Wednesday 17 January 2018

Battlefield 3 preview

Formats: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: Q4 2011

Battlefield 3 looks to be the biggest challenge yet seen to Call of Duty's dominance in the FPS market, Tom Hoggins takes a sneak peek at the weapons its bringing to war

It looks like Battlefield 3 will know when to slow the pace, serving up some atmospheric quieter moments
It looks like Battlefield 3 will know when to slow the pace, serving up some atmospheric quieter moments
Battlefield 3's Frostbite 2 engine is capable of rendering highly detailed environments of wildly different scales

Tom Hoggins

Battlefield 3 looks to be the biggest challenge yet seen to Call of Duty's dominance in the FPS market, Tom Hoggins takes a sneak peek at the weapons its bringing to war

Strike first, strike hard. EA have wasted no time in firing the opening salvo in a face off for supremacy of the military FPS.

For too long Call of Duty has had things its own way, dominating sales charts and disc drives almost by legacy alone.

Battlefield: Bad Company has always been CoD's closest competitor, and Dice have taken what they've learned from their rough-and-ready spin offs, using the knowledge to prepare their main series for the battle ahead.

A full-on campaign mode is the most radical addition to the traditionally multiplayer-focussed series, with Battlefield 3 now stepping into the breach to butt heads with Activision's goliath.

While we wait for the inevitable announcement of this year's Call of Duty, Battlefield 3 arrives with all the bluster and bravado you expect of the genre.

By its nature, the FPS market is an arms race, and EA and Battlefield developer Dice have come packing.

The Frostbite 2 engine --a significant technological jump over Dice's original bespoke FPS architecture-- seeks to utilise its sheer grunt to create blistering action on both micro and macro scale.

The light rendering techniques are super advanced. The "ANT" animation engine --borrowed from EA Sports titles such as FIFA-- allows more realistic, fluid blending of movement and nuance. "Look at all the wonderful things it does." say EA.

Talk is cheap, but the evidence --a 15 minute blast of live gameplay on PC-- is ... persuasive.

You will step into the weathered boots of Staff Sergeant Henry Blackburn for Battlefield 3.

Sent to the Iraq/Iran border in order to keep the peace, Blackburn and his squad are detailed to find a missing soldier. It's not long into this search that the US forces discover the insurgency making a nuisance of themselves are far more organised and dangerous than they first appeared.

After Blackburn's small squad hops out of their transport, you see a sun-baked square crawling with US soldiers, standing in rank and file.

It's an arresting sight in scale and detail. With Frostbite 2 apparently committed to both the broader strokes and tiniest details, the Battlefield 3 demo fluctuates in the scale of its pulsing staging and pacing.

Blackburn's squad creeps through an abandoned Iraqi market. Incidental detail is everywhere, discarded produce, a dog leaps at a gate, scrabbling and barking as they slip past into an abandoned school.

It's supremely atmospheric, shadows creeping across walls like spiders legs as laundry flutters in the breeze.

The calm is shattered, of course, by a sniper bullet shredding the shoulder of one of Blackburn's teammates, who he then must drag to safety before joining in the battle in a cavernous killzone, surrounded by high buildings.

The squad's shouts and weapon fire echoes around the concrete cocoon. Debris peppers the road as gunfire chips away at cover, demonstrating that dynamic destruction Battlefield is so fond of.

As Blackburn lobs a grenade into an Insurgent occupied balcony, the resulting explosion blows large chunks out of the surrounding walls. It's all very, very impressive from a technical standpoint. Call of Duty and Bad Company have always been big on bombast, but this is a step up.

However, we've seen so many scripted military rollercoasters recently that you wonder just how Battlefield 3 is going to address the creeping shellshock fatigue.

The sales success of the mediocre Homefront suggests that the appetite for such games continues unabated, but with such saturation, both Battlefield and Call of Duty will need to be careful to not to exert too much pressure, lest the bubble burst.

Throughout the Battlefield demo, though, there are glimpses of hope that Dice won't just rely on sledgehammer blows to pummel players into submission.

A rooftop scramble has Blackburn and his squad under sniper fire, scooting from cover to cover as plant pots skirting the building edge splinter and pop under gunfire.

Locating the sniper in a hotel across the street, Blackburn's squad lays down covering fire as he belly-crawls into a safe position to fire off an RPG, blowing a hole in the hotel, buckling it in the middle as if it was punched in the gut.

Dust and debris rain down, and the giant electric sign snaps free of its holdings and dangles precariously over the street. The single RPG blast is the only time Blackburn pulls the trigger in a section more about movement and timing.

Getting rather more claustrophobic, Blackburn is tasked with following a wire into a dark, dank substation, wriggling through vents with only the scattered glow of flickering lightbulbs to guide him.

Locating a destructive IED, Blackburn tries to cut the wire before getting into a brief, brutal QTE (uh-oh) fight. It's purely cinematic, but the thrum of the power generator and incessant beeping of the bomb turn it into a genuinely tense section.

So the intimate moments are well demonstrated. But Dice end the demo on a scale you genuinely won't have seen in a genre that thrives of being gigantic.

A pitched highway battle among the burning skyscrapers of the city, support choppers taking out enemy tanks, used bullet shells tumbling from the aircraft's underbelly.

Blackburn mans a turret attached to a US jeep, opening fire on the sudden rush of insurgents. There's a rumble and the building in front buckles and sways, a tremor ripples out, shattering the pavement beneath your jeep, flipping you into the air.

The building collapses in a belch of dust and debris, pitching forward, falling on Blackburn's position. As the dazed, prone soldier meekly raises his hand, the screen fades to black.

How very exciting. This glimpse at the campaign leaves little doubt that Battlefield 3 will pose the biggest threat to Call of Duty that we've seen in years.

And that's to say nothing of the expansive, vehicular multiplayer (64 players on PC, 24 on consoles) that the series is famed for.

With both EA and Activision committed to a $200m marketing battle, woe betide anything that stands in their way. Better take cover, there's a war coming.

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