Backlog Break - Battlefield 3 is accidentally anti-war

Devin on screen

The dreaded backlog. Thanks to big sales, subscription-based free game offers, things like Humble Bundle – where you get a big pile of games for a relatively low price – and general poor decision making, many people who are into games develop a giant list of games that they, at one point, decided they wanted to try, and just never did. The backlog eventually gets overwhelming, and you have what amounts to an intimidating list of games that you have, but never actually played.

I’m no exception to this. While staring at a list of games I owned and didn’t actually play through, I thought to myself, I need incentive to plow through these things. I need to somehow make it part of my actual job. Hence this highly irregular, online-only feature, where I’ll encourage myself to finish games by doing a review of every one I actually finish. Let’s see if I can make a dent in that dreaded backlog. This will also be focused on single-player campaigns more than anything, because multi-player typically doesn’t have an end point.

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The game that’s kicking it off is Battlefield 3, from 2011. You may see new games on this feature, but you’re going to see a ton of older ones.

It has been said that it’s impossible to make an anti-war film because most depictions of war make it look exciting. While I’d personally argue that is not strictly true – having watched Fires on the Plain – it is definitely difficult to accomplish.

The campaign of Battlefield 3 is not anti-war by any stretch. It is, if anything, decidedly pro-war. It’s definitely pro-military, even if the main character is being interrogated for being insubordinate and possibly starting nuclear war. The game also loves guns, each rifle and machine gun lovingly rendered. It’s also decidedly pro-violence, with each physical encounter with an enemy somewhat over-animated to the point where it breaks the flow of the game. Stealthily stabbing a guard seems like it should be quick but Battlefield 3 turns it into an entire scene.

Yet, at the end of the entire campaign, I found myself reflecting on how pointless the whole thing was. Why did any of this happen? The plot, about stopping a nuclear attack on New York City, suffered from having a shadowy villain whose motivations were never clear but who seemingly had the support of a ton of people, including governments, arms dealers and a seemingly endless run of henchmen. That made it feel like all of the military operations, all the intelligence and counter-intelligence, everything the player does, happened in order to justify all of the money spent on weapons and equipment.

It made me contemplate if war had purpose, or if it existed to justify spending on war. I had an endless supply of cool gadgets and creative ways of killing people, but my motive for doing so was vague at best. Why was I doing this beyond justifying the amount being spent to let me do this?

Of course, here, it exists partially to justify spending on the game, which looked gorgeous and expensive even as it was seven years old when I started it. At times the campaign seems to be designed solely to show off the tricks they can accomplish with their fancy graphics engine, with collapsing buildings and exploding cars. So many concrete pillars get destroyed over the campaign.

It sounds like I’m down on the game but I actually enjoyed it, for the most part. Unlike some modern games, it still felt like the player mattered, even if it was pretty on-rails. It was mostly fun, it was mostly pretty intense, and it was only a couple late-game missions that lead me to be down on it. There’s a level where you’re crossing a field battling paratroopers that made me think they just ran out of ways to make it interesting, and the final level is just a repeat of the first capped off with an incredibly anti-climactic boss battle.

I enjoyed my time with it enough to assume that people who are a bit more into shooting than me would get a lot more out of it. I also freely admit that this is not my usual preference when it comes to gaming, but even so I gave it an honest chance and had a mostly good time, even if I didn’t get fully on board. And yet, in spite of the game making war fun and exciting, I still went away contemplating how pointless all the killing was. Maybe even making war fun can’t make it feel worthwhile.

Played on: PC

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