We feel like gamers have been acting needlessly contrary, probably in response to the popularity of Call Of Duty and the lingering assumption that the series needs to evolve. Competition certainly can't hurt, but its irritating watching fans praise a laborious Battlefield 3 demonstration while they chastise an infinitely more exciting Modern Warfare 3 showcase — as was the case at this year's E3.
And it's that mentality that's led us to have a largely cynical perception of Battlefield 3. The game's sure looked brilliant when running on a powered up PC, but nothing we've seen of the console versions has got us particularly hot under the collar. More importantly, every single one of DICE's gameplay demonstrations has looked plain and by-the-numbers. The tank sequence from E3 sure as hell looked pretty, but it was poorly paced and ultimately not very exciting. Compare that to the insanity of Modern Warfare 3's E3 demo — scuba-divers, sinking ships and boat chases — and we were left wondering what everyone was getting so excited about Battlefield 3 for.
But having spent some time with Battlefield 3's multiplayer component, our perception's certainly changed. The game is a contender for Call Of Duty's crown, and that's exciting because competition breeds excellence.
The beta provides access to a single map and gameplay mode. Operation Metro is set slap-bang in the centre of Paris, spanning the city's underground train network and nearby park areas. There's a good variety to the map which compliments the beta's solitary game mode — Rush — well. Here your objective is to attack or defend a series of M-Com stations, with the map opening up as various strongholds are destroyed.
Let's get to the point: Battlefield 3 doesn't look anywhere near as good on PS3 as previous PC demonstrations have teased. But that's to be expected. DICE's PS3 engine is still extremely impressive though. We'd still argue in favour of the PS3 exclusives from a visual stance — the likes of Killzone 3 and Uncharted 3 pip Battlefield 3 at the post — but there's still a startling clarity to the game's display.
Operation Metro is a good map to demonstrate the variety of the game's engine too. The stage starts out in a serene park environment, with trees and foliage swaying in the breeze, and a nearby lake glistening on the horizon. But when the action moves underground the game gets an entirely new feel. Soft lighting illuminates the environment's claustrophobic corridors, as gigantic advertising hoardings add a realistic backdrop to the chaos. The map is large, and moves through a variety of districts. The underground tunnel itself is replaced by a ticket-office, before the action emerges into the city itself, providing office blocks as vantage points and a greater opportunity for more open fire-fights.
What's most impressive about the map itself is not just the variety of its design, but also its interactivity. Being a Battlefield game the setting is not just a backdrop, with trees collapsing in response to nearby explosions and tiles chipping away from walls as they collide with wayward fire.
Animation is impressive also, not just in the environment but in the characters too. There's shades of Mirror's Edge as characters run, dodge and dive over walls in first-person. The game gives you a real sense of place that's more akin to the hulking weight of Killzone than the floating gun of Call Of Duty.
But unlike Killzone, controller response remains sharp and snappy. Guns feel punchy, and are enhanced by DICE's unrivalled sound design team. The audio changes dynamically as you move between the reverberated tunnels of the underground and the punchy outdoor areas.
As with other Battlefield games, there are four player classes to select from. This gives the game a much more team focused flavour than its immediate contemporaries, which still remains Battlefield's biggest stumbling block in our opinion. We appreciate that Battlefield's staying to close to its roots, but if EA wants to make the series a mainstream success it needs to appeal to those players looking for instant gratification too. We worry that newcomers might be put off by the game's learning curve.
But our early impressions are still positive. Even if EA fails to take any market share from Call Of Duty, the emergence of Battlefield as a contender to COD's crown must have Activision a little concerned. And that's great because nothing breeds excellence quite like healthy competition.
We still have lingering concerns about DICE's ability to craft an engaging single-player campaign, but to allay those issues we'll have to wait for the full release later next month. For now though, consider our cynicism reversed.
Battlefield 3 is set to release on October 25th [US] / October 27th [EU] on PlayStation 3.