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It''s two games, really, in the way that all blockbuster video games released today seemingly must be. The first is the solitary, cinematic military experience, crafted with both eyes firmly on the cultural behemoth that is Activision''s Call of Duty series, strapping you into combat boots and shoving you off down an interactive rollercoaster filled with dramatic set-pieces through the pock-marked streets of Iraq. You play as a named marine, reliving his battle memories across various theatres of war via interactive flashbacks, as told to his superiors who bang the table while assuring your character that yes, they can handle the truth (a narrative structure lifted wholesale from last year''s Call of Duty: Black Ops).
It has a clear script with a beginning, middle and end, but only the most basic choices can be made in moving through each. Do you shoot this terrorist or that terrorist first? Once they''re both down, there are no options left open to you save to follow the corridor to wherever the next set piece is triggered. This is the Battlefield 3 movie game, the experience that prizes spectacle and a prescribed story over player choice. The second is the communal, multiplayer experience that takes its cues from playground games of cops and robbers and the series'' own celebrated history as it straps you into combat boots and shoves you onto the streets of Paris or the green hills of the Caspian Border. You play as a nameless marine, free to create your own battle memories in various theatres of war. Each battle has an objective ? kill the other team, destroy their M-COM stations ? but no clear script and endless choices to be made as you try to find your way. Do you shoot this terrorist or that terrorist first? Do you crawl along the ground, prone as you work your way towards the rival team''s base? Or take the long route by swimming out to sea and heading back in a wide arc? Or do you save your boots altogether and clamber into a tank or a jeep or a helicopter or even a jet fighter plane, ejecting at 500 feet to parachute down onto the objective? This is the Battlefield 3 game, the experience that prizes spectacle and player choice over a prescribed story. In contrast to most other contemporary blockbusters, the two disparate parts of the experience are split onto their own game discs, heightening the sense that they are entirely separate entities. Indeed, they may share a general control scheme, but if you want to switch from the single player to the multiplayer campaign, then you are going to have to switch discs, as if you were inserting an entirely new game into the machine.