October has proved to be a strange month so far. For the early part many of us in the UK have spent time basking in our long awaited British summer. Alas the flip-flop and sunglasses revival was to be short lived, and it was on a cold and windy day that I made my way to the Hospital Club in Covent Garden to have an exclusive play through of one of the year’s most anticipated games, Battlefield 3.
Many fans of the first person shooter genre (FPS) will already have their hands on the Battlefield 3 BETA code and will be busy dissecting every inch of what the online modes have to offer, this play through however was with the completed game and allowed extensive time to explore both the single player campaign and the online modes. The online multiplayer will be the big selling point for many people as this is what will keep people playing once the (expected 8-10 hour) single player has been completed. There is no denying that Battlefield 3 has a tough task ahead to displace Call of Duty from the hearts of many online players, but with the team behind Bad Company which was (whisper it), actually a better online experience than COD Black Ops, having worked on Battlefield 3, there may just be enough here to make gamers think twice about what to splash their cash on in the upcoming weeks.
Once I had received my (rather nice) free beer to get me into the mind-set of war, I settled down behind an Xbox 360, grabbed some headphones, and immediately logged in online. Fans of online FPS will immediately feel at home in the lobby here, with game modes and maps easily accessible. Once you’ve selected you’re online mode (the guys as DICE and EA seemed rather keen to show off ‘death match’ which was disappointing as it was simple run around and shoot everyone who isn’t on your side affair) you’ll be given the option of customising your soldier (which you can do in a pleasing amount of depth) and then spawn yourself into the Battlefield. Fights are quick, fluid and don’t feel a million miles away from most online death match modes. As for multiplayer maps, there were 10 available to play (although again we didn’t have any control as to which ones to choose) with Bazaar, Highway, Forest (Caspian), Paris, Oilfields, Basejump, Subway (Op. Metro), Canals, Kharg, and Omaha all on offer. The maps range from wide-open areas, such as Canals, to most claustrophobic town maps with cars and buildings providing cover and vantage points. Again, nothing particularly stood out as revolutionary here, (although we are building on brilliance already) and perhaps with longer extended plays, the subtleties of these maps will be revealed. They did appear small enough however, that with enough playing time, hardcore players will become familiar with them very quickly. With team from Bad Company 2 behind the online mode however, there is every reason to expect that Battlefield 3’s will be the best around.
Single Player Campaign:
Going against the grain somewhat, I am still very much a single player man when it comes to FPS (and I still believe that you can’t beat a bit of 4 player split screen action all in the same room together), and so it was the campaign mode of Battlefield 3 that I was most interested in exploring. On arrival, along with my rather nice beer (with perfectly sliced lime included – it really was that good) I also received a very nice, and somewhat stern looking, embargo letter clearly stating that I was to not reveal any plot details of Battlefield 3′s first mission. I can confidently say though, that if anyone held any concerns that Battlefield 3 would be lacking behind COD MW3 when it comes to Hollywood style blockbuster moments, then these will immediately disappear within seconds of assuming the nameless character ready to kill some bad guys. Again, not giving too much away, there are hints of 24 season 6 (episode 4 fact fans!) along with a moment that looks a lot like a rather controversial talking point from the COD MW3 trailer. People will be right to comment that Battlefield 3 seems even closer to COD in this instalment, and this is not necessarily bad thing, although the quick time button pressing events are tiresome, especially as they mean that the best moments are as result of you not doing much other than hammering a single button.
The blockbuster focus is definitely effective, although is a world away from Battlefield 1 and 2 which seemed to want to be rooted in reality. Here we have falling buildings, humungous explosions, and gigantic leaps across building tops. It’s awesome enough, but anyone expecting the realism and authenticity promised by the ‘Fault Line’ gameplay trailer may feel a tad betrayed by the impossible situations portrayed in the opening moments.
After the first stage, which also acts as a tutorial, the plot shifts our possible hero/traitor/but most likely hero, Blackburn. Your typical U.S. Marine, he is being held prisoner in a CIA facility, and is being grilled by his superiors for information that could help prevent a major terrorist attack on New York. In terms of plot it’s somewhat bizarre to see Battlefield go along a plot dynamic that is almost identical to the one shown in COD Black Ops last year. Through the interrogation we are taken around the world to various points of Blackburn’s career, jumping back and forth between present day and previous events to tell a complex story. There is no denying that it’s a shallow plot device, but you can’t help but fall for it, and there is some genuine intrigue as to whether Blackburn is the hero or villain of this piece.
From then on we move onto ‘Operation Swordbreaker’, which takes place 18 months before Blackburn’s interrogation. Here we follow (and there is a lot of ‘following the leader) his unit’s activity in Iraq, as they try to track down a terrorist cell called PLR. What begins as a routine walk (or as I believe it is called, a ‘sweep’) along the busy streets of Al Sulaymaniyah, seemingly designed to show off the nice graphics and the Frostbite 2 engine, quickly descends into predictable violence and wave upon wave of angry terrorists running at your position. Included in this is a stray PLR sniper who takes out one of your team with a precise shot. From then on it’s non stop cover to cover running with popping out to shooting the seemingly never ending wave of terrorists. If you thought that walking around looking at the scenery was pretty, then be prepared to witness the Frostbite 2 destruction exploding around you, which is some of the best graphical marvels you’ll witness on this generation of consoles. Soon you’ll be blowing up a hotel to get to a sniper, disarming a bomb and assuming a position on a bridge and mounting a jeep 50.cal turret. There’s no denying that it’s thrilling stuff, and just when you think you’ve seen it all in one level, you’re suddenly engulfed in an earthquake and a building topples right on top of you… I’ll stop there for now, but it’s safe to say that Battlefield 3 has embraced the big, Michael Bay style approach to shooters this year, and this is only a good thing for gamers.
Niggles that rear their ugly heads quickly include noticeable slowdown on the PS3 when the action and screen gets busy, plus an annoying pause when the game stops to auto save, usually during the middle of a hectic fight. You’ll also frequently find yourself crossing an invisible tripwire (the Battlefield version of COD’s invisible walls to prevent the player from going off map) which triggers a ten-second countdown warning you to return to the game area before the game quits. Annoyingly this manages to be even more immersion breaking than COD’s invisible walls, even though they’re both designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, it ends up being frustratingly grating. For fan boys out there, there is no obvious difference graphically between the Xbox 360 and PS3 editions, although FPS games generally feel more at home on the beefier Xbox 360 pad. Interestingly at the preview event, Xbox 360’s and PS3’s were lined up at opposite ends of the room, and it was obvious that the professional purist games journalists overwhelmingly preferred playing on Xbox as standard.
With the cold generally comes great games, and after playing through Battlefield 3, there appears to be a real meaty FPS fight ready to take place. Whether it’s online thrills, cinematic single player moments, or just opportunities to be taunted online by a cocky ten year old who has just killed you for the third time in a row, Battlefield 3 looks to be a strong contender for top of the pile come the end of year.
Battlefield 3 is released October 25th. A full review will be posted soon.
This preview first appeared on the rather marvelous FranktheMonkey.com – check it out here