Battlefield 3 open beta thoughts

October 4, 2011

There are many games out there in which players from across the globe find out who is the best at pointing at someone else and clicking on them. In fact I am a strong believer in the idea that FPS titles are the purest form of adventure game. This autumn only Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 are going to get any attention in a genre that is so saturated with choice that it’s pooling embarrassingly around the ankles of the development community and making everything smell like an underpass.


The fact that some people only want to buy one or both of these titles to hit the multiplayer, shunning the single player campaign altogether, makes me a little sad. It is this focus on online play that has allowed terrible single player experiences like the one tacked on to COD: Black Ops to wriggle through the net unchecked. While I enjoyed the bombast of that game’s narrative, the whole campaign played like an on-rails shooter rather than an involving FPS.


Now the multiplayer elements of the Battlefield franchise make it a very different beast to COD. It has open-ended maps and a much more organic flow to the fight as it ebbs and swells, putting a greater emphasis on teamwork and tactics than lone wolf running and gunning.


The open beta of Battlefield 3, which went live last week, gives players just one map to tackle and the Rush game mode to experience. This involves one team attacking two objectives at a time while the other defends and attempts to whittle down their remaining respawn reserves until a winner is determined. The map consists of three distinct areas: an outdoor park, a dank, multi-layered metro and a car-strewn main road through Paris.


There is no doubting the visual fidelity of these three environments as rendered in the Frostbite 2 engine. I’ve played the beta on both Xbox 360 and PC and the console version looks pretty dashing in spite of the limited hardware. Meanwhile PC gamers will not need an over the top machine to squeeze a sparkling experience out of BF3, which is a pleasant surprise given the amount of emphasis which has been put on its graphical grunt.


In terms of gameplay it feels quite different to the last title in the series which I played: Battlefield 2. Perhaps it is because the lack of vehicles and the size of the metro map in the beta means that it lacks some of the scale of its predecessors, which is certainly going to be addressed in the full release with its compliment of additional arenas. I like the fact that you can pick out enemies at a distance based on the light glinting on their body armour. I like the excellent audio, which gives weight to your weapons as well as your footsteps. It is dynamic and, with headphones on, often exciting and terrifying in equal measure. I also like the fact that the whole thing feels very balanced. Dying is easy, but the penalty is not an excessive time spent waiting to respawn and you quickly learn to take your time and not rush into situations because death awaits the over-eager.


What sticks in my craw like an accidentally swallowed clove at Christmas is the “fucking stupid™” Battlelog system required by EA’s origin service to play Battlefield 3 online. If you haven’t already heard, this means you have to launch the game from a web browser, so you not only have Origin sitting dormant in the background but also this insane, clunky interface that makes it feel like you are playing Farmville, not a cutting-edge FPS. It seems likely that EA is implementing this convoluted system to subvert pirates, but they are clearly missing the point. A crack will arise and illegal downloaders will blaze through the single player campaign if they are not interested in the multiplayer. It is ultimately another way in which paying customers are penalised for no good reason.


To be honest the Battlelog debacle does not really dent the BF3 online experience to the point of no return. Millions will still buy this game and love it for its much needed twist on this increasingly jaded genre. Aside from the experience points, ranks and weapon upgrades, it is the gameplay that counts here and I get the feeling that MW3 is going to look decidedly last-generation in comparison with EA’s latest shooter.


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