(CNN) -- "Battlefield 3" continues its franchise tradition of offering a realistic wartime experience with a variety of weapons and vehicles in a beautiful environment.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated and talked about titles for 2011, the game's developers at DICE wanted to raise the bar and go head-to-head against other top-tier military simulation games (i.e. the "Call of Duty" franchise). Publisher Electronic Arts went so far as to state that it was gunning for "Call of Duty's" market share, with some pretty strong words.
The campaign for "Battlefield 3" is a story told with a series of flashbacks through the eyes of different people, as a terrorist plot involving nuclear weapons is discovered. Twelve missions show off environments from the Caspian Sea to New York, and all are gorgeously rendered.
Although most of the action occurs with the main character, players also become a gunner in a jet, a tank driver and a foreign spy. Each mission is intense and intricate and fits into the overall plot nicely. But some of the missions lack the energy of the rest. The jet mission doesn't allow you to fly the jet but has you sitting in the back, waiting for things to come to you. I'm not sure if it was done that way for pacing, but it slows the action and doesn't offer the same thrills as other missions.
There are some emotional moments in the single-player campaign that the actors portray very well. Beyond the typical "tugging at the heartstrings" scenes when a comrade dies, a few missions will make you want to slap the character on screen with the butt end of your weapon.
The Frostbite 2 graphic engine works hard to display intricate details. It casts gloomy shadows, and there are moments when every blade of grass appears to move individually. Roads, tunnels, open fields and building interiors project the appropriate feelings of openness, claustrophobia and increased tension -- and that's even before the bad guys arrive.
I do have one complaint here, as the graphic engine at times produced rain smears and mud splatters on my display during missions for no apparent reason other than to show off. I'm not talking about on a jet canopy. I'm talking about walking around when it is obvious that I'm not wearing glasses or a visor. It was rather annoying but a minor point.
There was also some video lag, which I found very odd on the Xbox 360 version. The audio would continue along nicely, but the visuals bogged down and would get out of sync for about five to 10 seconds. Not sure if it was just a fluke with my console, but it is worth mentioning in case it happens to you.
Combat, as expected, is the backbone of the game. Multiple weapon options are available, and how you build your soldier's arsenal will determine how your missions get accomplished.
Campaign players will start with some basic weapons initially, but many more can be found. Will you swap out your automatic rifle for something with longer range? The decision should depend on whether you want to head for higher ground as opposed to, say, a flanking maneuver.
Teammates are key to your success. Wade headlong into a battle, and you'll just end up reviving back at the last checkpoint. While military movies may portray the hero rushing into the fray alone, that tactic doesn't work here.
See how your squadmates are advancing, and pick a different route. Oftentimes, the enemies will be so locked in fighting the main force that you'll discover easy pickings by taking the road less traveled.
If the campaign missions are good, the multiplayer missions are great. So many options for weapons and vehicles open up, as well as action that can't be found in the single-player missions.
"Battlefield 3" offers nine maps with 24 players each that span different environments and offer a range of objectives. Five game modes offer familiar classics, but Team Deathmatch is a welcome addition that puts you in an infantry firefight where the object is kill or be killed.
While the jet mission in campaign mode may have been a letdown, the multiplayer version lets you pilot attack helicopters as well as fighter jets. Players can also spawn directly into the cockpits, so no more waiting around for a plane to pilot.
A variety of armored assault vehicles are also available, depending on the size of the map and type of mission selected. From jeeps to light tanks to full battle tanks, all have been revamped.
Minor damage is automatically repaired as long as you stay out of danger. Heavy damage causes the vehicle to catch fire, which results in slower speed but continued weapon function. The question then becomes how long you remain inside your damaged ride, racking up kills, before it explodes.
There are plenty of weapons with unlockable attachments and other gadgets to discover. Those bonuses are tied into your class, so think about how you play before diving in. Loadouts -- the weapons and abilities you choose at the beginning -- have also been tweaked to offer more options to the players.
You can change classes from mission to mission, but focusing on one class will unlock the more powerful gear faster. Points can be earned in a variety of ways, from straight kills to disabling opponents to working well with your teammates. When they succeed, you succeed.
All of the multiplayer experience is tied to the EA Battlelog, an online social media program that tracks your multiplayer stats and awards, keeps tabs on your friends and lets you form platoons for future battles. PC gamers can also launch their game from Battlelog.
Word of warning: My Safari browser was not fully supported on Battlelog, so I could look around and talk to friends but not join in their game. Also, there have been reports of server connections dropping or not connecting, particularly with the Xbox 360. EA has been working on the problem, but forum pages are filling up with disgruntled players who can't enjoy multiplayer.
There are also six co-op missions that are loosely tied to the main campaign. They do require communication between teammates, especially for the stealth missions. One nice mission puts the player in the cockpit of a helicopter, giving you the chance to do some flying outside the multiplayer missions. Weapons can be unlocked in the co-op game that can be used in multiplayer.
Comparisons to the new "Call of Duty" game will inevitably rise after its release. The bottom line is that, on its own merits, "Battlefield 3" is clearly one of the top games in the military simulation genre.
Intense action, a wide variety of weapons and vehicles, and rich, immersive environments will test your skills and adaptation abilities. Some minor issues detract from a very fun and exciting game, but those shouldn't stop players from coming back for more.
"Battlefield 3" is available for the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and iOS. The PC version requires registration to the Battlelog and EA Origins. It is rated M for mature due to blood, intense violence and strong language. This review was done playing on the Xbox 360 Limited Edition retail version.