Thoughts on the Battlefield 3 Beta

The beta for Battlefield 3 has rolled out, and I’ve given it a go-over.  Things have changed, yet it still feels like Battlefield – more so than its Bad Company predecessors. Since this is only a beta, and there is way too much to cover outside a full review, I’ll just stick to the one map, and touch lightly on the key points of the Frostbite 2.0 engine.

The beta consists of one gametype (Rush mode), and one map, appropriately named, Operation Metro.  The setting is Paris, with the U.S. set to attack and the Russians attempting to defend.  As usual, in Rush, there are two stations per area that the attacking team must destroy using explosives in order to advance;  ultimately destroying the fourth and final set to win the match. For the defenders, it’s as simple as killing the enemies until they run out of lives.  While it may sound re-used, there are subtle changes that improve the experience considerably. One such example is if you’re disarming a charge, it will not explode, regardless of time remaining, which many players found frustrating in previous titles.

The map is more dynamic and contrasting than Rush maps of older Battlefield games. My first step into Operation Metro was stunning to say the least.  Visually, the level was impressive right off the bat, with the lighting standing out above all. The map itself starts out in a park full of trees swaying in the breeze, concrete railings, fences, bushes, and other park-ish things.  After the first objectives are completed, a large explosion occurs, revealing the entrance to the underground metro from which the map’s name originates.  From there, the wide open fighting turns into a tight, close quarters battle on the train tracks, boarding platforms, and work tunnels. Eventually the combat leads to the ticket booth area, then spilling out onto downtown with tall buildings acting as machine gun nests or sniper platforms, and small alleyways for tight firefights. From start to finish, Operation Metro is very large and full of contrast in both aesthetics and strategy, forcing players to adapt in the playing field, or suffer deadly consequences.

Moving on to the gameplay, which teaches the Battlefield dog some damned cool new tricks.  My first surprise came while taking cover behind a concrete slab. After a few rounds of assault rifle fire, the concrete was shot away piece by piece.  As much as I wanted to worry about the dwindling cover, I was more distracted by my screen. My in-game vision had begun to blur around the edges slowly until reaching the center, causing me to get killed.  This is a new suppression feature which is caused when a shot comes near you, but doesn’t hit you. This forces you to stay behind cover, but is also disorienting, making it harder to see.  The new feature can be used to your advantage, however, if you’re the one laying down suppressive fire, as you might be awarded with points when your teammates kill your blurry-eyed opponent.

After my team and I took the first objectives, we went into the underground.  Here is where the lighting engine stands out from other shooters.  The tunnel looked dark, limiting my vision.  Cautiously I stepped in and found, after a second, that my character’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness.  Baffled and amazed I went in further, a little more optimistic. This optimism was quickly shot down as an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) flew past my face.  This served not only as a warning to stay the hell down but to show off more lighting skills, as the RPG illuminated the area around it as it flew, even casting new shadows. The amazement from the rocket proved to be my downfall though, as while I was distracted, a foe killed me from behind with a knife.

This brings me to my next point of interest: the animation and destructibility.  The aforementioned knife kill wasn’t just an instant kill; it was animated in a similar fashion to the assassinations in Halo: Reach or Assassin’s Creed, except from a first person perspective.  My character was pulled backwards, from where the knife in hand came around the corner of my view to stab me.  Although it was terrifying, it seems a great way to immerse players into their soldier.  Turning, looking up or down, and running all have effects on your gun, causing them to tilt and move like they would if you were actually holding them. Lying down and getting back up are animated fluidly and realistically, making the annoying practice of ‘ground humping’ virtually impossible.

My next attempt to take the objective fared slightly better.  While attacking a point held by the enemy, a clever teammate with rockets took a shot at the enemy’s defensive position.  What followed was that exact point of the wall being destroyed, and actually blowing out like a real wall would. While we moved up, I noticed an enemy behind a pile of bricks, using it as cover. Deciding to utilize the new suppression feature, as mentioned above, I opened up fire on the enemy behind cover. This went better than I expected, as the bricks it was made of were shot off piece by piece, revealing the enemy for an easy kill. Moments like this continued throughout the round, with the most notable being at the end: There was an enemy player with a machine gun mounted in a window, whom I decided needed a rocket to the face. Upon contact with the corner of the second floor, the rocket blew him and the wall away, with the wall actually falling from the building in a mess of debris and dust instead of just disappearing.

I did experience some issues with connectivity.  To start, I have not yet been able to bring a squad into a match from the main menu, or even join a friend in a game they’re playing.  Every once in a while, I come into a game that’s just too laggy to be playable and I had to leave the game completely and re-enter in to even search for a new match.  I’ve also seen a few graphics issues, with odd flashes happening on screen, or having long spikes come from parts of players.  However, this is a beta and things like this are supposed to happen. I have complete faith they’ll be fixed by the final launch of the game on October 25th.

As the dust settles and the curtains close on the beta, it’s evident that DICE means business and will be delivering one of the most realistic shooters to date.  If you’re a Battlefield fan, or even just looking for a first dip into the series, then the latest instalment is shaping up to be the best yet, and a definite buy. If you’d like to hear more, then wait for our full review of Battlefield 3, shortly after launch. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to camp outside my local game store until the launch!

Editor’s Note: This article was incorrectly labelled as “Thoughts on the Battlefield 3 Demo” instead of “Thoughts on the Battlefield 3 Beta”.  The article title has been changed.  Sorry for the confusion!

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October 10, 2011 - 8:30 am