Battlefield 3's single-player campaign bears a strong resemblance to Lindsay Lohan's career. Not only do they both exist only by dint of technicality, they're each driven by a frantic desire to channel something they aren't—Call of Duty, in BF3's case, Marilyn Monroe in Lindsay's. The problem with BF3's single player campaign is that it jettisons almost everything that makes the multiplayer campaign great. The first mission is set on a train and serves as a perfect metaphor for the entire plot: you're on a rail, from start to finish. Attempting to explore a map or sticking your head out from cover, before being told to, can result in automatic death. Games like this typically rely on scripted scenarios, but BF3's approach is heavy-handed enough to destroy even the illusion of freedom.
This single-player screenshot neatly illustrates the game's detailed models while summarizing the entire SP experience.
If you want great single-player, go play Deus Ex: Human Revolution
If the turgid storyline wasn't enough, the game's cinematic aspirations are further undercut by its use of quick-time events, while the lack of a save game ability turns navigating said events into a tedious process of rote memorization. All of this would be easier to overlook if the SP campaign did anything to prepare you for multiplayer.
The game lets you fly helicopters and jets, but neither craft is a tenth as intuitive to control as a tank or jeep. Battlefield 3 badly needs a tutorial or three on piloting, but the single-player missions confine you to playing gunner while someone else handles the aircraft.
The single-player campaign does one thing well--it's a fabulous showcase for the capabilities of the Frostbite 2 engine. The game's visuals set a new high mark for the PC and the positional audio cues are excellent, even when using a simple pair of speakers or stereo headphones.
The game's server-finding functions and all game-related data is stored online in the Battlelog, while the game itself is only available via EA's Origin system. We were entirely prepared to dislike Battlelog—the idea of handling all the various game functions in-browser sounded like a hackneyed attempt to justify an always-on connection and display ads to a captive audience. Though we can't speak to the company's long-term advertising plans, but Battlelog works surprisingly well.
We encountered glitches, including needing to apply a manual PunkBuster patch and issues with the game not always properly starting when told to do so, but problems have been few and far between. In-game lag has never been more than occasionally annoying, and the latest drivers from AMD and NVIDIA delivered good performance without a need for last-minute updates.
AMD appears to have a slight edge on NV where image quality is concerned; Our NV play sessions were marred by an occasional green flicker. It tended to occur 2-3x in quick succession and never very often. Whatever problems cropped up at launch, they appear to be locked down. We're confident recommending that folks buy the game as it exists today.