Eyes-On: Battlefield 3′s Operation Guillotine

By Alec Meer on August 31st, 2011 at 2:06 pm.

People with camper-vans? Basically terrorists.
Just two months ahead of release, Battlefield 3’s singleplayer mode remains something of a mystery – oddly so, given this game is DICE’s attempt to make their biggest franchise as appealing to lone gunners as team gunners. So getting eyes-on with a never-before-seen singleplayer level yesterday went some way to explaining BF3’s approach. That approach: MEGA-GRAPHICS, MEGA-EXPLOSIONS, MEGA-WAR. And yet, somehow, it’s also far more subtle and convincing than COD and its recent raft of wannabe crown-stealers.

The mission in question was named Operation Guillotine, and is placed about halfway through the singleplayer campaign. No, they’re not saying exactly how long said campaign is, but executive producer Patrick Bach intimated that he’s not sure games with “movie-style narratives” and no sandbox elements are unwise to exceed 10 hours if they want to sustain “high quality”.

Guillotine is a night-based mission, “something we haven’t done before”, and aims for a different sort of tension and action to the big street battle I played earlier in the day (more on that soon). Nonetheless, it’s not exactly a quiet affair. It kicks off with a clutch of soldiers crouching on a hilltop amidst the ruins of unknown buildings, staring down at Tehran, vast capital of Iran, windows in its towering city blocks twinkling in the night. It’s a hell of a sight: ugly and beautiful at the same time. One of the soldiers whistles in awe. “That is a biiiiig city.” And they’re going in, obviously.

Their orders are to capture an apartment complex on the other side of a canal, but that’s a whole lot easier than it sounds. First up is charging down a forested hill towards the city below, which would probably go more smoothly if said hill wasn’t being bombed to hell at the time. Thunderous explosions lead to trees aflame, which you and your comrades dash past to reach the relatively safety a gigantic concrete overpass. One chap is sent flying in the air from a shell that lands dangerously close – while key storyline characters will either live or die according to predetermined narrative decisions, other soldiers could dynamically bite it at any moment. This feels dangerous.

All the while, Tehran itself grows closer: this really is a remarkable spectacle, the Frostbite 2 engine doing remarkable things with lighting even on what, for this demo, is just the console build. With DICE bullish that the PC version will be about as bleeding-edge as videogames get, I can’t wait to see how this looks on a decent graphics card. The sound, too, is top-flight stuff. I’m far too uneducated in the mysterious ways of the recording studio to be able to tell you why, but everyone here’s been enthusing about how meaty and involving BF3′s audio is.

There’s also a sense of vastness and openness to the level, despite this being an essentially linear experience. Tehran seems enormous and all around, not just a series of flat bitmaps painted behind impassable walls. And, at this point at least, the game doesn’t seem to be pushing characters or dialogue too hard: clearly it’s war-as-entertainment, not any kind of simulator, but it does seem militaristic, not melodramatic.

Amidst the noise and screen-shaking explosions, there’s an emphasis on silent team-work. When you set down a mortar to soften up (and, perhaps more usefully, illuminate) a distant target, another soldier is on hand to put it in place and prime. When you and your comrades scale a wall to finally drop into the city proper, you’re all giving each other leg-ups. Then it’s down into the canal, all crumbled mortar and spilled water, and a tense, terse run through the night. The combination of darkness and smoke makes visibility limited, but the noise of battle is everywhere. Fire and explosion highlight enemy positions as you charge through, taking out who you can but mostly trying to stay alive. This does seem like a war, not an Arnie character elbowing his way through all and sundry. Crouching and crawling and staying near your allies is the way to get through, not dashing chaotically around the frontlines and cackling.

Then it’s time to infiltrate the apartment block, with a laser-sight-equipped shotgun proving surprisingly adept at picking people off from medium range. A grenade through a window leads to a door bursting open, an enemy soldier wreathed in flames falling through it. This small moment, as are others in this run, is scripted in the name of drama and progression, though Bach claims the grenade that caused it could have been thrown either by you or an NPC ally. Not that you can rely on NPCs doing all the work for you: “We want the player to be active and not just be a coward, you need to fight to win.”

