Battlefield 3 is just around the corner, and DICE is certainly making sure that you know about it. It has already won a lot of gamers over with its ‘ultra-realistic’ graphical capabilities and refined shooter mechanics. A lot is being thrown at the production values - and the development of the Frostbite 2 engine - to ensure that the single-player is one of the most explosive experiences yet.
In the campaign, you control Sergeant Blackburn, a marine who’s under inquest from his military superiors about a planned terrorist attack in New York City. Blackburn is said to know details about this plot, and so campaign levels are strung together with scenes in this interrogation room, as Blackburn recalls the events that lead to his shocking discovery.
The following stage - the launch of Operation Swordbreaker - we’ve experienced before, when EA demonstrated the power of the Frostbite 2 engine for the first time. A search mission for some lost marines in the middle of a populated Iraqi city results in an ambush from terrorist group PLR.
Gunfights in car parks, snipers on rooftops and earthquakes toppling buildings all around you. The sheer depth of colour, the contrasts in light and shadow and the fantastic dust particles and visual effects that react to your every bullet and movement perfectly highlight just how graphically competent Battlefield 3
is. It’s a blinding immersion of the senses.
I was able to play beyond the initial Iraqi campaign stage and see what happened to Blackburn after he got buried underneath tonnes of concrete. Set at night, the ‘Uprising’ mission had the plucky soldier crawling his way out of the rubble and avoiding sight of the PLR military, which at this point are endless in number and swarming the city to look for US survivors.
On your own and left to fend for yourself, this stage has a different atmosphere to the squad-based camaraderie of the previous mission. But it somewhat feels a lot more straightforward - your goal is simply to survive, regroup with your team and make your way back to the extraction point so that an Osprey can come and rescue you.
Along the way you’ll enter warehouses and indoor markets that feel like brick tombs in the dark, and the audio direction allows for some chilling sounds to come and distract you when planning your next move.
But Battlefield 3
has more up its sleeve than ground-based military combat. As was recently announced, you’ll also get to take to the skies in a fighter jet and burn some bogeys. I had a chance to play this mission in full and while it’s a fantastic example of DICE’s penchant for cinematic action, I don’t think Ace Combat
will have anything to worry about in the gameplay stakes.
You break out of Blackburn’s story for this stage to assume the role of Lt. Jennifer Coleby Hawkins, a crack shot in the skies. While Blackburn is battling the PLR in Iraq, Hawkins receives orders to help take out a new player in this war - Farukh Al-Bashir, who is holding down in Tehran and is mobilising his forces.
Control of the plane is made for you, so really as you blow up enemy jets this really becomes an on-rails shooter. Different audio cues will tell you whether you’re on target with an enemy or about to get shot - that’s your time to hit the right trigger to launch heat-seeking missiles, or the left trigger to kick out your countermeasure flares. The visuals are beyond compare, but the aim-and-shoot mechanics left me a little wanting.
Things do get a little more interesting when you switch over to the targeting pod and start taking out enemies on the airfield below. Anti-air turrets need to be taken out with standard harm missiles, while grounded planes ready for take-off require a different targeting system in the JDAM bomb guidance. You need to keep the aiming cursor on the plane until a friendly sweeps past to drop a bomb on their heads. A similar tactic has to be used with the Thunderbolt, which allows friendly planes to target a line of enemies and crush them under a hail of bombs.
I was kicked off the single-player campaign after beating the ‘Going Hunting’ fighter jet stage, but I did have a good go on the highly anticipated Co-Op mode. This two-player scenario has you working together to fight through a number of enemy soldiers to reach a goal point. It’s a bit like Modern Warfare’s
Spec Ops, but as a straightforward level.
In ‘Hit and Run,’ your objective is to dash through an office block (in the dark) before jumping into a car and making a break for it through the car park. It’s very difficult at first, as it’s hard to tell where enemies are coming from. In my first attempt, I laid claymores at the door of this office cubicle - as suggested by the game - then got wasted as enemies came crashing through the bloody window. Yeah.
Still, once you get into the swing of things, it’s very atmospheric and an entertaining challenge. Reviving teammates takes a long time, but you don’t have to be standing right on top of them to do it and your friend can cover you with pistol fire as you heal them. At the end of the scenario, I made the mistake of using both sticks to drive the car, in traditional FPS fashion, when really I just needed to use the left stick. The right stick simply moves the camera, and resulted in messing my brain up with crazy viewpoints. Just a word to the wise there.Battlefield 3
is certainly a spectacular looking game, with visuals and audio that are likely to be unrivaled by any other game this year. But, like its competitor Modern Warfare
, single-player missions don’t exactly give you the freedom of combat choice.
Everything in the game is pretty straightforward as the game tells you what to do and exactly where to go to do it. Of course, without this limitation DICE would likely not have been able to pack in so much graphical and technical fidelity in its work.
Where Battlefield 3
will really shine is in its multiplayer mode, with DICE’s famous Conquest mode lauded by critics and gamers alike as some of the best war combat found on a disc. We’ll have more on this soon - stay tuned!