Allow me to dispense with a regularly-asserted myth right up front: No, "Battlefield 3" is not a better game, or a better looking game, than any recent "Call of Duty" title. And while we'll need to wait another week before the final tally is available on Battlefield 3's supposedly epic war with Call of Duty 3: Modern Warfare 3, this much is clear already: DICE has done a decent job of copying nearly everything that makes MW special, right down to the plot lines and in-game character interactions. But as with any copy, that's all that Battlefield 3 is, a copy. It's a high-quality, wonderful made copy. But it's just a copy.
That said, there are people out there who have long believed that the Battlefield series offers a superior form of multiplayer than today's trigger-happy shooters. I'm not of that opinion, but if you prefer Battlefield's bigger maps and more team-oriented multiplayer modes, you won't be disappointed by this title.
Note: Battlefield 3 is a big game. It comes on two discs, one for single player and one for multiplayer, and even if you install the game to the hard drive, which I always recommend, you'll be flipping discs in and out of the console like it was a 1984-era Macintosh. There is also an optional 1.5 GB "HD pack" installation, which I performed immediately. Online shots suggest this results in better looking graphics, and unless you have a 4 GB Xbox 360, or live in an area without broadband, I can't imagine not doing this.
Modern Warfare 3 opens up.... Excuse me. Battlefield 3 opens up, and occurs largely within, Iran, where three Soviet-era suitcase nukes have gone missing. As with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, however, there are also sequences in Paris and New York, and as with Call of Duty: Black Ops, the single player plotline involves an interrogation that's interwoven throughout the story. The parallels between this game and recent COD titles is unnerving and unnecessary.
The single player experience is pretty short, and while it's woefully generic, there are some nice bits, such as a fighter plane sequence that is particularly beautiful to look at. Graphically, Battlefield 3 is excellent and high-quality, but as with Gears of War 3 before it, one gets the idea that the Xbox 360 has hit its upper limits, graphically, and has already peaked. So as beautiful as it is, it's no more impressive than last year's tier-one shooters. That's not DICE's fault, it's just a fact.
(I understand the PC version can be made to look better, thanks to its higher resolutions and non-fixed graphical capabilities. PC gaming is, of course, not an option for most people, unfortunately.)
Where I was a fan of the Bad Company games, which combined great action sequences with plausible forms of comedy, Battlefield 3 is largely humorless, unless you consider the occasional extended middle finger after an unfortunate death to be funny. More often, it's aggravating, with extended checkpoints that force you to relive a long sequence over and over again. And more than once, I simple gave up on it for the day because of such aggravations. Otherwise, I probably could have finished it in a single day.
There are some co-op possibilities, however, and while I was in no mood to bother, I suspect this will be a big deal for many players. In fact, given the lackluster nature of the single player campaign, it will almost certainly be more entertaining to go through it with a friend. At least you'll be able to give it the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" treatment together.
Long-time Battlefield adherents will tell you that this series' multiplayer has always been superior to that of other wartime shooters, and that Battlefield 3 is, in some way, a higher water mark. I am not such a person. I find BF3's multiplayer to be tedious and just different enough from that of the COD games to be uninteresting. (In fact, this was an issue I had with the Bad Company multiplayer modes as well, and I otherwise liked those games quite a bit.)
In its ongoing efforts to out-COD COD, DICE does finally give us a traditional Team Deathmatch mode (and a related Squad Deathmatch, though no standard Deathmatch), and since this is how I spend much of my waking hours in Black Ops, I feel qualified to tell you that it doesn't stand up in the slightest. The controls are aggravatingly different (push the right stick, instead of RB, to crouch, etc.) and the pre-set load-outs are uninteresting and hard to configure. Where Black Ops offers an endless array of load-outs, contracts, challenges, kill streaks, and more, in BF3, you must deploy as a type of player, each with only limited forms of customization and unlocks. There are also only a limited number of multiplayer game types.
There are a few high points in multiplayer, including vehicles (not seen in COD since World at War) and some helper classes that let you heal teammates (also not seen in COD since WAW), resupply others, and fix tanks. It is certainly more team oriented than the team-based games in COD.
I feel obligated to like Battlefield 3, but I don't. Both the single player campaign and multiplayer are tedious and uninteresting, and I never wanted to go back and explore either further. I know there are people out there who love this stuff, but I just don't get it. As with last year's Medal of Honor, Battlefield 3 is clearly influenced by the success of the Call of Duty franchise, but it goes even further towards trying to simply copy what makes COD so compelling. And on that note, it's a failure. A beautiful failure, but a failure, and one I'll be ignoring well before Modern Warfare 3 makes its debut next week. Will MW3 stand up to previous Call of Duty titles? That's not a certainty given the problems at Infinity Ward, but I can say this already: It faces no credible threat from Battlefield 3 at all. Not recommended to fans of Xbox 360 military shooters, unless you're already a diehard BF fan.