In our earlier single-player preview of Battlefield 3, I found a few points of contention within the slice of the game's campaign that I played. Most notably, I disliked control taken away from me in different ways, from quick time events to on-rails levels that relied mostly on my appreciation of the graphics over the actual gameplay.
However, for everything that that the campaign seemingly lacked, the multiplayer portions that both Hamza Aziz and I got to try left us pretty highly impressed. Hamza gave us some of his impressions of the multiplayer in a recent Destructoid Show episode, but to learn in detail how Battlefield 3 has improved upon past games in the series, read on.
Battlefield 3 (PC, PlayStation 3 [previewed], Xbox 360)
Though I got a chance to play a wide variety of multiplayer modes and maps, in this preview I'll be covering only the two that I can discuss for now. Every one of the modes that I played was impressive, with maps that included many different wide-open expanses and strategic choke points for an awesome Battlefield experience.
Before I begin, let me reassure you -- EA wasn't kidding when they explained that the Battlefield 3 beta was in no way representative of the final product. I wondered why they decided to go with the relatively linear, vehicle-less Operation Metro map for the beta, and in a quick interview with Battlefield 3's producer Aleksander Grondel I asked if it had anything to do with bringing in FPS fans who are typically more interested in other modern shooters (i.e., their largest direct competitor, the Call of Duty series). He laughed a little at this and told me, "Well, that's one angle to it, I think. Another angle is that this is something new for Battlefield. I think that most people knew that Battlefield would still be Battlefield, even though we had a map like that. It would be cool to show something a little bit different."
Furthermore, the Battlefield 3 beta was mainly released in the interest of catching and fixing as many bugs as possible before release. DICE plans to continue to improve Battlefield 3's gameplay as they release new content for the game, as has generally been the case for Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
Rush on "Grand Bazaar"
The most immediate improvement in Battlefield 3 comes with the graphical fidelity that the Frostbite 2.0 engine brings. As I turned a corner and ran down a sun-dappled, arched hallway in search of the opposing team, I watched as two enemy soldiers ran by and was taken aback for a moment at just how realistic it all looked and felt, even on the PS3. Character animations are more fluid and realistic than ever before, and the excellent lighting effects carry over impressively in multiplayer. After rounding a corner and stalking the small squad, I managed to take one down with a knife attack to the back and then opened fire on the other one, nearly getting myself killed before taking off through a few other alleys and going prone behind a dumpster. Soon, the enemy pursuing me passed by and got sidetracked by one of my teammates driving a tank through the main street in the map. When the coast was clear, I booked it to one of the two M-COM stations and armed it, sticking around just a little while longer to take down any nearby opposition before the rest of the opposing team converged on my location.
In general, the core gameplay of Battlefield 3 is the same as veterans have come to know and love, with the largest changes being in general gameplay tweaks such as combining the Assault Class with the Medic Class, and of course with a generally slicker graphics engine powering the whole thing. While destruction isn't at the same level as the Bad Company series, it really varied from map to map and in Grand Bazaar, I appreciated how the main plaza areas became more filled with debris and downed trees as more players started to test out their rocket launchers. A lot of building corners and facades crumble realistically and expose enemy cover as well.
One thing I noticed was how different the points distribution system is in Battlefield 3. Even though my kill/death ratio tended to be rather low (at one point, it was something like 7/25), I managed to bring Destructoid (my name for the event) to the top of the leaderboards among my team of journalists for many of the different modes I played. It seemed like I generally got the most points for varying my gameplay throughout my session, whether it was helping my squadmates with suppressing fire, successfully sniping the opposing team, disabling a tank, destroying an M-COM station, or going on a killing spree. Though the multiplayer maps do encourage snipers to hunker down and camp in certain areas to provide support for their team, it awards many more points for actually moving around and generally doing more than camping and getting sneaky kills.
Conquest on "Operation Firestorm"
For anyone worried about the sizes of the maps, especially in the supposedly scaled-down PS3 version, worry no longer. The desert map in Operation Firestorm is absolutely huge. When I first spawned into the map I got ditched by my teammates and even my squadmates (other journalists from other gaming sites, natch) as they all ran for the many vehicles in the map. These included carrier helicopters, tanks, jeeps, and, of course, jets. I started hoofing it to the first zone to take over, Alpha, and realized that it would take quite a while to make it there on foot.
Instead, I turned back and decided to wait for a new vehicle to come my way. Fortunately, no one knew how to fly a jet very well and I watched in amusement as a one soared erratically overhead and then plummeted to the ground in a fiery explosion. A minute later, a new jet spawned near my location and I jumped in.
If the on-rails jet section of the single-player game made me feel a little worried for the linearity of the campaign, the jets in the multiplayer made me incredibly excited for the possibilities and sheer freedom of mid-air dogfights. I managed to wrangle just enough control of my jet to be able to soar high above the map and flip vertically and horizontally a few times before I caught another jet headed in my direction. I noticed that I wasn't nearly as bound to the map while in the jet as I was on-foot -- instead, I had more freedom to fly around. I took off, admiring the scenery of burning oil fields, and then crested dusty mountainous regions. I decided to get a little more daring and I took my jet closer into the midst of the battlefield to try to take down some land vehicles. Unfortunately, I still didn't have the best control at slowing down and maneuvering the aircraft, so I found myself getting stuck in a tree before I bailed out of the imminent explosion.
As far as the vehicles go, I noticed that the tanks and jeeps handle pretty similarly to other Battlefield games, and that familiarity helped me take a tank and blast an entire squad of enemies that was defending Alpha. As can be expected for the series, the vehicles and their weaponry have real weight behind how they move and how they sound when firing off rounds.
The overall impression that I got from the main multiplayer modes is that Battlefield is back, plain and simple. The maps are generally huge and varied but the gameplay is still frenzied and focused enough to feel like all-out warfare. The squad-based gameplay feels even more refined than before, with so much emphasis put on helping your squad and staying together as a unit to capture points, destroy M-COM stations, or simply get more kills. This is both the Battlefield on consoles that gamers have come to love, and an entirely new beast with a better and more accurate destruction engine and a far grander sense of scale.
After getting an extended hands-on session with the multiplayer in Battlefield 3, I am incredibly excited to pick up the game on the 25th of this month. The gameplay is much more polished than the beta would have ever suggested, the graphics are very pretty on the PS3, and the support for fixing glitches and stopping hackers is definitely there.
Also, just for the fun of it, I asked Aleksander Grondel about the much-rumored "dinosaurs" in upcoming multiplayer DLC. At this, a mischievous glint shone in his eye and he gave an enigmatic smile while fumbling a little and trying to choose the best words to answer the question.
"I would leave that with... We'll see."
So yeah, dinosaurs CONFIRMED. Journalism!