, that DICE's concentrated attempt at storytelling - a 12-level single-player campaign - falls completely flat, demanding a poignancy and emotional engagement it simply does nothing to earn. It's a bolt-on campaign so obsessed with military manoeuvres that you spend more time watching your marines preen and posture than actually fight in an engaging setup, with your comrades masking loading screens by barking their orders before kicking down doors. The attention to detail is nothing short of magnificent, but it's a real shame to see the player's role marginalised because of it.
Rounding off the package is a six mission two-player co-op mode, which is functional but never fun. Players are restricted to playing online, with no split-screen option available, and the levels involve the tactical dismantling of scripted sequences. Each level promptly becomes a particularly glitzy whack-a-mole, with enemies popping up in the exact same locations time and time again.
Which leads to a difficult quandary: how do you grade a game such as Battlefield 3? The multiplayer mode is nothing short of essential, but at the same time it's hard not to be sorely disappointed by everything else on show.
Virgin Media verdict:
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