EA's juggernaut Battlefield franchise is getting closer and closer toward the Oct. 25th release of its third main sequel, and at E3 2011, we got a chance to sit down and play it. Based on the new Frostbite 2 engine, Battlefield 3 certainly delivers a high degree of graphical fidelity and destructible environments. More important is how the game will expand the same gameplay that the fan base knows and loves, adding in some nice features while still keeping intact the same addictive core gameplay.
Our mission took place on a Rush map called Operation Metro, which was a 16v16 slugfest on a city park and through an abandoned subway station and tunnels. At the first of the four mission phases, the fighting took place in a hilly outdoor environment flanked by massive city buildings, and as those phases moved on, we had to switch on our flashlights to navigate the more cramped quarters underground. In each phase, our team had to arm and detonate a pair of bombs to progress; fans of Battlefield: Bad Company and Bad Company 2 will be quite familiar with this.
What's far more interesting are the new features. By firing around an enemy, you can use suppressive fire to blur their vision and degrade their weapon accuracy. If a teammate kills that enemy while you're doing so, you gain teammate points, as you would when you heal a teammate or give them ammo. Obviously the Support's classes LMG is best suited for the job with its large magazine, but any class can do the same with its weapons.
Weapons will see far more customization than in previous titles, and to that end, each weapon has three customization slots for add-ons, such as optics or bi-pods. Those bi-pods aren't just for show, as they automatically deploy when you aim down the sights while prone or when suitable cover is in front of you. Crouch behind a fallen vending machine and aim, and your character automatically pops out the bi-pod, letting you fire fully automatic with only minimal accuracy degradation from recoil.
Another feature tweak is the ability to perform stealth kills via new player animations, assuming you successfully and specifically stab them in the back. This is the only way to get their dog tags, which are now customizable and show your personal stats in addition to some selectable designs, such as "Mr. Fix It" scratched into the metal for those who are handy with an impact wrench. This makes dog tags a bit more difficult to get, but it also makes them much more personal than they have been.
The classes have seen a bit of a shake up, with the Assault class now filling the role of medic whereas the Support class is now the guy who lugs around the ammo box to resupply teammates. The rationale behind this change is simply that the Assault class is the most run-and-gun, front-line class. They're the most likely to take damage, but they're also the most likely to be close to other teammates to help heal them. It's a minor change, but it's sure to shake up the play styles of those who are used to things being the other way around in BF: BC2.
DICE is gearing up the game as a true sequel to the franchise, and it certainly shows. While the formula is still the same mix that fans love, the new features do a great job of injecting more action and nuances. The enhanced customization and class changes are relatively small evolutions, but things like suppressive fire and context-sensitive bi-pods are certainly an unexpected and welcome addition to the fray. Our time in Operation Metro was certainly impressive, and with the game entering open beta in September for an October release, fans won't have to wait very long to get their Battlefield fix.
Greg Hale also contributed to this preview.
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