Inside the apartment block, things feel a little City-17: crumbling, stark architecture, but packed with incidental detail like litter, puddles and snazzy light and reflection effects. The scripting aims largely for subtlety rather than overt puppetry too – for instance, breaching a door (yes, you do this yourself rather than watch an AI do it for you) sees a filing cabinet on the other side knocked over with a startling clang. Come the next door, things aren’t quite so low-key: an armoured enemy kicks it open, sending you sprawling onto your back and leading to a slightly jarring slo-mo sequence in which you have the time to raise and unload your shotgun as you fall.

Then it’s back outdoors for a short street sequence, walking past this battle’s wounded. A medic desperate applies a tourniquet to a fallen comrade, another soldier is being dragged away, and all-told there’s a sense of devastation and panic. For you, though, it’s off to a Humvee under orders from a Captain Brady. There things wrap up, with Bach determined not to reveal any of the context for this incursion into Tehran. “You’re going in to… do… things” is all we can get from him. Oh, and he also confirms none of the game will be set in Scotland.

And so we end with almost as much mystery as we began, but what we do have is more reassurance that BF3 is quite possibly going to be 2012’s most spectacular-looking game while resisting the urge for open excess. Obviously, its singleplayer is exploring some similar territory to the recent raft of post-COD modern military shooters, but it does seem to be taking a more low-key, less rollercoaster-like approach. Bar a couple of over-obvious brief scripted moments, it seems pacier, a little more subtle, a little more tense, more like a battle and less like a pop-up shooting gallery.

While still a linear run’n'gun game (in this section at least), it seems a long way away from the overtly prescriptive play and tone of Medal of Honor or Homefront – clearly determined to be its own game with its own feel rather than just try to keep up with the modern combat Joneses, or to simply be a ludicrous action film in disguise. There’s still much left to be seen, however – Battlefield’s trademark vehicle play will make its way into singleplayer at some point, while Bach has made repeated reference to the narrative taking a sobering look at the realities of war.

I suspect the multiplayer will remain BF3’s biggest draw for me – that’s where the real stories happen – but I’m an awful lot more interested and impressed by the core Battlefield series’ first foray into solo play than I ever expected to be.

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88 Comments »

  1. Skaaltel 79 says:

    I can’t wait.

    • rocketman71 says:

      I can. In fact, I have no hurry at all.

      Red Orchestra 2, now..

    • jp0249107 says:

      Good for…you?….whatever. I’m excited for both of ‘em so THERE

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Me too. Very keen for this. One of only three games I give a rats ass about this year. (The other two being Space Marine and Forza Motorsport 4).

      I don’t generally go for these franchises. I only own Black Ops because my two year old son mashed the buttons on my controller and bought it on the Xbox “Games on Demand” while I was out of the room.

      Battlefield 3 already pre-ordered. For Xbox. Because my system might be a bit clunky for it, but also because fuck Origins.

    • Davee says:

      I hope BF3 will be as enjoyable as RO2, as hard as I think that will be (for me). But – as rocketman71 also said – I sure won’t have any problems waiting for it. :)

      I’m suffering heavily from RO2-induced post-traumatic stress syndrome, much like “Grandpa”. I’ll never play a shooter the same way again. The screams of pain! The dismembered bodies!

      I CAN’T GET THE PICTURES OUT OF MY HEAD.

  2. Njordsk says:

    I WANT BETA NOW DICE

    please

  3. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    I actually thought that was a real life photograph of one of those -stan countries.

  4. Bilbo says:

    Sounds like it’ll be fun from a technical perspective but otherwise I feel like i’ve been here and done this.

  5. Jimbo says:

    CoD feat. Generation Kill. It could be worse I suppose.

  6. barules says:

    Amazing.How nicely does it run on computers?

