Battlefield 3 Preview Demo Rocks PAX
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 11th Mar 2011
Game previews at PAX East are a literal smorgasbord of gaming action, and like any target-rich environment without a plan it quickly devolves into a trap of head-swiveling indecision -- which is why we had a plan, mates!
First on the list of lines to haunt was the very long one leading to the theater that the folks from EA built that occupied 90% of their exhibit space -- and there is some truth to the saying 'If you build it they will come' because gamers came by the hundreds to stand and sit on the line waiting for a chance to get a look at the next game in the battlefield Series.
A large and ominous sign at the entrance to the theater warned of dire consequences that would befall anyone so brazen as to record the session... Not wanting to risk it, we slipped our phones into our packs, though it was tempting... Oh yes.
The twelfth installment in the Battlefield Series, Battlefield 3 is the direct sequel to Battlefield 2 (2005), and most FPS gamers agree that a series addition is way overdue. According to the introduction we received from our host, Battlefield 3 reintroduces several elements that were absent from the Bad Company games -- notably the prone position. The game supports 64-player battles on PC, and 24 players on console, and uses a new animation system that creates a much more realistic soldier. The destructible environments of DICE's Frostbite engine is truly impressive -- but more on that in a moment.
The Preview Demonstration
Inside the theater were a dozen rows of chairs and, at the far end, a very large flat screen which was connected to a PC in the corner where a lone operator named Kevin sat at the controls, while his partner -- microphone in hand -- introduced us to the game and told us a little about it.
"Frostbite two is driving the display" he informed us, and we looked at each other in happy awe.
You probably know that the Frostbite graphical engine for first-person shooters was developed by EA Digital Illusions CE, and that three of the previous series titles -- Battlefield: Bad Company, Battlefield 1943, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, were powered by Frostbite 1.0. Frostbite 1.5 was used to power the multi-player side of DICE's Medal of Honor, but so far nothing has come down the pipe powered by Frostbite 2 so this was going to be two firsts -- seeing the new engine in action, and seeing Battlefield 3 as well!
On the technical side, Frostbite 2 takes full advantage of the DirectX 11 API, and 64-bit processors, but the downside is that with no support for DirectX 9, Windows XP cannot run games using the engine. On the plus side though, it features enhanced in-game destruction with Destruction 3.0, creating much more refined and impressive physics than its predecessor -- and besides it really is time for you to upgrade your system to a Windows 64 bit OS anyway!
The new engine uses tile-based deferred shading acceleration and Morphological Anti-Aliasing (MLAA) via DirectCompute, the latter providing bandwidth conservation. If that sounds familiar to you it is because MLAA has been used in several games on Sony's PlayStation 3, most notably God of War III and LittleBigPlanet 2, to provide uber-realistic effects with noted success. Let me emphasize that -- With Noted Success.
As the demonstration began we were sitting with a squad in the back of a closed APC as it moved through streets that were clearly not inside the Green Zone. Radio chatter passed on information about the enemy -- insurgent fighters called the "PLR" who were raising hell with other units nearby. The combination of the music and background chatter in the game gives it a very compelling and realistic feel, but our first surprise came quickly after our unit was called upon to come to the aid of another unit in the area that had gone missing.
The APC stops and the rear hatch cracks open, and the effects in the game are just absolutely spot-on realistic. Now, you would have to have had the experience of going from a closed APC into the bright sunlight of an urban battlefield to really appreciate how realistic this was -- and it was! The ride to the jump-off point was filled with banter that could have been ripped right out of the mini-series Generation Kill, having the authentic and often macabre humor so common in that environment. The last spoken thought of one of your squad mates was that he forgot to file his taxes, and then you are out of the APC and in the line of fire.
Two Missions Showcasing Capabilities
There were two missions in the demonstration -- the first had us looking for a missing squad, and as we worked our way from street to street using buildings as cover, the big jump forward in both character rendering and in the overall quality of the engine became even more obvious.
After we pass through a garage and into a parking lot where a large group of insurgents attack, we are treated to a series of high-energy frenetic moments of intense firefight, during the opening moments of which we do something we have rarely done before in an FPS game -- we grab a downed buddy and drag him to safety in what can only be described as an uber realistic effort.
After the firefight ends we find ourselves tracking down the other end of a suspicious wire that disappears into a building -- and after following a route through rooms, duct-work, and into the buildings sub-level that brilliantly shows off the movement capabilities of the game, we experience hand-to-hand combat that, regrettably, makes use of a button-sequence as its mechanism. Sigh.
After we beat-down the insurgent and pull the wires from the cellphone equipped detonator that would have set off the bundle of arty shells in the corner, leveling the entire block, we race outside because another attack is underway and our mates need us!
Sniper and Rocket
After moving along an avenue we come under sniper fire and, eventually, work our way onto a roof that gives us a clear shot at the sniper. Well, sort of. You see the guy is using a .50 cal Barrett Rifle on us, and it is easily blowing away the cover we have on the edge of the roof. The squad leader rolls an M136 AT4 Rocket to you, commenting that you are the best shot in the squad (but you really do not have to be a great shot with one of those, you just need to get it in the general area).
After several more near-miss sniper shots you spot the location on the far building -- about midway up -- and let loose a rocket that literally blows the building away. The detonation on the face of it unleashes an impressive buckling wave of damage -- and clearly if there is one thing that they nailed in this game, it is damage and its appearance from start to finish -- as you blow half of the face off of the building! Yeah, the sniper is dead.
Eventually the fight moves to a wide avenue and overpass where wave after wave of insurgent are coming towards you, and you jump on a SAW and start carving them up, before your squad retreats to avoid being overrun. You find yourself near a parked Technical and use the ..50 cal mounted on the back to punish the enemy before first an explosion, and then an earthquake brings a very tall building nearby down on top of you, and demonstration over!
A Stunning Delivery
While we are sure that Kevin has probably fought those two missions a bazillion times as part of his duties in giving the demo's, the fluid and effortless appearing way in which he strutted through the battlefield left us feeling two distinct urges -- the first was to get a copy of that game, the second, to lock the door and spend the next two weeks playing it!
Bearing in mind that this is not the finished product here and maybe not even a full beta version -- the game is not due for release until the end of this year -- there were remarkably few bugs. In fact save for a minor few seconds of frame rate issues during the most intense part of the firefight, the only thing that stood out was when the protagonists M4 continued to make the firing motions without the muzzle flash or bangs -- because the gun was not being fired despite how it looked. That is an issue that will almost certainly be worked out prior to release.
The portion of the game we saw was only a tiny part of it, but it was an incredibly impressive tiny part, and if the rest of the game is anything like what we saw, this one is a serious contender for GotY even if it doesn't release until late November!
If you are worried that this will be one more FPS title set in the mean streets of the Middle East I have some good news for you -- maps set in Paris, Tehran, Sulaymaniyah, and New York have been confirmed for Battlefield 3, so you will not be getting a steady diet of sand in this Battlefield sequel!