Battlefield 3 beta: The series at its online best?
28th Sep 2011 | 13:46
Yesterday DICE launched its Battlefield 3 beta across all platforms whipping up FPS excitement everywhere.
Not ones to be left out, we scurried to our console, sat through a painfully long download procedure, pulled our hair out trying to connect to a game and eventually got a little hands-on time with it.
Our mission begins with Operation Metro, where we're playing the Rush game mode. The objectives are simple, and immediately familiar to anyone with a bit of Battlefield experience; as the defending team we're tasked with stopping the enemy from blowing up our military communication stations until they run out of time or both stations are destroyed. At that point the map expands and a new pair of M-COM stations come into play.
We start off in an area of Paris that is reminiscent of New York's Central Park. Like most maps in Battlefield it's a large, open, landscaped area with an incredibly vibrant, natural feel to it. The skies are a clear blue and the area around us is densely packed with trees and foliage. Off in the distance we spot rippling water an artificial pond and notice the walking tracks that snake around and lead up to higher overlooking areas. It all looks quite picturesque.
But just over a nearby hill it's a different story; small fires are raging, the distant sound of gunfire echos and pockets of soldiers scattered around are engaged in heated firefights.
The park benches and gazebos are obscured by the twirling satellites of a mobile comms station and other military gubbins. It takes a bullet in the head from a nearby sniper to remind us what we're supposed to be doing, so we spring into action.
The first of the noteable change in BF3 comes from the movement, it feels a lot smoother than Bad Company 2 and that's in large part thanks to the ability to vault over cover.
Instead of coming to an abrupt stop to initiate a climbing animation a quick tap of the jump button while sprinting results in your soldier executing a slick Mirror's Edge-esque slide-over-cover vault. It makes getting around much easier and is perfect for when you want to get back into the heat of battle quickly or need to get out of the way of incoming fire.
Battlefield 3 also offers the ability to go prone; players can drop down onto their stomachs and haul themselves around while keeping their heads out of enemy scopes. Since the soldier uses one arm to shuffle about the gun-toting arm is free to fire while moving. Obviously the shots aren't very accurate but it's useful for dealing with any enemies that make an abrupt entrance nearby.
The ability to go prone provides a number of new tactical options; in our gameplay session we found it helped the odds of successfully defusing a planted charge, which in the previous game was quite difficult since the crouched position left you quite open.
Our support class is kitted with an RPK-74M. It might be a light machine gun but it packs a serious punch - as one unfortunate fella found out. DICE's use of sound to give guns a kick has always been masterful and, from what we've played, Battlefield 3 is no different. The RPK-74 produces a satisfying clap, the shotgun thumps and grenades explode with a deafening cacophony of sounds. Beyond the individual guns and grenades the ambient sounds of battle give a real sense of being in a large-scale war.
DICING WITH DEATH
After failing to stop the attack on our M-COMM stations the battle moves underground into the metro station. The underground area is designed to provide a much tighter, close-quarters combat experience. It's comprised of two adjacent platforms separated by abandoned trains, which players weave in and out of to get the jump on the enemy. There's also a labyrinth of claustrophobic corridors on the edges of the metro. In these areas it's not uncommon to turn the corner into a squad of enemies, so having a quick finger and firing from the hip is essential for survival.
The visual contrast between the underground and natural upper areas is quite startling. As expected all the features of modern day subway, such as advert boards, floating signs, litter and bright, uncomfortable looking plastic seats are present. But there's also an atmospheric change, it's a lot darker and, as the battle progresses, a thick layer of dust develops and damage to the fixtures and trains results in flickering lights and sparking electrical boxes.
In terms of the impact on gameplay it means you've got to be a lot more mindful of your surroundings and pay attention to sounds. Since your visibility is severely lowered, the occasional uncharacteristic flicker of light, slight movement or distant sound could be the tip off you need to defend yourself against an ambush.
Of course, as always, it's also important to stick with your teammates and spot your enemy at every opportunity. We can't count the number of times our spot alerted a better positioned friendly soldier, who went on to save our behinds from being riddled with bullets.
If we're being honest, from what we've played, there aren't any huge additions that fundamentally change what Battlefield is about. DICE has spent years crafting and honing this core experience and, given how popular the multiplayer is, it wouldn't be smart to alienate its substantial fanbase by making massive changes.
Much of the appeal comes from the new wrapper, the power of the new Frostbite engine is undeniable. The game looks absolutely gorgeous and runs silky smooth. While we did come across some odd hitches here and there, that's to be expected at the beta stage.
Overall it's an exhilarating, dynamic and constantly challenging multiplayer experience. The tactical, precise nature of the Battlefield games has always been what sets them apart from their competitors and Battlefield 3 feels like it could be the series at its best.