Executive producer Patrick Bach, is happy to give journalists the first hands-on with Battlefield 3 at the DICE offices in central Stockholm, but with every interview he grows more tired of answering questions about the opposition. Not that he lets it on much.
"It's not like we can really fight head-to-head. It's not the same as say FIFA versus Pro Evolution Soccer", Bach sighs as he prepares for our GRTV interview. But journalists love to compare games and when EA boss John Riccitello seems eager to make it a duel it's easy to see why Bach is getting as many questions about Modern Warfare 3 as he is about the game he is making.
At the core of Battlefield 3 is Frostbite 2. An engine specifically designed for the game, and an engine that really shines, and not just in the looks department. The improved animations are not just for show as they allow for tons of incremental gameplay improvements that each by themselves may not look like much, but when added up they really make a difference.
One of the differences multiplayer lead designer Lars Gustavsson points out between Battlefield and its competitors is how maps are not really arenas, but rather a set of stages you progress through. DICE confirms three multiplayer modes at this point - Conquest, Team Deathmatch and Rush which we are about to embark on.
Conquest is a staple of the series and a must, but Team Deathmatch is something of a surprise. Lars Gustavsson says it was when he played team deathmatch in other games that he felt that this is something that would be much better if played in Battlefield.
The Rush map, Operation Metro, is set in Paris occupied by Russian forces. We, the attacking side, are US marines and our objective is to take out the Russian command located at the Paris stock exchange. We start out in a park, beautiful spring weather, flowing hills and birches. Our first objectives involve taking out a couple of AA installations located at the end of the park. As we achieve this objective bombers come in and soften up our path towards the stock exchange and this path takes us underground into the metro tunnels of Paris. There are a couple different paths we can take, and on one occasion a squad mate drove an infantry vehicle down the larger tunnel, which caused plenty pandemonium amongst the Russians as they scurried for cover in between train cars.
This infantry vehicle was the only one accessible in the map, but it illustrated some of the changes DICE have made to vehicles. Perhaps the most important change is that vehicles have regenerating health, and when health is down to a certain point you won't be able to drive them anymore. Furthermore, say an engineer scores a direct hit on a tank with five people in it. This used to mean he scored five kills, and in a way it didn't really promote troop transports. In Battlefield 3 he may kill the guy sitting right where the rocket hit and stop the vehicle, but the other four will survive and make their way out of the vehicle. Slight changes that will help promote team play even more. Another cool thing about the infantry vehicle - it had thermal vision which could be switched on, predator style.
The metro tunnels and the subsequent metro station provided us with a very different slice of gameplay compared to the combat we previously saw in the park. Plenty of choke points and intense firefights as we clung to the walls and ran inside train cars. Playing as support in this area was a good choice as when you go prone (yes you can) and zoom in and will plant your bipod (anywhere thanks to the new animation system) you're in an ideal position to supply suppressing fire. In Battlefield 3 suppressing the enemy will not only score you points, but their vision will be affected as well as their hearing, so suppressing becomes a much more important tool in Battlefield 3.
We've mentioned support and engineer and these kits or classes are joined by assault and recon in Battlefield 3. Assault is a frontline fighter combined with a medic, something that DICE wanted in order to have medics closer to the action. What's interesting is that the player will be able to use upgrades and slots to customise his kit. If you want your Assault to be more of a medic you can do so, or the opposite if you want him to be more of a straightforward frontline fighter. The Recon is equally versatile equipped with sniper rifle and C4. Overall, the design philosophy was to make all four kits fun and enjoyable and for players to be able to jump around between different kits and explore the game fully.
Battlefield 3 does feel a lot like Battlefield 2, even with all the small changes it is clear that this is the successor we have been all these long years for. DICE will tell you that destruction is something that really switches up things, but perhaps it wasn't as evident in this map as it will be in others. That said, there was a house you could hide in next to the stock exchange, that was pretty much turned to rubble as we peeked out from a window and laid down suppressing fire, and I catch a glimpse of a fellow marine being buried underneath rubble as the side of a building fell down on him.
What really stands out after an hour of "Operation Metro" is the level of detail and the map design. Whether it is the graffiti on the wall as we make our way out of the metro station, or the little nooks and crannies you can explore and exploit undergrund, it is clear that this is a labour of love and game DICE have been dying to make for years.
One battle was won for Battlefield on this day, as DICE revealed plans for Battlelog, a social platform similar to Halo Waypoint and Call of Duty: Elite, where you can access and extend your Battlefield experience to web browsers and smart phones. Unlike Call of Duty: Elite which was formally announced on the same day as the Battlefield 3 press event in Stockholm, Battlelog, will be completely without additional fees.
Whether it's enough to win the war or not is up for the players to decide, but Battlefield 3 is probably as strong competition as Call of Duty and Modern Warfare is ever going to see.