It’s no secret that the heart of DICE has always been in its extraordinary competence in first-person multiplayer design. And while I enjoyed the single-player campaign of Battlefield 3 for its cinematic and graphics quality (and you can read all about that - along with details on the game’s co-op - here), it was in the multitude of online modes in Conquest and its streamlined cousin Rush where I felt the game was really packing heat.
Those who have been playing the Beta non-stop will already be familiar with the various different soldier classes that can be spawned. Each class comes equipped with an assortment of primary and secondary weapons, along with medi-packs and a couple of grenades. But your choice will determine a bit more than just your loadouts (which can be tweaked before spawning anyway).
Assault troops are your standard all-rounders that can be deployed to suppress the enemy or take out targets in a pinch, while Engineers are great for cover fire and for rescuing knackered equipment. If your team manages to find a tank and it gets clobbered, you’re going to need help fast. Support class players can foist additional ammo on unsuspecting friendly victims, and Recon blokes can setup radio beacons for backup support.
There’s even further options to discover before you even deploy your chosen unit. Every gun in your arsenal can be re-jigged to give you the edge that suits you best. A range of different optics, grips and tactical extras can be applied (or removed), and the effects that each have on your accuracy, kickback and other stats can be dramatic. Tactical lights will give you a good view of nighttime maps, but other players will see you shining from afar, like a coin in a deep well.
It seems that DICE is really trying to pack as many features as humanly possible into the Battlefield 3
multiplayer experience - its efforts trickle down right into the main menu, where players can find a game by the usual matchmaking system or by launching the impressively in-depth Server Browser, which allows you to filter a multitude of options from servers around the world, be it DICE’s own or from a range of private ones.
maps have never really been on the small side, but compared to the (still frankly large) size of the Bad Company 2
stages, Battlefield 3
’s arenas are absolutely colossal. There are a range of team deathmatch options that take advantage of the space, naturally, but the obvious reason for all this room is to accommodate the Conquest and Rush modes. The former is the bread and butter of the series - two huge armies battle for total control of a map, with bases being lost and gained on both sides and leading to an epic push and pull between two forces.
The Operation Firestorm stage played to this tune exceptionally well - a massive open space with an oil refinery sat in the middle. Bases are situated inside and around the refinery, which means that there’s no way for players to avoid engaging in a firefight. And as you would expect, the most hotly-contested area of the map happens to be right in the centre. But it also means people will get fragged an awful lot.
Rush mode changes things up a bit by staging two teams as attackers and defenders. The former has to charge into the latter’s stronghold and sabotage computers at various points on the map. If the defenders manage to lose all three targets to the attackers, they must retreat further back to another area of the map where they have a better chance of suppressing the enemy’s approach.
There are many stages that I played which really showed off the design brilliance of DICE - the Grand Bazaar’s labyrinthine roads, alleyways and rundown markets linked with a wide open highway for tanks to plough its way through enemies; the multi-level nighttime cityscape of the Tehran Highway; and the industrial confusion of the Noshahr Canal docks, littered with cranes and containers for players to hide in.
But what really took my breath away was the Damavand Peak map, which is an amazing experience in Rush mode if you get the chance to play well as the attacking force. A colossal military base, complete with air combat runways, there’s a section here where players have to jump off a huge cliffside to reach an assortment of bases below.
There was hesitance at first - if you jump off, would you die? Is there a safer way down? Surely there must be. But nope, you’re left to swallow your virtual fears, take a leap of faith and watch yourself plummet down... before you realise you can kick open a parachute and land safely on a base roof some hundreds of kilometres down (with no issues in draw distance either)! Spectacular.
Whereas I felt like I needed to play a lot more of the single-player campaign to really ‘get it,’ with the Battlefield 3
’s multiplayer it just sort of clicked. Once I had done away with some irritating secondary options for my weapons, I was running around like a bad boy... and er, getting shot in the head more often than not. But I still got several kills in, and I felt like a pro doing it. There’s a weightiness to the controls that feel like you’re really sprinting hard down runways, streets and down alleyways.
Make no mistake - like most other first-person war shooters, Battlefield 3
’s competitive modes are going to be the real reason you come back to the game when it lands on the 28th October.