Battlefield 3 In-Depth Multiplayer Hands-On Preview – 9 Maps, 5 Modes, Lots of Awesome
Written Friday, October 14, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
When DICE and EA threw their Battlefield 3 beta at console gamers at the back end of September, the audience was split. On the one hand, some people fell in love with it and lapped up the intense gameplay of Operation Metro, but on the other hand, some hated it, criticised its glitches, lambasted DICE for a lack of vehicles and even went as far as to cancel their pre-order – an overreaction some might say for the state of a beta, but it’s their money so they’re perfectly entitled to do so.
The truth of the matter is that, thankfully, the beta is in no way, shape or form a true reflection of what DICE is bringing to the table this October. The two-month-old code is exactly what it was: a work in progress, not only from a visuals perspective, but from a gameplay perspective too, with the beta feeling more like the disappointing Medal of Honor than the impressive Bad Company 2. We headed across to London recently to put everything multiplayer through its paces and thankfully, a few hours alone with the multiplayer told us two very important things: one, the beta wasn’t a fair representation of what gamers can expect from the final version of Battlefield 3; and two, the final game’s multiplayer is going to be something truly special. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that releasing the beta in that state was a massive faux pas on EA and DICE’s behalf.
As you’re probably aware then, Battlefield 3 will ship later on this month with 5 modes – Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, Rush, Conquest and Squad Rush – and 9 maps – not including the Back to Karkand pack. In our hands-on we got the chance to try out most, if not all, of the 9 maps and we can happily report that not only do the feel of the weapons and the damage feel more akin to Bad Company 2 than Medal of Honor, but seeing the bigger maps with the masses of vehicles clashing on them, everything seemed right in the world again.
First up was possibly one of the most interesting maps of the bunch: Damavand Peak, a base set in the mountains of Iran. What makes Damavand Peak an interesting map is its verticality – it’s not your traditional Rush map by any means. With tanks, helicopters, steep slopes galore and MCOM stations that are hundreds of feet below one another, it makes for some interesting and unique gameplay, that’s for sure. Watching a squad of attackers BASE jump off the cliff edge towards the next station down below is truly an epic moment and one to behold. Defenders will have to be on their toes here then, although with the MCOM stations situated in various warehouses, they can use the rafters, 20-foot high storage shelves and large transportation trucks as cover as they attempt to thwart wave after wave of attack.
Rather different to Damavand Peak is the Grand Bazaar level, which takes to the streets of a devastated urban environment in the Middle East. Here, the vehicles take more of a backseat – although there is the odd tank at various stages during Rush mode, which can make or break it for your team – for a more infantry focused experience. While it could be argued that the Operation Metro beta map is a similar map in terms of focus, with the gameplay differences between the builds and improved visuals over the beta, it felt like a true Battlefield experience. With mounds of rubble, market stalls galore, narrow alleys and wide-open streets, it’s a map that has multiple routes towards objectives, but dominating with the tank – ripping through the concrete walkways with the tank cannon is a high point – is most likely the key to success… unless the defenders all roll out as engineers and say sayonara to your armoured friend.
Unfortunately, that’s where the multiplayer hands-on session took an interesting – but temporary – turn for the worse as EA became obsessed with pushing us into the game modes that – let’s be honest – no self-righteous Battlefield fan would ever play. Why? Because people play Battlefield for a reason: because it’s a tactical shooter that can effectively create war-like canvases. As a deathmatch shooter (both team and squad), holes like no sense of urgency or competition crop up, and the map design becomes an issue due to their sheer size. In trying to cater for a new audience, DICE has somewhat missed the point as to why Battlefield is so successful in the first place. Thankfully though, we won’t have to play these modes and they’re there for those that want them… if that’s anyone.
Regardless, let us run you through the next few maps, how they worked in the modes we went hands-on with and what you can expect. First up it was time for some Team Deathmatch on the Seine Crossing level; a map that funnily enough sits on the Seine in Paris. It’s another city backdrop devastated by war with motorcycles and rubble littering the streets left, right and centre, and barricades on the bridge over the Seine defining the outside border of the map. In Team Deathmatch it relies on its alleyways and small courtyards to house most of its combat.
