When EA made claims that Battlefield 3 may topple Modern Warfare 3 this Christmas they were certainly being optimistic. But there's a fever building around BF3 that makes it seem a very likely contender for second place. And having got my hands on it, it's not all talk. It's big, fat war.
By now you've probably seen moving pictures of the Frostbyte 2 engine, and realised that this is some impressive stuff. Quite how impressive is hard to see until you've sat in front of it when frenetic battle isn't happening. For me it was the shadows of clouds rolling over the tarmac in front of me. Perfect depictions, uncannily real. But apparently it's not a game where standing still and staring at the ground is encouraged. In fact, someone was so offended that they even shot me dead!
We were playing Operation Metro, a 'rush' multiplayer match set in the heart of Paris, our given goal to make our way to the Eiffel Tower. Rush is one of three multiplayer modes they've announced so far, alongside Conquest and Team Deathmatch, about which they were very pleased to say they were including. And it was repeated that this would all be controlled through Battlelog, which will be free.
The Russians have taken control of the stock market exchange in Paris, and we're tasked with shooting them all in their heads and reclaiming territory. They've got some anti-aircraft tech at the other end of the park, too, and we need to do something about that. By blowing it up.
The mission, and it really did feel like a team mission rather than a multiplayer zone, was divided into three sections. But they blend invisibly together. As we succeeded in completing given tasks, spawn points would advance forward, and the locations shifted in tone. From outside in the parks of Paris we were soon fighting in the subway, racing down train tracks and through carriages, before emerging into a tough firefight in the streets. Each of the three zones is big enough to host its own team deathmatch, we're told, and yet the action is fast enough that the whole game is completed in under half an hour. It's big, but you're covering ground fast, whether on foot or in a handy tank, especially if you're using your skills to the advantage of your four-man squad.
There's four classes of soldier, with the emphasis always on soldier. The person playing the Assault class is also the medic, and can heal teammates. But they're an essential weapon on the frontline, not someone mopping up at the back. Engineers can repair a vehicle that others can't, but their ludicrously powerful rocket launcher is the real reason to play them. Support soldiers have a hefty machine gun, and can help out others by providing ammo. And the Recon, well, he provides intel oddly enough. But also does a lot of shooting.
Those skills can be applied sensibly. Say your tank breaks down, fizzing and popping at the side of the road, while your engineer is fixing it the others can use it as an impromptu gun platform to continue the battle. And DICE say there will be more unlocks and upgrades for the soldiers than in any Battlefield before. They're calling the classes a "foundation to customise", with equally customisable weapons.
Maybe a Support soldier will take advantage of the biped attachment for his weapon, letting him improve his accuracy from any stable location. He could provide suppressing fire, which even if it's not hitting the enemy will still be recognised by the game. It will reduce the combat efficiency of the enemy, and the game will recognise that and reward you with recognition.
I was especially taken with some Brink-style leaping. Hitting the jump button while running toward an obstacle has you bound over it with fluid ease, meaning your fun isn't interrupted. And it feels awesome-cool to do, too.
There's lots of destruction, too. And not just where it's prescribed. As perhaps we've come to expect after Bad Company 2, shit blows up wherever you hit it, meaning convenient enemy cover can be efficiently removed with some heavy weapons. And the weapons get heavy. There's going to be a huge range of boats, tanks, helicopters, and with particular enthusiasm in their announcement from DICE, the return of jets.
The build we played was pre-alpha, yet felt remarkably stable. A lack of a kill cam meant things could often feel frustrating, but presumably that's something that could be added later in development. They've announced the 25th October for the release, which with their MW3-competing plans isn't a deadline they can miss. I have a sneaky suspicion this one is going to go big.