    • Sheng-ji says:

      The graphics are amazing, but, they seem to achieve that through really high resolution textures and some beautifully subtly maps, which means that you’re likely going to need the literal top of the range graphics card x 2 and a fairly decent quad core to replicate those screens. I don’t doubt though that it will scale well and look fantastic through the range. It should run well enough if you don’t set the graphics settings too optimistically!

    • GoodPatton says:

      The alpha ran like a charm on my GTX 260 graphics card. It’s a given though that it was just the alpha test so it’s still to be seen how the final product holds up, but I think they’ve done some great things with optimization!

    • fswmacguy says:

      Hello, I registered to post this.

      I played the alpha and can say that the performance is lacking due to the fact that the game is not optimized for current-gen hardware. DICE, developing on high-end workstations, has no need to accommodate an aging C2Q or stock AMD X2. Come beta time, and certainly after the beta, DICE will have optimized the game to run well on most computers. We also usually see ATI (who is actually AMD, now) and Nvidia put out driver updates/patches when a frontpage game like this releases.

      Also it should be noted the lack of graphics options in the alpha; it seemed like they provided users with a very small handful of graphical settings, all of which seemed to do very little.

  7. Donncha O Caoimh says:

    Glad to see you don’t have any complaints about it running on console as that’ll be what I’ll be buying initially (must buy a new PC!), but like others who have commented I couldn’t help but compare it in my mind to COD games.

    Thanks for the excellent write up! Every time I see the trailers I wonder if I can afford that new machine sooner …

    • DrGonzo says:

      Feedback so far suggests if you can run Bad Company 2 at any level then you will be able to run Battlefield 3t oo.

    • torchedEARTH says:

      The comparison to COD is:

      BF3: teamwork, vehicles, destruction.

      COD: I am Rambo!!! RAWRR!!! Killstreaks awaaayyyyy!

    • Davee says:

      RO2: *BOOM* Ohmygodmycommanderjustblewupinfrontofme- *HE shells flies past* I want my mommy..!

      Sorry, I couldn’t resist poking that in. :)

  8. Ira Aduro says:

    As much as some people like to make fun of COD:MW2 – the singleplayer was fun in a popcorn summer action flick kind of way. This sounds like it will be like that but prettier and maybe with a dash of thoughtfulness.

    • westyfield says:

      Yeah, there’s something to be said for sitting back and watching shit explode.

    • Ira Aduro says:

      I’m always torn though because I know cool guys don’t look at explosions.

    • westyfield says:

      I don’t have that problem. :(

    • Chorltonwheelie says:

      MW2 is an easy target for cliché’ mongers. Bits of it were great. When people drone on about brown hued manshoots I have to wonder if they actually played the thing. Tropical barrios, blue icey oil rigs, war torn cityscapes….it was pretty and a lot of fun.

      Anyhoo…MW3, this fellah and RO2 will be keeping a smile on my face for a goodly amount of time. Double good.

  9. Tim James says:

    No, they’re not saying exactly how long said campaign is, but executive producer Patrick Bach intimated that he’s not sure games with “movie-style narratives” and no sandbox elements are unwise to exceed 10 hours if they want to sustain “high quality”.

    This is a very poor sentence.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Huh, I wonder if he realises that I have spent 45 hours on Deus Ex so far and I believe I’m 2/3 of the way through… and crucially, wishing I was only 1/3 of the way through, due to the sheer fun, and gameplay quality I’m having.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Yes, however every 5 seconds of Deus Ex isn’t filled with another intricate scripted scene. It’s all a bit silly really, this engine suits a more free combat, something like Far Cry and Crysis, not a completely scripted game.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      So, by high quality, what he really means is scripted! I agree, the engine would be amazing running a game in the vein of the first crysis!

    • Tyshalle says:

      There are numerous sentences in there where I had to spend a minute or so just trying to figure out if he really meant what he wrote or if he meant the complete opposite. Pretty much every time, it was the opposite. Which maybe I’m a dick for pointing out, but I still find it distracting!

