Battlefield 3 Preview - August 29th 2011

The wallet melting videogame release season will shortly be upon us. This is a time where gaming purchases can be influenced on a whim, especially with so many titles crying out for one's attention. Thankfully, DICE have brought out the big guns with Battlefield 3. It's a product of 10 years of development experience that spans PC and console releases alike. The shiny but unproven new Frostbite 2 engine provides the muscle, while an EA hype train stops at nothing to belittle Activision's competing Modern Warfare 3. It's a curious situation to say the least, made all the more baffling by the lack of similarities between the two games. And despite their ongoing war of words, I believe there's a place for both of these FPS juggernauts to co-exist.

Battlefield 2 for PC featured many forms of vehicular and class based gameplay, with an emphasis on teamwork that ripples throughout every aspect of its design. This philosophy has influenced every subsequent instalment, from futuristic sequel 2142, to the light hearted Bad Company spin-offs, and even the play for free versions. It's a slower paced game overall, especially when compared to its immediate competitors. Call of Duty meanwhile has steadily segued into summer blockbuster territory. It has developed a real flair for dramatic set pieces, and the lone wolf multiplayer has become a yearly staple for many gamers. As a result, Activision appear to be taking an "if it ain't broke, don't touch it with a barge pole" approach to sequel development.

From what we've seen so far of the game, DICE don't seem to be resting on their laurels. The latest iteration of their Frostbite engine is capable of churning out exceptionally detailed environments. Destruction seems to be layered, so building facades can be chipped away until their interiors are fully exposed. Even the lighting design is eye catching, with some very subtle use of lens flare and bloom to give an appropriate sense of realism. Forum trolls may quibble over the differences in framerate between the PC and console versions, but there can be no denying that Battlefield 3 looks absolutely stunning.

Although the on foot play area is restricted in the console versions, Jets are the same across PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.

However, the revisions go beyond the technical side of things. The Assault class is no longer responsible for dishing out ammo packs. You can select either a grenade launcher or a defibrillator as your starting equipment. As a frontline class, it makes sense for them to have either a strong offensive weapon or a recovery tool, depending on your preference. This addresses one of my major gripes with Bad Company 2 - the Medic. His load out presented you with an overly accurate light machine gun on top of a squad revive option. It was horrifically overpowered, especially since you rarely had to reload after a fire fight because of the large ammo clip. It became the go to choice for almost any combat situation. Now renamed the Support class, they are solely responsible for resupplying teammates. Their LMG can be mounted onto a bipod for defensive purposes, and a new suppression mechanic awards you with XP for pinning down enemy players. This restructuring evens out these two classes a great deal, and eliminates a serious problem I had with BC2's character set up.

The Recon class does however run the risk of becoming extremely unbalanced thanks to the reintroduction of the prone position. DICE has added a glare to the sight of sniper rifles which will supposedly give players another way to spot them besides the tagging system of old. Whether this works in practice remains to be seen. The Engineer has remained largely unchanged, with an RPG and a welding tool included as per previous games in the series. They are now equipped with a flashlight that can blind other players in close proximity, but this seems like a fairly superfluous addition.

On the game mode front, Rush and Conquest are both returning to the fray, alongside straight up Team Deathmatch. A brand new co-op option makes for an interesting proposition, as it marks the first time such a feature has appeared in this series (outside of BC2's Onslaught DLC). Although not campaign specific, six specially designed missions are promised, and these, along with the single and multiplayer modes, will be incorporated into the Battlelog stat tracking website.

The new Frostbite 2 engine looks fantastic.

One bone of contention for long time Battlefield fans was the apparent omission of a Commander mode for the multiplayer. This allowed one player on each team to access a radial menu that offered lots of different tactical options. Basic resupply and repair orders could be given, along with specific requests for air strikes or UAV flyovers. Although not originally believed to be in the game, it appears as though a version of this ability will appear in Battlefield 3 after all. And while much has been made of the 24 player online limit for consoles (64 on PC), Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, Battlefield: 1943, and the Bad Company's all supported the same number of simultaneous combatants. This was always sufficient, at least for me, because the maps still felt huge and the wide variety of vehicles remained unaffected.

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