Are you ready for one of the biggest battles in gaming history? I'm not teasing a massive end-boss fight, but rather a head-to-head clash between two first-person shooters: Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 vs. EA's Battlefield 3. Arriving at the GameFly warehouses just two weeks apart, both games promise to deliver unparalleled modern-day military action across single player and multiplayer. I've played both games and spent time at the studios behind them. So, this month I thought I'd break down what makes these games different and explain how you might go about deciding whether you want to play one - or both - this holiday season.
Why is EA so adamant about pitting Battlefield against Call of Duty? The simple answer is: It's good business. Call of Duty is the biggest game franchise out there, and EA would like a piece of that market. But the inside story is even deeper than that and involves a lot of drama. Here's a quick summary: Years ago, EA's Medal of Honor franchise was the top military-action franchise. That is, until its creators bolted to Activision and formed a studio named Infinity Ward to create Call of Duty. The balance of power shifted, but in early 2010, most of Infinity Ward abruptly left Activision to form a new company, Respawn. That studio signed a deal with EA for a new project. In the meantime, Activision hired away the team that created Dead Space from EA, which is now known as Sledgehammer Games and is working on Modern Warfare 3. Whew!
Who's going to win the "war"? One of the most frequent questions I get is if Battlefield 3 is going to "beat" Modern Warfare 3. On one level, the answer is no. I'm sure Modern Warfare 3 will sell more copies than Battlefield 3. Even EA admits this. The bigger question is if Battlefield can steal the mindshare and buzz away from Call of Duty. Even if it sells less, EA is hoping that Battlefield 3 can do what no other game has: Compete against and steal players away from Modern Warfare 3.
Modern Warfare returns this November with a new title from Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games.
EA's Battlefield 3 is looking to unseat Modern Warfare 3 as the hottest first-person shooter of 2011.
Why does EA say that Battlefield 3 is a better game than Modern Warfare 3? EA has spent the better part of the year positioning Battlefield 3 as a "next-generation shooter on current-generation systems." A new engine, Frostbyte 2, powers the game, and the results are some truly stunning visuals - no doubt you've seen the trailers by now. There's silky-smooth animation (using technology from EA Sports), amazing destruction of buildings, and huge battlefields. Another one of EA's differentiating factors is a hallmark of the Battlefield franchise: Vehicles. You can fly in jets and helicopters, get on boats, and jump in tanks or Jeeps in both the campaign and multiplayer. Modern Warfare 3 has some vehicle sequences in single player but nothing in multiplayer.
Why does Activision say that Modern Warfare 3 is a better game than Battlefield 3? Let's face it: The Modern Warfare game engine is getting a bit dated at this point. But, Activision is quick to point out something important about Battlefield 3: A lot of the footage you see online is from the PC version of the game, which runs at up to 60 frames per second. The console version of Battlefield 3, however, runs at half that speed, 30 frames per second, while Modern Warfare 3 delivers a fluid 60 frames across all systems. Activision argues that 60 frames is what you need for fast-paced action and multiplayer, although it's also fair to point out that many popular action games run at 30 frames per second, like Gears of War 3. Beyond the frame rate, Modern Warfare 3 is known for having a stable game engine and very robust online support. Battlefield 3 is so cutting edge that there will likely be issues with the game's servers and multiplayer modes right at launch. A multiplayer beta, which wraps up on October 10th, will help EA load-test its servers.
Are Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 basically the same game? Here's where you might get confused. Although EA is positioning Battlefield 3 as a "Modern Warfare killer," the reality is that the games do play differently. Battlefield 3 is focused around larger battlefields with lots of vehicles and team play, although there are missions and levels that are smaller and more individual in scope. Modern Warfare 3 is more of a straight-ahead "gun-on-gun" first-person shooter using a tried and true formula you've grown to love. But you won't be flying in a jet in multiplayer. Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 do have big similarities. Both have a robust single-player campaign, multiplayer, and co-operative missions. And you'll even visit some of the same locations in both games, such as New York City and Paris.
Ok, so which game should I rent or buy? I haven't played the final versions of either game yet, so it's hard to render a firm judgment. But here's what I'll say so far: If you're a PC gamer, Battlefield 3 is sure to be one of the most visually-impressive games to date and a must-have title (you'll also be able to buy it via the new GameFly digital download service for the PC, now in beta). On the consoles, the matchup will be even tighter. Ultimately, the game you'll want to play more will be the one your friends are playing online. Battlefield 3 will have the buzz as the hot new game, but Modern Warfare 3 will potentially be more stable right out of the gate as a multiplayer experience.
Next month I'll be back with a look at the other big games due out in November. In the meantime, make sure to follow my updates inside the GameFly mobile app for iPhone and Android.