    • Magnetude says:

      Dr Gonzo, you just made me imagine a DICE remake of Far Cry 2, and now I have to take a cold shower.

    • Britney.S says:

      No, they’re not saying exactly how long said campaign is, but executive producer Patrick Bach intimated that he’s not sure games with “movie-style narratives” and no sandbox elements are unwise to exceed 10 hours if they want to sustain “high quality”.

      I noticed that too;very annoying.
      (it should be “not sure,….[games]….are wise to exceed 10 hrs “or “he’s sure….[games]….are unwise to exceed 10 hrs”.)
      similar thing yesterday with the triple neg sentence, that annoyed me too.

    • Zelos says:

      @Sheng-ji
      How have you spent 45 hours in Deus Ex?

      Exploring every single nook and cranny in the game, completing every quest and obtaining every single weapon/upgrades available only took about 25 hours.

      EDIT: The “under 10 hours” thing is fueled by the lack of progression in COD-style singleplayer. You’ve experienced everything the game has to offer in the first 2-3 hours most likely, so the later parts tend to get very tedious. No one would finish a 30 hour COD campaign.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      @Zelos – Not really exploring every nook, just the ones that interest me, I’ll do a completion run another time.

      I’m trying to not just to ghost every scenario, but literally leave no trace, except for missing kit & hacked computers – no-one knocked out and no-one saw me, or heard me – like Lytha style in thief. Not being strict though, if I break the attempt, I don’t quick load.

      I do like to do loads and loads of recon, guess I’m slow really! Not much dead time or waiting around, it’s all been “Gameplay”

    • Turbinator says:

      I am not sure that I don’t not like the opening paragraph.

    • Tyshalle says:

      @Zelos

      I spent 35 hours in the game, according to Steam, which seems pretty accurate to me. I feel like I probably did every mission in the game, but I’m not 100% sure about it. I feel like there’s probably some apartments I didn’t explore in the hubs, and I sort of sped through the last mission instead of stalking my way through it like I had the rest of the game. But at anyrate, I think you can pretty easily make the game last 35 hours (as I did), and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people managed to take 40-45.

      Course, I did a lot of reloading on my playthrough, and I wouldn’t be surprised if 10% of my game time or so was spent staring at loading screens.

    • Cheese says:

      Keep in mind that steam tends forget about 1/4 of your playtime. I’d say my recent first play through of deus ex took 30-40 hours, which is a lot more than a great number of newer games and also probably more enjoyable. I did explore a lot, but near the end I tended to skip past a few things because I wanted all the answers.

  10. DSR says:

    STEAM OR NO BUY

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Seriously, do we need to start that up here as well?

    • Premium User Badge

      felisc says:

      I wish ea would seize the opportunity to bring new customers to origin by selling bf3 something like 35 euros… A man can dream, right?
      Although if they do some kind of christmas sale we might be able to buy it around a nice 25 euros.

    • Bilbo says:

      isn’t DSR the guy who hates valve? and (excruciatingly wittily) calls Robin Walker “Robbing Walker”?

      I am confuse.

    • DSR says:

      Ah, curses! My cover was blown!

      I’ll get you next time, RPS! Next time!!!
      Ahahahaha!
      *disappears into smoke*

    • Premium User Badge

      Durkonkell says:

      Gods, I would have been happier never to have to hear “Robbing Walker” again. Or read, whichever.

    • Bilbo says:

      Sorry Durk.

    • Tams80 says:

      Well, now you’ve started it:

      NO COMPULSORY DIGITAL PLATFORM.

      Seriously though, I think Steam would be worse. Their off-line capabilities still suck as you have to remember to “go off-line”.

    • pepper says:

      Tams, care to explain that? Not quite sure I get the ‘remember’ thingy?

  11. Hexanol says:

    The platform on which a game is launched is more important to me than the quality of the actual game. I will therefore be boycotting this travesty.

