Thursday, February 9, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Battlefield 3: The Russian

Battlefield 3: The Russian (Andy McNab and Peter Grimsdale)



Plot

The Russian serves as a very loose novelization of Battlefield 3's single player campaign, with enough added plot points to differentiate itself from the game. Despite the added depth, the cliched story, terrible ending, and a complete wasted secondary arc keep it from being worth the buy.

Like the game, the story tells of two soldiers, U.S. Army Sergeant Blackburn and Russian Spetznaz Dima, and their quest to save the world from nuclear annihilation. Unlike the game, the focus is more on Dima than on Blackburn. The novel also ditches the flashback narrative so (annoyingly) present throughout the game.

Dima's entire story arc is expanded to fit in new characters and events, mostly concerning the erosion of Russia's intelligence agency. We spend 70% of the novel with Dima and friends, trekking through Iran in a desperate attempt to find Solomon and his suitcase bombs. There is quite a bit of new info where Dima is concerned. Firstly, Solomon is revealed to be Dima's protege, and secondly, Dima is revealed to have an illegitimate child with the daughter of French nobility. These help flesh out Dima's background a bit, but they don't really do anything for the sake of the plot, besides force a rewrite of the game's closing action, which was arguably its best part.

Blackburn's story is nearly identical to that in the game, but without some of the repetitive "video game" elements. That being said, it isn't much better. He spends alot of time languishing in prison, doing nothing of significance to the reader, and when his hero moment finally comes, we experience it through Dima reading an article about it after the fact. His arc was largely wasted, reading about his experience as a detainee of the CIA was not a riveting experience, and too much of his story was already seen in the game.

There are substantial inclusions that help Dima's story, however. The early scenes in which he is a freelancer are pretty good, as are the new scenes of him and his team in Iran. There are a few sub plots that come and go, involving his old contacts that we are told precious little about, and these manage to add little besides length.

The ending is quite different, as well. Instead of the ambiguous ending seen in the game, we are treated to a more typical Hollywood ending, in which our protagonists are huge heroes and everyone lives happily ever after. I do not care for this ending, especially compared to the other one, which was probably the highlight of the entire story. In fact, I don't really care for this story at all. Sure, the book is better, and significantly altering everything was a good idea, but what you are left with is still a cliched, ham-fisted plot that we have seen 1000 times before.

Characterization

Perhaps the reason that the plot is so boring is because the characters are stock and not the least bit relate able. Dima is the only one with any real depth, and even he is far from a stellar character. He talks, and thinks, too much like a stereotypical special forces badass to relate to. Also, the revelation that he has a long lost son that works in the building/city that Solomon is trying to blow up just makes the story that much harder to believe. Dima's supporting cast is fairly weak, though the two stalwarts, Kroll and Vladimir, are fairly decent sidekicks. Everyone else comes and goes to fast to connect to, but these two are, if nothing else, good companions.

Blackburn's companions are far more vapid. The bland squad from the video game drops in and out, and a surprisingly large amount of Blackburn's story takes place when he is either alone, or surrounded by completely anonymous CIA agents. Blackburn himself isn't developed all that much, though we are told that his father served in Vietnam, which caused Blackburn to join up in order to understand what his father went through. This aspect of his character is wrapped up in a trite conversation with his parents following his arrest, and overall the character felt extremely forced, simply to put an "American" perspective in the novel.

As for the antagonist, Solomon, almost everything we know about him is told to us by Dima. He barely shows up in this adaptation, and his showdown with Blackburn is completely removed. He is a decent villian considering the genre, but far from intimidating, though Blackburn's first encounter with him is significantly more gruesome here. It would have been good to see more showing and less telling with this character, and the way this book ends will leave people who have yet to play the game in the dark when it comes to his fate.

Prose

The fast paced writing style is well suited for the book, however the descriptions are horrible and action scenes aren't much better. The author's descriptions mostly consist of throwing out as many brand names as possible, mostly of cars, and calling that "world building." There is a tiny, tiny amount of detail placed in describing buildings and cities, but for the most part the author spends more time telling you the model of the car that just blew up than the layout of the safehouse our heroes just breached. This wouldn't be an enormous problem if the book's scenes were relatively similar to the game- then atleast those who played it could get a picture of the setting. However, when all of the events were changed, so too were the settings. The climactic encounter between Dima and Blackburn takes place in a mountainside fortress instead of a lakeside retreat. The race to defuse the nuke is also completely different than what was seen in the game, and the lack of descriptive detail here is quite disappointing when trying to envision these events. It was quite funny that the author felt the need to interrupt the flow of the writing to explain acronyms like LZ, APC, and RPG, but couldn't be bothered with describing the setting.

Action scenes also lack any kind of power. For the most part, they consist of nothing more than a play by play retelling of the action, there is no tension and no doubt as to who will survive. The author also frequently employs stream of consciousness during the more action packed scenes (such as when Dima is searching the mountainside fortress for arms dealer Kaffarov,) which doesn't really work when your characters have no personality and all they can do is make random observations with no significance to anything. Another detracting factor is the dialogue. The dialogue is pretty much standard action flick fare, with tons of manly catchphrases and pointless, unfunny banter. Some may say this is "realistic," but there is absolutely nothing else realistic about this story, and realistic or not, it was annoying.

There isn't really much to praise about the writing, some of the imagery was alright I suppose, but overall it was just too generic, too cliched to enjoy. Much like the rest of the book, the writing fails to impress.

Conclusion

What could have been a great tie in book is squandered by the terribly lame characterization, uninspired writing, and unsatisfying re write of the game's ending. Can't recommend, even to Battlefield fans.

Final Score

34/100

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