After waiting six and a half hours in line, I finally got some quality hands-on time with the pre-alpha build of Battlefield 3 that DICE and EA were showing off at E3 this year. While I was very, very impressed, I can recognize the fact that this game isn’t about to win over many gamers who aren’t already fans of the genre or the series. I loved Battlefield 3 because I love Battlefield, but for those who are looking for a reason to be converted may not be quite as excited by it because it’s the same formula, just with some tweaks.
First and foremost, Battlefield 3 may be the eleventh game in the franchise, but it’s the direct successor to 2005’s Battlefield 2. Slated for an October 25 release, Battlefield 3 is coming out for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.
The game runs on DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine, and it looks simply phenomenal. Textures look great, especially on the weapons, and the lighting effects look stunning. At one point during the demo, I ran through a sewer system and certain cracks in the pavement above me allowed small beams of light to shine down; not only was visibility realistically increased in these areas, I could even see little dust particles floating around in the cones of light. The engineer class is equipped with a flashlight, so I always made sure to use it in poorly lit areas just to see how well the engine handled it.
The environmental destruction generated by Frostbite 2 is also impressive, making virtually no part of the battlefield safe. I’ll admit that I panicked when I tried to take cover behind a wooden fence when I was under fire, only to have the planks start exploding and flying off around me as my opponents continued to shoot. It not only looks good and adds to the realism, it functions as a gameplay mechanic that requires you to strategize accordingly.
Character models are very well done too, but what really stand out are their animations. The DICE rep who spoke to us before we played through the demo explained that a great deal of effort was put into the animations, which were taken from other EA games like the FIFA series so as to provide the greatest level of realism and believability. I think it really showed, and rather than the stiff, jerky movements that often ruin the immersion factor of games, I watched as my fellow soldiers ran by me with exceptionally smooth movements. Transitions from standing to crouching or prone position were handled surprisingly well too, as those can often end up looking laughable if they’re not handled right.
But enough of me gushing about the beauty of Battlefield 3, because there’s more to a game than just eye candy. At its core, this is still classic Battlefield. Teamwork behooves you the most (but going it alone is always an option), it’s class-based gameplay, and there are the same game modes that everybody is familiar with. So, when I say this is standard Battlefield, that is to say that it’s insanely fun and addictive.
For our demo, we played the Rush game mode, which has the attacking team attempting to place explosives on key points on the map while the defending team tries to hold them off. After two attack points are blown to smithereens, a new section of the map is opened up and the attackers are presented with two new objective points to strike in this new area. The DICE representative tried to boast about this gradually expanding map being a new feature, but this isn’t the case; in Bad Company 2 (a Battlefield spin-off series) this was how Rush maps always operated.
There are some tweaks that have been made to the gameplay, all of which are for the better. In a move that is probably the most subtle, but probably my favorite, players can finally choose to deny a revive. In the event that a teammate is attempting to revive you but you have no desire to come back to life, you can choose to not be revived so you can change your class, loadout, or spawn point. I can say first-hand how frustrating it can be if you want to make certain changes and your teammate keeps bringing you back to life, as it’s something I experienced extensively while playing Bad Company 2. Oftentimes, players would revive teammates just to get the XP, meaning that they would often bring me back to life in the middle of a firefight, just to get cut down again instantaneously; in Battlefield 3, this is no more. I couldn’t be happier about this.
In a slightly more drastic move, the classes have been tinkered with to shift around certain responsibilities and inventory sets. A dedicated medic class has been done away with to make room for the new “support” class, which still totes the primary of light machine gun, like the medic before it. The healing responsibilities of the now-absent medic have been, oddly enough, passed onto the assault class, which can now dole out health packs and revive fallen comrades. It’s a rather unorthodox choice, but it works and serves as a good way to divvy up jobs so they’re not all piled on the support class.
Rather than healing, the support class can drop ammo packs and, more importantly, provide suppressing fire, an all-new feature. Whenever the support class fires at another player who is behind something, the player that’s in cover starts to suffer from suppression: the screen starts to blur and get foggy, and his accuracy starts to plummet, making it more difficult to jump out and shoot back.
I was suppressed a couple times during my playthrough of the demo, and it definitely achieves its intended effect. It’s disorienting and gives you a reason to keep moving and never stay in cover for too long. I think it’s a great idea and it’s a solid deterrent for turtles who resort to just camping out in cover to weather the storm before popping out and counterstriking. To top it off, if you suppress an opponent and a teammate of yours kills them, you bag an extra suppression bonus on top of the assist for some extra XP.
Prior to playing the multiplayer demo, the DICE rep stressed that Battlefield 3 was all about being able to “play it your way.” As such, he said that the four classes were perfectly well-equipped to let players go lone wolf and disregard teamwork, should they so choose, while weapons will be customizable via attachments (players can have up to three equipped at once). Sadly, the build we played had a locked set of weapons and loadouts for each of the classes, so this was not something we could enjoy first-hand.
Even the famous dog tags are customizable. Battlefield has had a long-running gameplay mechanic in which knifing an opponent bags you his or her dogtags as a trophy; in Battlefield 3, you can choose what design you sport on your dogtags, and what stats of yours you want them to display. For instance, you can choose to have your tags display how many revives you performed, and that number is updated on the fly. So if one man knifes you and then you go perform some revives before, god forbid, another man stabs you, each of those players will see different numbers on the tags they collected from you.
As a quick side note, the knifing in Battlefield 3 is outstanding and quite a visceral experience, to use the worn-out term. Now, knife kills — and subsequent tag-snagging — only work from behind, at which point you and your victim are both launched into a rather gruesome animation. It was extremely surprising the first time I was stationary and shooting safely (or so I thought) from cover when suddenly I saw a gloved hand reach around and grab my face as a knife was plunged into my chest. It will catch you off-guard every time, and while it’s an enjoyable new gameplay feature, it’s added motivation to avoid the humiliation of a knife kill.
So are there a slew of new, genre-defying features that are guaranteed to shock gamers and long-time fans of the series alike? No, not really. But for those who love team- and class-based first-person shooters — and the tried-and-true Battlefield formula — it looks like Battlefield 3 is as close as you’ll get to the perfect game. So, having played the demo after having waited six and a half hours, I personally can safely say that Battlefield 3 was almost worth the wait. Almost. But in Battlefield 3’s defense, no game is worth waiting in line for six and a half hours.