The beta for Battlefield has come and it was worth the wait. As I write this, I’m just now coming up air after spending the last three hours shooting through Operation Metro, a sprawling city park/subway/courtyard map that has redefined my expectations of a modern shooter. Coming from someone with a, let’s say… troubled relationship with Bad Company 2, I was astounded at how much fun I was having. It was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a blast.
Let’s address that last point first. Don’t get me wrong, I bought Bad Company 2 – three times actually, but that’s a story for another day – and had a lot of fun in it. The problem was, I couldn’t be faithful. I play too many damn games and found out pretty quick that as challenging as getting your groove the first time can be, getting it back is something else entirely. I liked the game, very much, but trying to re-enter it after three months of total abstinence? I died. A lot. The learning curve on BC2 was and is higher than most other shooters. With Battlefield 3, DICE made a wise decision. They’ve chosen to make the game more forgiving while also keeping the strategy, team-play, and skill high.
Battlefield 3 brings a number of small changes that really alter the feel of the game. You can take more damage before you die. You can go prone quickly and freely. These two things give the player a fighting chance to survive once they’ve been spotted. That extra cushion keeps the tension high. If you go prone quickly, you might be able to dodge the killing bullet, but thanks to the Frostbite 2 engine, whatever cover you’ve found is likely only temporary against the onslaught of enemy fire.
The guns are fantastic. They’re highly detailed (of course) but the feel is just right. Anyone who’s played more than a couple of shooters will know what I mean by that. For those that haven’t, suffice it to say that they’re finely tuned enough to feel satisfying with every shot. They’ve removed some of the franchise’s distinctive weight but not so much as to seem insubstantial. Every gun has its own feel. The sounds for these are also fantastic and wholly natural.
This is all aided by the supreme audio engine first introduced in Bad Company 2. And what sounds there are. Unlike visuals, it’s much harder for sound designers to blow us away. At first, you might not even notice how deep the sound design in Battlefield 3 actually goes. Given time, however, you’ll begin to hear how the sounds of your gunfire, the echo of your boots, the harried shouts of your squad-mates, alter depending on your environment. This was true in BC2, of course, but they’ve dramatically increased the effect. You’ll hear a difference when you’re surrounded by glass instead of cement; outdoors, underground, or in a city street, it’s all different. There are many tiny details, too, such as the impeccable and idiosyncratic voice work. The sound-work draws you in, subtle, until you wake up and realize how enthralled in the experience you were.
The only map available during beta is Operation Metro and the only mode “Rush.” Thankfully, it’s also one of the most varied maps I recall seeing. There are four phases, taking place in three different environments. Phase I is a city park, with lots of hills, rocks, trees, and bushes to hide in. Phases two and three are in a ruined subway — which you see and hear being ruined by a giant rocket — full of tight corridors, upper and lower levels, and sniper lanes. The last section is a city courtyard with upstairs apartments, a glass-fronted city building, stone stairwells, and soldier-hiding banisters. All of this lends itself wonderfully to switching between classes strategically depending on what route you’d like to take. It is, hands down, one of the best designed maps in the franchise’s history.
Like any good beta, there are also some bugs to be worked out. Mostly they involve the camera clipping under the world. There are quite a few terrain issues, as well. I’ve unintentionally dove under the map, sometimes partially, sometimes completely, when leaping upon a hillock or raised terrain. These are especially concerning since it happens so frequently, but the beta crowd has by-and-large avoided exploiting them. While I don’t subscribe to the “it’s a beta!” excuse when the “beta” is so clearly a marketing event, I tend to think that this is the kind of stuff they’re collecting data on as we speak and will be fixed before launch.
There’s also a strange quirk with scope reflections. Yes, you heard that right: light now reflects off of your (or that sniper’s) scope. The problem is it’s really, really bright right now. Like, “highlight the sniper with a big white dot” kind of bright. At times, it’s very un-natural, such as in the darkness of the subway when the “reflection” looks a lot more like a high-powered flashlight. Honestly, though, this might not be a bug at all. Snipers do still have the advantage, what with their high-powered long distance rifles and all, and it also encourages strategic movement and less camping. I do wish they’d touch it down a tad, though, and I couldn’t stand for the effect to be far cut back on the ACOGs.
But I digress. Suffice it to say that I need to stop writing this preview so I can go back to playing. If you’re enjoying it on the PC, shoot me a request @ GameByNight. I’ve been collecting video clips, so stay tuned for more content straight from beta!