Battlefield 3 beta impressions
If you didn’t know that a public beta for Battlefield 3 had been released, clearly, you are a time traveller from the distant past. Welcome, weary time traveller, welcome to the now. We have clean running water and Facebook. For all the rest of you, my opinion may be superfluous as you yourselves have no doubt also spent the last two weeks repeatedly tearing up the same French Metro Station with grenade spam.
BF3 is the latest incarnation of the popular Battlefield series of games. With 9 official entries (not counting the expansion packs) to its family, BF3 has a lot to live up too. The last Battlefield title I lost time to was Battlefield 2, and by ‘lost time to’ I mean ‘wasted months on’. For me, the Battlefield series’ major points of difference have always been huge maps, loads of players (up to 64) and vehicles.
BF3, like its predecessors, is geared towards squad-based, class-oriented game play. The class-based system has been refined since my last encounter with it in BF2, and it has taken a leaf from Battlefield: Bad Company with 4 separate classes; Assault (rifleman-medic), Engineer (Anti-Armour and fixing stuff), Recon (camper) and Support (heavy machine gunner, nade/rocket spam enabler). Each of these classes has a specific weapon tree and equipment tree that you can use to further specialise with.
You see, I like my M16A3 assault rifle and BF3 will reward my persistent and illogical use of that useless peashooter by giving me upgrades for it. New gangsta scopes! Handle bar streamers! Spokey dokeys! It’s pretty cool really. Alternatively, as you progress various unique weapon choices will become available allowing you to swap out standard issue rifles and pistols for something special from the arms dealer catalogue. BF3 does lend itself towards favouring veteran players who’ll eviscerate noobs with their ultra unlocked and upgraded l33t [sic] weapons. Having said that, show me the multiplayer FPS game that doesn’t favour experience over youthful cannon fodder (you Day of Defeat pundits up the back can be quiet).
My initial impression was, ‘Did I accidentally load up Medal of Honour multiplayer by mistake?’ That’s how familiar the two seem on first inspection, and it should be no surprise really, since they both use the Frostbite engine, albeit a generation apart (1.5 vs. 2). Beyond the look and feel, the sound and models look like they may have been almost directly lifted as well. Actually, if you slapped a Medal of Honour badge on it, it could very well be confused for it. There are some lovely atmospheric effects like clouds that cast shadows as they pass in front of the sun, gun fire flashes in dark places that provide some eye candy between getting mowed down, again, for the 15th time. Trees can be felled by grenade and rocket fire. Guns kick and bark and feel good to use. Opening up full auto doesn’t result in the same sporadic killing capabilities that Battlefield 2’s weapons seemed to have.
Much has been made about the destructible environments. Now, let’s be clear, you cannot set about destroying everything in the map. Some specific environments can be destroyed and that destruction looks great, but some can’t. It is a little weird that one wall can be reduced to tissue paper yet some generic-looking computer server equipment right next to it remains happy, healthy and, more importantly, impervious to bullets. This has always been the downside to Destructible Environments, where concrete walls can be destroyed yet the doors are made of some damage-impervious super material. This gripe aside, I really can’t say enough about how awesome it all looks. I would put a dress on BF3 and take it to dinner. I would sit and stare at it all night knowing I was with the prettiest game in a dress at the restaurant. Its every word, burst of automatic gunfire, and the occasional far-off wail of a police siren would be actively listened to with a look of intense concentration on my face and a hint of playful flirtation in my every response. I guess what I am trying to say here is that BF3 handles, looks and sounds phenomenal. If Miranda Kerr were a game, she would be BF3.
The BF 3 beta came with two maps on which to enjoy its metric tonne of kick-ass. I predominately played Metro, which is a Rush Map. One side defends (camps) while the other side plays moving target to all the defending snipers. Your object is to destroy/defend the generic M-Com stations. Typically a bomb takes 10 seconds to arm or disarm and takes what seems a life time to detonate. After one side manages to defy the campers and destroy the M-Com station the map opens up more and new M-Com stations are activated. Wash, rinse and repeat until one side wins.
I also had a brief encounter with the more BF2-familiar Caspian Border map, which is your standard Capture the Flag map. It wasn’t as fast and furious as Metro and it suffered from some noticeable lag. In its defence, it is a huge map with up to 64 people (24 players for you console players) in game at one time. In the hour or so that I played, I successfully camped the living bejesus out of a flag in the woods and terrorized some guys spawning on a tank who couldn’t figure out that I was effectively ‘spawn camping’ with a huge tank miles away. My fun was cut short when a passing jet bombed me clear into a respawn screen. These are the kinds of maps that really attracted me to Battlefield in the first place. Want to play a combat flight sim? It’s here. How about cruising around in an armour plated machine of war? Battlefield has got you covered. Want to be foot soldier getting absolutely massacred by the aforementioned death machines? Well look no further, all your needs are met and viciously crushed underfoot.
The Dirty Bottom Line
It’s just a demo. It’s like a good strip tease, showing you just enough to leave you salivating more. However – staying with the strip tease analogy for one moment more – the closer you look the more you see the sad, vacant look in the stripper’s eye. There are numerous clipping issues. Crawling around in the scrub occasionally leaves you looking straight through the bottom of the map. Weapons magically lose their ability to aim down the barrel, usually when you are busy getting shot the hell full of holes whilst busily spraying the country side with ineffective return fire. It may just be a beta/server config thing but I was unable to call up an in-game options menu at times to configure graphics options etc. Also on the menus, the in-game squad menu and respawn screen seemed to operate on some sort of reverse fuzzy logic. Its design was seemingly intended to look intuitive but really it’s just messing with you. Origin (EA’s answer to Valve’s content delivery system Steam) is required to play and frankly, Origin is not pretty.
I guess I should mention the competition in closing. If you believe everything you read online, you will firmly believe that there is only room for one First Person Shooter this year. It will either be Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or EA’s Battlefield 3. In fact there is enough noise online to believe that the two of them are going to throw down and duke it out after school behind the bike sheds. Yes the wildly successful CoD:MW series is currently the de facto go-to shooter, and its influences are more than apparent in the BF3 demo, but can there really only be one game where gung-ho marines go toe-to-toe with Insurgents/Russians/Militant Parking Wardens? I would hope not. My call is that CoD:MW3 will outsell BF3 at least two to one, but I think Battlefield 3 will be the enduring title. Sure Christmas will be dominated by CoD:MW3 but Battlefield 3 will be creepy kid at the high school dance. He’s always just over there in the shadows, watching, waiting.
Well Should I, Punk?!
Well of course you should! If you are new to Battlefield games then boy howdy are you in for a treat. The learning curve is a bit steep and be prepared to die, a lot. Beyond that there is something so satisfying about getting completely owned by some camping bastard with a sniper rifle but coming back to run him over in a tank. And that's really it, the vehicles and huge, massively multi-player maps have always stood BF-titled games head and shoulders above its competitors, and I see no reasons for that to change from the glimpse I got through the beta. So I give Battlefield 3, my ‘Buy It’ recommendation.
Battlefield 3 comes out on October 27.
Did you try the beta? Post your comments below.