Two of the year's biggest games are going head to head this holiday season, both seeking the crown as best military first-person shooter. Unless you've cut yourself off from all forms of media consumption, I'm of course talking about Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3.
In our Battlefield 3 review post, we outlined how the game's campaign has a certain sense of realism, as opposed to the over-the-top action found in typical Call of Duty campaigns. While overall it's more slow-paced than Modern Warfare 3's single-player experience, there's arguably more strategy required to make it through the entire affair. I've always found Call of Duty games to be overly generous in the amount of damage a player can take, and with both settings on normal, Modern Warfare 3 is the easier game.
In regard to multiplayer modes, BF3 will give players a chance to pilot and drive various vehicles that they can't in MW3. I also really like how the idea of teamwork feels much more important in BF3 multiplayer than it necessarily does in MW3.
While the online game modes found in BF3 certainly take a page from the MW3 playbook, they do stand up fine on their own. There's enough disparity here to justify a separate purchase, especially for those hardened Modern Warfare veterans who want somewhat of a change in scenery.
As for MW3's online multiplayer modes, there really isn't much in the way of groundbreaking innovation. In all of my preview sessions leading up to the game's release, not once did Activision offer a chance for me to get some solid hands on with the new maps. This of course led me to believe that there would be some sort of significant tweaking in the design, but alas, in my 10-plus hours of action, things feel very much the same as they did this time last year. Also, some of the maps in MW3 are reminiscent of the ones in MW2.
I chose not to give MW3 its own review post for a couple of reasons. First, Activision didn't get us review samples until launch day, and second, I wanted to avoid forgoing enough time with the online multiplayer to pass judgment. Of course this decision was heavily influenced by the BF3 online hiccups that occurred during the game's infancy--something I didn't experience playing online before it was released to the public.
While I've only heard sporadic chatter about MW3 stumbling during the first days of online play, I have had firsthand disappointment with Call of Duty Elite, MW3's Web-based stat-tracking and social community. As of this writing the service is for all intents and purposes still broken. It's understandable that a complex network of servers trying to handle millions of users is having difficulty stabilizing, but Activision needs to make good with those who plunked down $50 for special features. I can't even log in to my main profile page; it's just this same endless screen below:
It is my belief that it isn't fair to declare one game "the winner" when comparing BF3 and MW3. Modern Warfare may have the more recognizable brand, but Battlefield has a longer history. BF3 may have vehicles in multiplayer, but MW3 offers more online modes.
Whichever side of the fence you find yourself on, there's no denying that both titles are an absolute blast to play and are true technical achievements in interactive entertainment. If money isn't an issue, I definitely recommend checking both titles out. If you can't justify $120 on two great military shooters, hopefully I've laid each game's pros and cons out to help you make an educated choice on which game is right for you.
While I may think it isn't fair to award either game first place, that doesn't mean you can't. Please vote in the poll above for which game you prefer!