For the past few weeks I have found myself returning to my favourite multiplayer game of last year, Battlefield: Bad Company 2. It's a punchy rascal of a game, but it also hints at plenty of things that could be better in the future, and reminds us of lots of things that have been better in the past. Things that might be better in Battlefield 3. Or 4. Anyway, what follows is a consideration of what Battlefield games have done right and wrong, and what Battlefield 3 needs to think about.
Okay, let's hit the obvious one to start with: destructible scenery. The capacity to blow holes in walls is probably the most thrilling and interesting element of BFBC2. You can use it to gain access to a building, to remove cover from the enemy, or just to feel like you actually destroyed something. It's a brilliant feature that will almost certainly be done even better in Battlefield 3. My hope is, however, that it will also be used to shape the experience of play. What I mean is this: imagine a multiplayer map where the attacking team didn't just incidentally flatten a few houses as they attacked the objective, but had to punch holes through walls and defensive lines to get their troops inside to secure particular points.
There are glimmers of this in BFBC2's Rush mode, but it could be amped up to some considerable degree. I want to have to tunnel my way through the side of a building, or drive a Humvee through a shanty town like that bit at the end of Bad Boys 2. Imagine having a map that includes underground levels, where you are blowing holes in the asphalt to give tanks access to underground city routes, where they are safe from aircraft.
This kind of design could be reformed into entire objectives. There's a little bit of infrastructure damage in BFBC2 – taking out a building to deny enemy cover is routine, and dropping a bridge to hamper vehicle movement takes place on a couple of maps – but that's the kind of thing that should be used routinely in designing these maps, especially with a view to making vehicular combat more intense. If you simply have to secure that bridge to get the tanks across (or face the rest of the level without armour support) then it could be a whole lot more exciting to play through. The same could be true of communications: perhaps taking out a comms tower might reduce stuff like the ability to spot enemies. (Which is a feature that I find consistently useful, and absolutely must return for Battlefield 3.)
I'm far less excited about the sort of micro-detail damage that the likes of Breach suggested. The damage I think is interesting is the massive, structural stuff. The BF3 single player trailer was very keen to show us a skyscraper getting dropped on the player – imagine if you could knock over tall buildings offensively in multiplayer to crush tank advances or block off Rush routes.
I don't know about the rest of you, but watching the single-player tank battle sequence of Battlefield 3 made me think: there had better be something comparable in the multiplayer.
Jets are back, and so, I hope, will be big-ass mobile anti-aircraft units. What I really want, though, are huge 64-player maps with great big spaces for infantry-supported tank battles. Toning down the capacity for infantry to take out armour unassisted would be good, too. Some of the best fun I've had in BFBC2 of late have been great use of armour, but it has required at least one engineer repairing non-stop for the tanks to stay alive. I'd really like to see BF3 pushing in a more Arma-ward direction, where calling in air support or other armour is the best way to deal with be-tracked angry houses.
In-game social tools stuff. DICE have actually said that they are doing something dedicated and significant with this, and will be improving friends lists in the game and so forth, but this is really something that games like BFBC2 should have been doing really slickly by now. It's not like there's isn't stacks of middleware these days, allowing people to tailor it to the task.
We need a big friends list, notifications in game of when people join servers, and so on. This stuff has been around for years, and should really appear by default.
Likewise we need slick admin, player voting, and all the other stuff in online FPS games that should really now come as standard.
MANTLING OVER LOW WALLS
Let's have this. Are they having this? If so, I missed it. Let's assume they are. That is a good thing.
A WORKING SERVER BROWSER ON LAUNCH
This would also be acceptable. It's probably the biggest lesson of BFBC2's glitchy launch: it's not okay for this to be an afterthought.
IT'S ALL ON CAMERA
Finally, the battle recorder needs to return. The reason for this happened a couple of days ago. This was a continuous stream of events: I jumped into a game, ran to the enemy base. All the friendlies were engaged on the other side of the Rush objective (the first part of Valparaiso), and so I stormed right into an undisturbed group of enemies. I gunned down the closest with my assault rifle, and took out his more distant buddy with my grenade launcher. A third guy, who had been behind cover, jumped over to get me, and died to my pistol. He had another guy right behind him (freshly spawned), who was just coming around a corner. I knifed him and the reloaded my pistol. As reloaded I saw the guy get rezzed by a medic. I killed him again – pistol this time – and then knifed the medic. By this point I was inadvertantly making that operative “ooaaaaah” noise that signifies great victory and thinking that I might be on a killing spree that would last forever. Then I died to a grenade I hadn't noticed.
The battle recorder was a brilliant feature of Battlefield 2. If it had been available to me here then I could prove that all this happened, and that I am the greatest. Sure, I could have Fraps'd it, but fuck that. I want my battle recorder.
DICE, make it so.