  12. Longrat says:

    Origin will be keeping me away of this game.

    • Magnetude says:

      See above.

    • methodology says:

      You’ve created a loop I can’t get passed…

      Oh wai

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Origin is why I’m buying the 360 version. (That and a four year old computer that, while it can run Crysis very well, I’m dubious it could run this well)

  13. mejoff says:

    If they sell this in Sainsbury’s but not Tesco I will not be buying it.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      What! Sainsbury’s is my closest supermarket, I won’t trek all the way to Tesco’s for it, I tell you that much. Grrrr let’s troll each other for the next month!

    • mejoff says:

      Bear in mind, switching from Steam to Origin will be like getting up, walking or bussing to a train station, getting a train to someone else’s house, getting the game off them and coming all the way back, then doing the same to take it back when you close it.

      (I’m not kidding, someone actually argued this in all seriousness on a previous thread on the subject.)

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Really! Wow, that’s coming close to invoking the Hitler ruling by sheer ridiculousness!

      (The Law of the internets states that every “debate” held online will work its way up and up until one side eventually likens the opponent’s arguments to Hitler or the Nazi party. The Hitler ruling states that the first side to do this automatically loses.)

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Hehe, awesome! Now I know the proper name and everything!

    • shaydeeadi says:

      If it isn’t in ASDA on my way home from work. EA have lost themselves a purchase I decree.

    • CerberuX says:

      Is there a law that states anything said on the internet can be twisted from its original sarcastic over the top intent lined with actual minor annoyances that it is indeed not on Steam and turned into “someone actually argued this in all seriousness on a previous thread on the subject.”?

      I’d like to know that law as it seems entirely applicable here ;)

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Poor old Morrissons, always get’s forgotten.

  14. dr.castle says:

    “Their orders are to capture an apartment complex on the other side of a canal, but that’s a whole lot easier than it sounds. ”

    Maybe you should turn up the difficulty?

    • torchedEARTH says:

      I think he means easier than renting each individual apartment, credit checks, deposit, getting the keys, getting a mate with a van to help move your stuff in.

    • Nallen says:

      Now now let’s not point out the double negatives and blatent mistakes. It’s mean.

  15. FadedCamo says:

    “with a laser-sight-equipped shotgun proving surprisingly adept at picking people off from medium range. ”

    Thank god, I always love how DICE doesn’t nerf shotguns into the “as strong as a swift breeze unless you’re within five feet” range that just about any other shooter does. Love tearing up with a pump action in BC2. From the sound of things, BF3 should be much of the same.

  16. Rii says:

    More imperialist propaganda, hurrah!

  17. clownst0pper says:

    Does anyone even play Battlefield or BC for the single player…? It could be be a pile of shot and I wouldn’t care as long as the multiplayer is awesome.

    • mejoff says:

      I played the single player, and loved it. I don;t tend to play multiplayer much at all.

    • deadly.by.design says:

      But the Cod-tards don’t know that, so they’re making sure it can compete or surpass.

    • Magnetude says:

      BC2′s single player just couldn’t compare, plus the lack of gamepad support meant it couldn’t be played as a sofa game, so no. Hoping for some gamepad support in BF3 (not for MP, obviously). It’s nice to kick back sometimes.

  18. wodin says:

    RO2 beta is letting me down badly….oh hum….so maybe I may aswell get BF3 after all….as I expect BF3 will do what RO now does but alot better…

    RO2 seems to have some bizarre gameplay features and has way to many modes gamplay and realism that it’s hard to fidn a server with a good ping and not full or empty that plays the game how I want to play it….infact I went on the RO2 RPS server before playing the countdown gameplay…terrible…one life use it wisely the tip for countdown says…followed by as the attacker if you rush the defenders base you can get a result…what with that one life you have to use wisely? and a stupid countdown…and having to wait god know how long just to get to play cos you can’t join until the others have finished the match….

    oh and the constant server browser crashes…and spawning in firefights so you get blitzed before you get your bearings….etc etc etc…the spawning system is bad news….and considering it’s released in 2 weeks it certainly has alot of problems….oh and hwy no single player….maybe because the AI is as bad as the first game….

