Battlefield 3 multiplayer hands-on preview

Here’s the thing: Battlefield 3 is exactly what you’re expecting it to be. It’s more Battlefield. And you know what? That’s just fine.

Opening in a large garden area, our demo made it immediately clear that developer DICE knows what works in its particular style of multiplayer shooter. A Rush match, it was our team’s goal to reach and destroy various points on the map while the other team (obviously) defends it. In this case, we were battling over a couple of points near the edge of an urban park in the middle of a beautiful yet abandoned city landscape, now damaged by the obvious signs of war. Trees toppled, fountains that formerly trickled clear water are now little more than damp holes in the ground. It’s a beautiful disaster of a landscape, lovingly crafted and ready for battle.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Battlefield game without a healthy supply of vehicles of war, and Battlefield 3 certainly delivers on that particular. The attacking team is given a tank right off the bat, which we put to good use rolling through the urban park, knocking over anything that the opposing side could even consider using as cover. This particular strategy proved to be quite fruitful, as we quickly dispatched of the first of the map’s objectives with relative ease.

While there hasn’t been an entry in the main Battlefield series since 2005’s Battlefield 2, DICE certainly hasn’t been resting on their laurels. They’ve been tweaking and perfecting their famous multiplayer modes. Our demo was decidedly influenced by the Bad Company series, right down to the HUD. But the most obvious influence came after our first the couple of objectives were met. A huge hole in the ground gaped in front of us, hiding our new goals somewhere within its dark halls. Rather than the typical huge, open maps that many identify with the series, we made our way into a subway tunnel, the trains brought to a halt by rubble and past explosions. Our fight was much different now.

Striking a path through the debris, Battlefield 3’s adaptability really shines. It simply plays just as well as a corridor-style shooter as it does when working with the more open maps. Recon snipers are given enough room to be effective, while the newly modified Assault class and its healing capabilities is even more useful under cramped conditions.

And therein lies the biggest change to the world of Battlefield multiplayer: The classes have shifted. It’s common knowledge that in Bad Company 2, many Medics would simply run up to the front lines, relying on their hefty machine guns to keep them alive while they attempted to revive the more offensive classes that preceded them. So, DICE figured, why not simply give their offensive capabilities a boost of their own? Now, the Assault class acts as a hybrid, utilizing the run and gun style of play combined with the ability to heal their teammates. Frankly, it’s a welcome change.

Of course, that means that there’s an open slot for a new class. The brand-new Support class is happy to fill that gap. As the name so literally suggests, the machine gun-wielding new class is designed to stay back and support those who make the rush to the objectives. They do this by posting up in a spot with a biped mounted machine gun and blowing away anyone that crosses into their iron sights. It’s a fantastic addition, filling in a gap in mid-range combat that we didn’t even realize existed. The choices are no longer between the close combat and sniping. Now, three lines of battle exist.

Back in the subway, after a long struggle taking place around a turnstile, we managed to hold the enemy off long enough to take care of both the objective points at once, allowing us to move back outside. Now, we had moved from the pleasant outskirt of the city and its beautiful parks and right into the heart of the city. Equally demolished, there are gaping maws in the skyscrapers, giant holes in the concrete. This is a war-torn city, one where fighting has happened before. No time to explore, however, as we learned the hard way. As we attempted to sneak a peek at some of the scenery, a member of the opposing force snuck up behind us, sliding a combat knife across our throat. There’s no cinematic reaction cam here; our death was experienced purely through a first-person point of view. It’s brutal, bloody, and disorienting.

And that’s what Battlefield 3 is all about. It constantly makes sure that we realize that this isn’t a lighthearted endeavor that we’re on. This is war.

Jul 21, 2011

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