With the October 25 release date for Battlefield 3 quickly approaching, developer DICE put the game front and center at Gamescom 2011. EA’s large, multi-booth set-up featured a full-sized fighter jet with a Battlefield 3 backdrop for gamers to get photos in front of (complete with flight suits). But the lines were much longer across the floor, where DICE unveiled its 64-player Conquest mode for PC gamers to jump into. Conquest was one of two playable demos on the show floor. DICE also showcased a level from its two-player co-op campaign mode.
EA had 64 PCs hooked up for players to engage in the Conquest map set on the Caspian border. While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game will offer 24-player support, the PC game will deliver massive combat across huge maps. The playable demo at the show featured a U.S. versus Russia scenario set in the Middle East.
What has always separated the Battlefield franchise from the competition is its full-scale warfare, including jets, tanks, jeeps and assorted soldiers. DICE has been able to push the level of scale and visuals with its new Frostbite 2 engine. One of the best ways to take in the full visual fidelity of the PC game is to hop into a jet and take to the unfriendly skies. Hitting the “W” key and pulling back on the mouse will get you airborne, where you can immediately see how large the map actually is and how many players are battling it out below. Getting used to flight controls in the air takes some time. It’s not an arcade game that offers instant action like Namco Bandai’s Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, which was also on display at the convention. Battlefield 3 has a steep learning curve for these jets, but it’s clearly a weapon that is worth investing time and energy in for the sheer speed and accuracy of its many weapons. Plus, taking in the scenery of the destruction below is something that doesn’t get old. Many players who were getting their first taste of the new game opted to use their jets like Japanese Zeros and kamikaze into opposing team forces.
Because of the sheer size of the maps, using one of the game’s many vehicles is almost a necessity. There’s simply no other way to maneuver from point A to point B without wasting a lot of valuable time. Jeeps provide the speediest route, but they’re prone to attacks from both soldiers and tanks.
On the ground, one of the most formidable vehicles is the M1 Abrams tank. It’s not going to get you around the map quickly, but it’s going to get you there safely. And the tank offers multiple ways to capture enemy crates. Players can use the powerful cannon, or just smash through barriers and walls with the throttle pushed full speed ahead.
There’s so much to do in this game, and so many ways to fight, that it’s impossible to try everything out in one go-round. And with the lines filled with people (over 275,000 people attended the convention), it was only possible to get a small taste of the new ground-bases classes. Snipers are always fun to try out, especially with the red-and-white radio tower that reached to the sky in the center of the map. The long-ranged recon class offers players all the skills necessary to take out enemies from afar.
DICE has explained that balancing gameplay is an essential part of getting the 64-player maps to work correctly. As a result, players aren’t going to be able to find a sniper post, like the aforementioned radio tower, and just camp there the entire session. Sniper scopes create a sun glint, which tips off jet fighter pilots, tank commanders and others on the battlefield to your position. But it’s still a lot of fun to pick off enemies, while it lasts.
The radio tower offers an amazing perspective of the entire battlefield. The advanced physics in Battlefield 3 require some skills when taking out enemies, especially those who are moving from place to place. Players also need to take into account bullet drop when targeting opponents. One thing that does help kill more enemies more effectively is working with a spotter, who will mark targets with an orange icon.
While there’s some overlap with characters and environments, Battlefield 3’s co-op mode is separate from the single-player campaign. Playable at Gamescom was the Exfiltration level, which is set in Tehran. The objective is to sneak into an apartment to rescue an important hostage from enemy hands. In sharp contrast to the all-out action warfare of the Conquest mode, this level was all about stealth infiltration.
Pairing with a teammate, a la EA’s old Army of Two games, this mission required coordinated, quiet orchestration. Armed with silencers, teammates traversed creepy basements, dimly-lit hallways and cramped rooms to make their way to the target. Along the way, coordinated silent attacks on enemy soldiers were a must. The first half of the mission serves as a stark contrast to the escape plan. Once the hostage was captured, it was an all-out race – with the help of a convoy of U.S. Humvees – to get out of the area alive. That was easier said, then done, as terrorists lined balconies, windows and alleyways in what became a deadly shootout. When shot, a teammate is able to revive their comrade, which came in handy in this level.
DICE showcased an impressive mix of multiplayer at Gamescom. With the promise of vehicle support in co-op and even more complex maps in Conquest, Battlefield 3 is living up to the blockbuster status the game has been gunning for.
Check out our hands-on impressions of the Battlefield 3 multiplayer mode.