The hardcore gaming competition is heating up and gamers are sure to be in for a treat (or several) this holiday season. However, besides the myriad of high quality action and RPG games coming soon, there has rarely been such an exciting competition between two video game titans. This holiday season, FPS fans will be treated to both Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Despite Call of Duty's previous market dominance, many are doubting whether Modern Warfare 3 can continue this trend, as EA's recent trailer releases show a game that is both more technically advanced and tactical, potentially offering a worthy alternative for those tired of the Call of Duty grind. In a massive show of confidence, DICE has released the Open Beta for Battlefield 3 on all three of the platforms that the game is being developed for. The following impressions are from the PC version of the game.
The first thing players will notice upon starting the Beta is that their web browsers will open, instead of the expected server browser. The way to access all of Battlefield 3's features is through the Battlelog, a website that offers stat tracking and its own server browser from which you directly join games. Although there are a myriad of reasons that DICE probably had for taking this route, it's too early to say whether it'll work as well as the old setup. Likewise, it's difficult to compare this to the Call of Duty Elite service due to it still being unclear exactly what features Elite will be offering for free, as Battlelog has no paid component.
Selecting and playing games is fine, however. The game launches relatively quickly, a boon for those Battlefield 2 players who remember the sometimes-annoying load times of that game.
The Beta lets players try out the map Operation Metro, a map thats specifically designed for the Rush gamemode. For those unfamiliar with it, Rush is a gamemode introduced in the Bad Company subseries that involves the two teams taking offensive and defensive roles. The attackers have to set timed charges on a pair of MCOM stations and prevent the defenders from defusing them before they detonate. The defenders try to run down the attackers' limited number of tickets. If the attackers succeed, the defenders get some time to fall back and set up defensive positions to protect the next pair of MCOM stations while the attackers get their tickets replenished and attempt to repeat their previous success.
Bad Company 2's Rush maps were well-designed pushes through valleys and hills. However, they simply pale in comparison to the detail and design that is demonstrated with Operation Metro. The first area is set in a park. While it may seem easy to defend, the park contains its own set of paths, bridges, bushes, and different elevations that enable players to traverse without the risk of getting shot constantly in such a relatively small area. The defenders cannot just sit back and snipe for this and other reasons that will be discussed later. From there, the two teams take the fight to the subway and eventually come to an urban area populated by buildings that they can take potshots from. There is more variety of gameplay and setting in this single map than there are in the entire map selections of other multiplayer shooters. This bodes well for the other maps that will be included in the game.
With Bad Company 2 having represented the bulk of my experience with the Battlefield franchise before playing this Beta, I was impressed by the huge improvements in infantry movement and combat mechanics that DICE has introduced. The reason why I suspect that there are no vehicles included in the Beta is that EA wanted to demostrate that Battlefield 3's infantry combat is now equal and in some ways superior to that of Call of Duty's. While movement is not as fast as it is in the competitor's product, players won't feel hamstrung by any sluggish actions or movement. Getting across maps is often a joy, as vaulting over low-lying objects is easy and shows your character smoothly swinging his legs over and landing on the ground. Seeing an enemy round the corner and promptly crunching onto the ground to shoot from a prone position is immensely satisfying.
Weapons are also varied and satisfying to shoot. Battlefield has always been known for its great-feeling weapons, and Battlefield 3 continues the tradition. There are many unlocks to reward long-time players. The visual and auditory feedback for getting unlocks and pins is immensely satisfying, and encourages you to continue playing to get that new scope or barrel. Guns are highly customizable, with constant use unlocking a plethora of different attachments and ammunition types.
The class structure has also been streamlined. The assault class now has medic abilities, while engineer, support, and recon fulfill their traditional roles. Some might take issue with the change, but I personally prefer it to having two classes that often require each other to do remotely well.
Battlefield 3's presentation is what has helped it catch the eyes of many gamers. The trailers and screenshots released have been simply dazzling, and PC gamers and console gamers alike were worried that their respective platforms would be inadequate for its visuals. PC gamers shouldn't fear, as even my relatively old gaming rig can match the visuals of those stunning trailers. The important component is the graphics card, as a GTX 580 can run the game on Ultra settings comfortably, even when the CPU and RAM are relatively dated.
Sunlight breaks through clouds, the clouds cast shadows that move over the ground, grenades explode and cause nearby trees to shake and sometimes fall, tracer rounds light up darkened corridors whose lights were destroyed by an intense firefight, the laser pointer on an enemy's gun washes over your vision and causes you to frantically drop behind cover, pieces of concrete are chipped away as defenders fire on a squad of attackers taking cover, an RPG slams into the side of a building and huge chunks fall onto the street, injuring whoever was unlucky enough to be running across the sidewalk adjacent to the building.
The stunning visuals of Battlefield 3 are complimented by an arguably-more impressive soundscape that takes everything into account. Crawling through the bushes, you hear bullets fly across and hit the dirt next to you. You know that your enemy is on the right side because the bullets would have made a different sound if he had shot across from the left and hit the concrete on your right. Its these little details that help you achieve tactical awareness using just the sounds of the battlefield, and it represents the importance that sound has to the actual gameplay, a feat that few other games have been able to accomplish.
Yes, there are bugs and small gameplay issues with the Beta. Improper animations are all the more glaring when put alongside the overall quality of the visuals and audio. The constant glint from the the lens of scopes makes it a bit too easy to spot Recon soldiers. Perhaps the game can play even better, but if the Beta is any indication, Battlefield 3 is shaping up to be not just contender for shooter of the year, but game of the year. Until then, play the beta to experience some of the huge progress that is being made to perfect the mechanics and presentation of modern day shooters.