When it comes to their storytelling aspirations, the folks at DICE clearly intended to deliver a five course steak dinner compared to Infinity Ward's McDonald's combo meal. Unfortunately for all concerned, EA's poor scripting and practical implementation undercut its aspirations. It's like arriving at a five star restaurant, only to be informed you'll have to wear a wetsuit three sizes too small and dine under the vulpine gaze of a lascivious Alan Greenspan.
You know the cooks worked hard and the food is delicious, but the wetsuit chafes badly and Alan is wiping at his mouth while murmuring something about "irrational exuberance" in a thick voice. Then you notice he's only got one hand on the table...and you just can't take it any more.
Multiplayer distances don't get much larger than what you can see above
Infinity Ward serves up a plot so thin it couldn't keep an Ethiopian stripper decently covered, but it does so at a pace Michael Bay might envy. Is it "good?" No. We've seen Saturday morning cartoons with fewer plot holes and better character development. Is it fun? Definitely. It's too short to anchor the game as a must-have purchase, but it's still fun while it lasts.
Winner: Modern Warfare 3
Graphics and Audio:
No, the MW3 engine isn't quite as good as BF3's, but you'll never notice in the single-player campaign
Modern Warfare 3 has the dubious honor of launching less than a month after Battlefield 3 was lauded for its next-generation graphics and great positional audio. MW3's single-player campaign is gorgeously cinematic in places and the multiplayer maps are impressively detailed. Explosions, smoke effects, and audio cues are all well done. It's beautiful in its own right, period.
Battlefield 3 is better.
Even the smaller BF3 maps offer far more open space to play in
It's not just that the Frostbite 2 engine can handle maps that apparently dwarf anything Infinity Ward could produce, it's the space between buildings, the availability (and usefulness) of ground cover, and destroyable terrain. Both games have indestructable objects, but MW3's world is considerably more static. This has a practical impact on gameplay. Both games offer the option of going prone, but it's easier to hide in BF3 (this is partly due to the general availability of ground vegetation). Because buildings sustain damage and can even collapse, the same map may play differently from one game to the next. Both games offer positional audio, but it's easier to hear where shots (and footsteps) are coming from in BF3 than in Modern Warfare 3.
Ultimately we prefer the Frostbite 2 engine—but more because it allows for a much wider range of maps and play styles. The graphics in MW3 may not match Battlefield 3's, but they're pretty darn good in their own right. The limitations on map size and design are more frustrating.
Winner: Battlefield 3
This question mostly comes down to personal preference. MW3 offers customization options and perks that BF3 doesn't, including earning the ability to call down air strikes or take a stint as a gunner on an AC-130. There's much less of an emphasis on teamwork; players can earn points for tossing down a stack of ballistic vests, but support activities play a much smaller role.
The smaller maps and simplified gameplay make MW3 potentially better for a quick game session, while BF3's vehicle options, greater number of players, and emphasis on teamwork require a bit more of a time commitment. They're different games, with different goals, and while MW3 has it's strong points...Battlefield 3 is better.
The "simple gameplay" argument would only put Modern Warfare 3 on equal footing with DICE if BF3 was impossible to pick up for a 20 minute session. It isn't. BF3 might require a tad more brain power and a bit of strategic thinking, but it's a first person shooter, not first person chess. MW3 offers more maps and more game types, but they all end up feeling like the same map (and, with few exceptions, the same game).
Winner: Battlefield 3.
With over six million copies sold thus far, MW3 is already a massive success--but if you've only got money for one, we'd recommend Battlefield 3. Alternatively, we'd recommend waiting a few weeks, and picking up BF3 once the price comes down + an old Call of Duty for the combined price of $59.99.