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Knee-jerk Thoughts: Battlefield 3 Beta

First bite of the new frost

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My code has arrived, my megabytes have downloaded, Origin has grudgingly been installed and I have managed to squeeze in a couple of rounds in the Battlefield 3 open beta, which launched for pre-orderers and Medal of Honor special edition-buying mooks today (and goes live for everyone a couple of days later). This is nothing like an informed opinion as of yet: it’s just entirely top-of-the-head thoughts based on my very first experiences of manshooting in DICE’s new game and its new engine.

So, the hurdle to jump through before I could get to the point where I tried to hover a reticule over a man’s face was the new server browser/friend management/character system. This all works through your browser, and in my case wanted to download two plugins for Chrome so it could do whatever the hell it was doing. Initially, I thought my only option was to press the big QUICK MATCH button as everything else was apparently disabled for the beta. This didn’t go well, as it placed me in a 80-strong queue and then accused my client of being out of date and kicked me right out when I finally got to the head of the line some 20 minutes later.

In a bit of a mood by that point, I explored the web interface further and found the actual server browser, wherein I was able to track down a game with a few spaces free and join within a couple of minutes (though the game was still launched via a JOIN GAME button in my browser – trying to load the client myself only opened another browser window). In the human versus computer stakes, I was therefore winning – but I guess the match auto-finder might get a bit more reliable once the initial crush has died down.

So, I was into the game, and I’ll say a few words about that very shortly. Firstly though, I’ve got to say I’m really not a fan of not being able to launch the game in a conventional way, but instead having to go through the web interface before I can get even a sniff of actual Battlefieldery. As well as the faffing about element, it also meant none of the game was loaded ahead of the match itself, and if I accidentally closed the tab while I was irritatedly web-browsing during my wait for a game, I’d lose my place. It just seems a bit needless and overcomplicated, and far more about social networky, unlocky, statty, community stuff than about being useful for the actual play experience. Maybe over time I’ll come to appreciate it, but right now I’m just itching to get right into the game not dick about with my browser.

The game itself, then. The only map in there, for now, is Operation Metro, a Paris-set level of impressively vast proportions. In classic Battlefield style, you’ll get given a warning timer and eventually an insta-death if you roam out of the mission area for too long, but that’s to keep the game flowing rather than because far-off areas are barren and empty. A huge lake, the looming Eiffel Tower and assorted other familiarly Parisian architecture, tons of vegetation and the sound of distant, raging battle made for a map that felt huge and slap-bang in the middle of a major warzone. I wanted to explore and admire it, but I got shot in the back of a head by a wanker (i.e. Someone doing what he was supposed to be doing) whenever I tried to. I hope this engine can one day be turned to something other than a high-speed manshooter, because it’s clearly capable of great things.

Performance-wise, I whacked everything up to Ultra [edit – apparently Ultra isn’t actually implemented yet, although the game doesn’t say as much itself and lets you select the option, so presumably I was actually running on something lower) on my Radeon 5850 at 1920×1200 and for the most part it was smooth and great – there were a couple of frame-rate wobbles, but brief and few. I don’t know that I’d say it looks revelatory, but it certainly put most everything else in the pseudo-photo-realistic stakes to shame and didn’t have even the faintest whiff of consolery.

In terms of how it played, I’m a poor witness – everyone else in the map seemed to be accomplished snipers while I was wandering around in my traditional role of Support, offering up ammo to chums and laying down suppression fire in between crawling around on my belly and trying to throw grenades far further than is humanly possible. I was killed a lot, normally in one-shot from someone a great distance away, but I killed a few guys and, probably less than 10 minutes into playing, got my first rank-up and unlock (a shotgun) plus a couple of Achievement-aping Ribbons. I’m not particularly interested in the willy-waving, but it seems like I won’t have to wait long to be customising my class, and I’m happy about that.

What I can say is that it felt a whole lot more dramatic than prior Battlefields, due to the detail of the map and the various megasplodes meant to increase the sense of being in a larger war rather than a neatly-zoned off map. In Rush mode, the aim for my side was to plant and successfully detonate explosives on two key points, which seemed to make a whole lot more sense than the traditional capturing mechanic (though I think that’s in Conquest mode, the only other map option in the beta).

So, I need to play an awful lot more – and will do so just as soon as I post this – but capsule impression is it’s very much Battlefield – not simplified, CODlike gumpf, but ramped up and prettied up. It’s confident, it’s bombastic but classy and it requires patience and carefulness. Proper Battlefield, you know? I suspect it’s going to make people very happy indeed, that annoying web loader/server browser and, of course, the necessity to have Origin installed and running as well as that aside.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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