Price: £39.99-£49.99
Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (tested)
Developer: DICE
Publisher: EA

Hours deployed on the Battlefield 2 servers: 1000+. Enemies fragged, planes downed, tanks crushed: 100,000+. Creeping up on a sniper before slicing his throat: priceless. With so many hours logged on Battlefield 2, can BF3 live up to expectation? We ship out to the front and find out.

BF3 features just four classes of soldier – Assault, Engineer, Recon and Support. Each has their own speciality, whether it be the ability to revive other team members, supply ammo or skill to deploy remote recon tools. At first this seems a bit of a let down, but very quickly the development of available weapons makes each class potent in their own right.

As you gain experience points you’ll level-up, with more weapons becoming available – not altogether a new concept admittedly, but each weapon has various unlocks to increase its efficiency and so your number of kills. This makes the mix of kit choice and weapon choice altogether more fascinating. Do I go for the bi-pod equipped M16A3 for those kills from distance, or should I instead opt for the AK74 with its laser sighting? Tricky decisions ahead.

Gameplay itself is swift, crisp and extremely violent and the detail of the maps exquisite – so much so that it’s easy to miss other players in among the background noise. DICE’s ‘Frostbite 2’ engine even makes it possible to reduce buildings to ruinous rubble by rocket impact, which of course means that by the end of a multiplayer round towns lay destroyed – LOLZ (ahem) all round. The first casualty of war you might say.

Map design however is a more controversial subject. Take the ‘Metro’, for example, which rapidly descends into a frag-fest, as spamming of rockets and grenades from both sides destroy any attempt at tactical manoeuvres – fun for all of three minutes.

‘Caspian Border’ meanwhile threatens to be a huge map, but confines most gameplay around the centre capture points (perhaps the intention?), again ending in engagements becoming little more than glorified deathmatch arenas.

I’m left to reflect that there’s a lot to be said for the delightfully varied tactical approach of a BF2 map, the legendary ‘Wake Island’, for example, that seems to be missing from the new BF3 maps – perhaps the Return to Karkand DLC, with its classic maps, will help?

Another major grumble is the playability of the jets. Get low to the ground and your jet will seem to lose all power, so marking you as target for the multitude of AA weapons at your enemy’s disposal. Worse is the impotent machine gun that struggles to destroy any vehicle you may try to kill. Sure, there are rockets available, but despite putting in hour- upon-hour this reviewer has yet to master their foibles, so unwieldy do they seem. Repeatedly I find myself back in a BF2 jet, getting my kicks from masterful barrel rolls, a sure suggestion that something’s amiss.

BF3 is undeniably a polished experience. It’s visually and aurally stunning, not to mention immersive and challenging. It has however lost that tactical edge that always set BF2 and Call of Duty apart. Yes, it’s now prettier than CoD, but sadly feels like a (slightly) more shallow experience than its illustrious rival.

We wait in hope that the expansion pack fixes what’s really missing, a lack of tactics, by the inclusion of some challenging maps. One thing’s for sure however, Battlefield 2 won’t be being removed from the trusty solid state drive quite yet…