    Anyway rant over BF3 looks like the way to go…sad but true.

  19. Khemm says:

    So… linear, CoD-like SP affair? Sad, games of old managed to use scripts AND give the players enough freedom at the same time, why is that these days I have to choose between interactive movies and awesome sandbox sims like ArmA? I’d say games like Quake, Duke 3D felt like a nice middle ground. What happened?

    • Nallen says:

      Well Quake and Duke were about creating something, most games these days seem to be about recreating something (an experience). If you wander off and get lost and spend 10 minutes looking for a key or whatever you’re not really having that focused experience.

      Still. We have Serious Sam on the way, and that…other game that promises to be a return to old school PC games with it’s secrets and what not (look I went back about ten pages and can’t find it, sorry!)

    • Khemm says:

      @Nallen
      Hard Reset?

      Honestly, why is none creating a single player experience like Quake? With that awesome level design, with that great visual design, with that awesome, super fast feel to your character movement, with those weapons that felt powerful.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J54uwZofcpc

      Seriously, I’m starved for such an experience. I’m certain the “niche” that would buy a game meeting the criteria mentioned is actually huge.

    • DXN says:

      Apropos of not much, I replayed through Quake 1 recently. Holds up brilliantly well – it just feels fantastic, the weapons are solid as you like, and the level design is quite interesting. It even looks quite pretty on a modern graphics card (in GL-mode, high-res).

  20. metalangel says:

    I don’t know why EA don’t just make Medal of Honour singleplayer only, and BF multiplayer only… instead we have two games where one mode is very undercooked.

    • Nallen says:

      I think they may well have dropped MoH now and are trying to do it all in one package.

    • metalangel says:

      That doesn’t sound like EA at all. They love money, why sell one game when you can cut it in half and sell both pieces as full price releases?

  21. ResonanceCascade says:

    The only Battlefield campaign I’ve played was Bad Company 2 and I HATED it. I really hope that they change this one up, because I didn’t see much difference between SP BC2 and SP Call of Duty. I’m not a big enough fan of Battlefield-style multiplayer to bite if the single player isn’t also strong.

    • arccos says:

      Bad Company 2 had a terrible campaign. Quite a few missions were quite literally walk down a corridor, getting shot, until you were close enough to kill the bad guys. The plot/acting was just terrible.

      The Medal of Honor reboot had a surprisingly good campaign, for this type of game.

    • Britney.S says:

      completely agree;bad company 2 campaign was garbage.
      i’d rather play a cod campaign its that bad.

  22. My2CENTS says:

    Im begining to wonder if RPS is getting paid by DICE/EA. There are dozens of topic about BF3 and most of them are really pointless, not to mention the need to always say BF3.

  23. Miidgi says:

    It seems as if this game wants to Say Something, which makes me sligtly nervous. I suppose BF3 will do a better job than, say, Homefront (which I admittedly never played, but I did watch several gameplay videos), but I would be somewhat disappointed if the “War-for-entertainment” of this game is subsequently drowned in what basically amounts to the game guilt-tripping me for enjoying playing it.

  24. Synesthesia says:

    man, this is looking better every day. It makes me so sad i wont be able to play it. Origin keeps trying me to scam me into euro prices. Guess we spics cant get ea’s toys dirty.

  25. Eightball says:

    No mods = no buy, but I’m not happy about it. :(

  26. Shooop says:

    So instead of shooting enemies in a room with hostages and a bomb with an assault rifle in slow-motion, you shoot guys with a shotgun while falling down in slow-motion. Yep, what a huge difference from Modern Warfare.

    Give it up guys, EA’s already killed, buried, and pissed on Battlefield’s grave with Origin. You reported that to us yourselves. Let’s talk about something worth actually paying money for.