GDC11: An In-Depth Look at Battlefield 3

Tonight the fine folks at EA threw a pretty huge shindig for the unveiling of the next chapter in their hotly-anticipated Battlefield series. Beyond the fact that I’m sure we broke several fire codes for cramming the venue with so many nerds, there was quite a bit of Battlefield 3 footage shown that I’m sure will please longtime fans, and garner excitement from those who aren’t quite so hot about it. While EA can only show you the first chapter of three, I’m here to blab about the whole enchilada, so pay attention! Hit the jump to read my impressions, and why Battlefield 3 might just cure me of “modern combat shooter fatigue.”

As stated, the gameplay footage we were shown at the event was actually split up into multiple sections. Initially, it gives us a background setting: the year is 2014, and the US is still trying to find a way to unify Iraq and Iran through diplomatic means. However, they’re coming under fire from a rebel coalition called the PLR.

The scene opens how military based shooters generally do: in an armored personnel carrier, talking trash with your squad. All of a sudden, the APC stops, and you’re dumped off at some Middle Eastern bazaar area. The first thing I probably noticed was the sound; as soon as the door to the APC opened, the road sprang to life with cars honking, dogs barking, and Arabic conversations being hollered all throughout. The Battlefield series has typically been known for their fantastic audio design, and this is no exception. In fact, it might actually be the best sound I’ve heard in a game ever.

So afterward, you’re asked to go see what the deal is with a squad that’s gone missing for a while. You find yourself following your squad through various streets, alleys, and buildings, and all the while I’m marveling at how natural and fluid your fellow comrades are moving. It really does look like an actual person is running; the animations are just absolutely stellar and quite mind-boggling, to tell you the truth.

Of course, eventually you’ll get ambushed, and we see some great gunplay happening between the enemy and your squad. That sound design really makes it seem like a war, with gunfire actually sounding like gunfire, and not like weak plastic pea shooters, as we’ve sadly come to expect from other modern shooters. The sound is scary, tense, and pretty much exactly like how you’d expect an all-out firefight to sound like, and it is fantastic.

The scene/chapter then ends, and the footage jumps to another scene, in which you’re trying to pick off a sniper in a building, and head to the rooftop to do so. The scene is intense, as you’re essentially trying to find cover on a rooftop where there is none. Once again, DAT SOUND. Hearing sniper fire crack into concrete, and knowing that it was really really close to your head, is terrifyingly glorious. Eventually one of your bros will toss you an RPG, telling you that the sniper is in the large, multiple-story hotel across the way, and that they’ll lay down cover fire so you can take him down. What happens next is pretty orgasmic: your brahs lay down suppression fire, while you rise up and shoot at the building. The rocket explodes one floor, then another, and lays the building to ruins, as the neon “HOTEL” sign falls apart and dangles from one side. Destructible environments in Bad Company 2 were quite mindblowing, but that doesn’t even compare to what was seen in this. It was breathtaking and made me speechless.

Next, we cut to our final scene, where your squad finds the group, and leads them to safety, but also finds a suspicious looking wire that leads to the basement of what looks to be a laundromat. As you head down, you discover a bomb lab, where it looks like IEDs are being crafted. You seemingly defuse a bomb, and as you’re turning around, you find yourself being punched in the face by an insurgent. What follows is a melee fight that would’ve been interesting, had it not boiled down to what amounts to being a QTE. While I’m not against QTEs, I feel as if they don’t belong in a shooter that’s truly trying to be a realistic shooter, an anti-Modern Warfare, if you will.

Afterward, you exit the facility, to find yourself being once again ambushed by insurgents as you make your way across a highway. Eventually, a helicopter rolls in to help you take down some of the baddies, and again, DAT SOUND. The helicopter’s gun sounds like a death machine reigning terror on the enemies; you almost feel like a dick for attacking them so fiercely.

Then you encounter the climax event, and the high point of the entire gameplay footage: as you find yourself outnumbered, one of your buds tells you to get on that pick-up truck with a mounted gun in the bed and take down the insurgents in the north. You’re laying down fire, feeling like a badass (because DAT SOUND), when you hear a slight rumbling and vibrating that slowly but surely escalates. What happens then seems almost surreal: one of your bros hollers, “IT’S AN EARTHQUAKE! TAKE COVER!”, and before you can react, the shockwave reaches your truck, and throws you off of it. But that’s not all; while you’re on the ground, you can see the multiple high-rise buildings in front of you teeter and roll, until the one closest to you creaks and starts to tip over. As it falls, it looks like it’s about to crush you…and then the footage ends. What follows then is a standard montage of all the crazy crap that happens in the game (OMG OMG YOU CAN FLY A FIGHTER JET IN THIS ONE), and to further tease you, no solid release date.

Really, the entire footage was absolutely breathtaking. I’ve been trying to figure out what developer DICE does to make their games look and feel so different and significant, and I’ve deduced that it’s the little things that really go a long way. Truthfully, the huge set pieces were awe-inspiring and gave me goosebumps, but what really makes me anticipate this is the sound design, the fantastic graphics, and whatever other fantastic gameplay elements DICE has modified. The phenomenal sound design adds weight and heft to every single action, and is arguably what immerses one in a game more than the graphics. The lighting in Battlefield 3 looks to be fantastic as well, with the Middle Eastern day washed out in a sea of harsh yellow light. The destructible environment looks to be evolved even moreso, and may play a huge factor in the awesomeness of this game as well.

That said, there’s still reason to not blow your load too prematurely over the footage. As a minor gripe, I certainly hope the QTE stuff isn’t employed too much, which I’m certain it won’t, as DICE seems too good a dev for that. On a more major note, while the graphics did look phenomenal and out of this world, console gamers might want to recognize that this was played on a PC, no doubt with the settings maxed out. There’s just no possible way Battlefield 3 will look anywhere near this good on the PS3 or 360.

Still, like I mentioned, as long as they keep on raising the standards for their sound design and their animation, I will foever support them and their works. With Battlefield 3, I certainly hope they revive my love for shooters. It should be out sometime in Fall of this year, across all HD consoles and PC.

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Allen Park

Allen is an utter whore of a gamer; he's completely open-minded to all games, be they AAA blockbusters or $5 casual children's games. His focus is on indie games specifically, valuing gameplay and ingenuity over sparkly visuals and ridiculous gimmicks. When he's not geeking out over the newest art game, he's out toning his sexy, sculpted shoulders while surfing epic 1.5ft waves, or having a good time with local, high-gravity microbrews.

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