Next up: Noshahr Canals for a spot of Squad Deathmatch – i.e. 4 vs. 4 vs. 4 vs. 4. Noshahr Canals is a map dominated on the one side by a huge construction crane and a warehouse, another side with an elevated road that runs parallel to a set of train tracks and then on the other side, where the one tank spawns amidst a bunch of shipping crates and huge pipes. Admittedly, it’s slightly more fun than Team Deathmatch, mainly because of the battle that commences when that tank spawns. Still, it’s no Rush or Conquest mode.
From there we moved across Iran to the Tehran Highway map for more Squad Deathmatch. Fought under the cover of night – well, dusk – players will fight beneath the highways of Iran’s capital, taking cover in the various garages and buildings that dominate the area. Here, the tank spawns on the far side in an open and vulnerable area of the map, so go for it at your own peril! It’s a map that might be worth equipping the heat-vision scope on your rifle for improved vision or even slapping on the ol’ tactical light, although that does make you a bit of a sitting duck. Whatever you do though, don’t be an engineer and use the EOD repair bot to try and kill an enemy… although rather hilarious at the time – and seemingly possible – you’ll look like a fool when they track you down! From there we headed to Operation Metro to play a round of Squad Rush, which is like a smaller version of the beta’s map – as was the case in Bad Company 2. Obviously it's benefitted from the improved visuals and refined gameplay compared to the beta, but there’s not really anything new to report here for that map.
Thankfully for our sanity, to round off the session we returned to a mode that Battlefield 2 fans will be all too familiar with: Conquest. That means: bigger maps, vehicles galore and buckets of mayhem. Kicking things off on Caspian Border, a ridiculously huge vehicle-heavy map whose skyline is dominated by a monstrous antenna, we quickly learnt one thing: that these F/A 18E Super Hornet jets are going to take some getting used to. In fact, my inexperience led me to using them as huge air-to-ground missiles and raining down destruction from the skies as I parachuted in above an objective. Grabbing a vehicle, whether it’s a jeep or an ATV is pretty essential on Caspian Border as without it, you could be running for rather along-time, especially if you don’t spawn on a teammate. It’s a map that demonstrates how strong Battlefield 3’s vehicular combat is though, and that’s nothing but a good thing.
Last, but by no means least, a personal favourite of mine from the hands-on: Operation Firestorm for a touch of Conquest. It’s a huge map set in the middle of the desert with two bases at either end, each with its own runway, two jets, a couple of tanks and a chopper. With only three points to capture, a huge refinery and large warehouses occupying the middle ground and a long road in from each base, it’s a map that truly does have a calm before the storm – when all those vehicles meet in the middle, there really is nowhere to hide! I get the feeling that this one will be a fan favourite come its release later this month.
The final map, Kharg Island, was available for the press to play on the day, but considering that it should be a sandy, tropical island setting, set somewhere in the Persian Gulf, I honestly don’t remember it. Chances are, we missed that one out then. D’oh!
So what have we learned? Well, mainly that the code we went hands-on with is miles ahead of the beta in terms of quality – both visually and from a gameplay perspective. There also seems to be less reliance on destruction, believe it or not, and the prospect of levelling a town – or even a building – like one could do on the Arica Harbour map in BC2 for instance, seems like a distant dream from our experience. We’ll reserve our judgement there for now though. There is, however, a ton more customisation in terms of weapons and classes, and the vehicle combat is as good as ever, so based on this hands-on alone, we’re finally excited again to get our hands on the final retail version after what can only be described as a disappointing beta.
In pushing the deathmatch modes in the hands-on session though, it’s as if EA seems to have missed the point in what makes Battlefield number one amongst its fans. Yes, we know it has more deathmatch-inspired modes now than ever before, and yes, we know they’re looking to market the game to a new crowd, but it’s not playing to the strengths of the game. In fact, there are tons of games that do TDM better, but thankfully, when you focus on the modes that make Battlefield great – Conquest and the Bad Company mode, Rush – the destructible environments and the chaos that the vehicles bring, then you know that DICE has something special in its arsenal. There’s something quite epic about having four jets and four tanks roll across the desert on the Operation Firestorm map and meet in the middle in what can only be described as all-out war. It truly was a great Battlefield moment and no other game comes anywhere close to mimicking that. Whatever you do though, don’t base your opinion of Battlefield 3 on the beta! This may as well be a different game entirely, in terms of quality.
Battlefield 3 is scheduled for an October 25th and October 28th release in North America and Europe respectively.