Tuesday, June 7, 2011

E3 2011: Battlefield 3 Preview

EA saved the best for last in its E3 2011 Press Conference, wowing the crowd with an extended demo for Battlefield 3. The General Manager of DICE, Karl Magnus Troedsson, took the stage to show off this highly anticipated game, talk about online features, and announce a multiplatform open beta. The presentation actually included a few different segments, the first of which was a teaser that flashed a series of gameplay images including the tank battle, melee combat, urban firefights in the street and underground, and a thermal vision-assisted vehicular assault. These images evoked gameplay from our previous preview coverage, and gave us some new glimpses that foreshadowed what was to come.
The second segment was a trailer for the new Frostbite 2.0 game engine that powers Battlefield 3. It highlighted four key areas (animation, destruction, scale, and audio) that are the focus of the improvements made to the original engine that powered some of the previous games in the series, including Battlefield: Bad Company 2. The tech demo was slick, but seeing how it all comes together on the battlefield makes a much bigger impact.
The third segment showed off an "infantry-focused' multiplayer map called Operation Metro, which takes place in the center of Paris. Short glimpses pictured soldiers running through a park, riding in the turret seat of what appeared to be an APC, and driving that same vehicle while manning the main gun. We saw firefights in a city street, in an underground station, and in a subway car. One player died from a brutal stabbing, while another crept along the tracks in prone position. Later, the player mantled over cover and dropped one story to the street, where rockets flew through the air and collided with buildings, scattering large chunks of stone. Troedsson concluded by talking about Battlelog, "a service which adds a hub of powerful social tools, where gamers can connect, communicate, and play with friends." Battlelog allows you to form squads and platoons, as well as check out your stats in real time. He then added that the service would be completely free, presumably in reference to Activision's recently announced Call of Duty Elite service.
The presentation concluded with a lengthy live demo of a tank battle against the enemy forces of the PLR that took place in "the Teheran desert " (unclear if he meant a fictional desert or one in the vicinity of Tehran, Iran). The demo began with a dinosaur figurine silhouetted against a clear sky. The wind whipped by and carried the echo of a child's voice, and we noticed the figurine had a label on the bottom, "To Dad." This fatherly moment was interrupted by a command to stop screwing around, and the view leveled off to reveal the player was in a turret on top of a tank, cruising across a flat desert in a convoy of about a dozen friendly tanks. The audio landscape was rich with the sounds of the wind, the tank treads on the ground, the creaking of the tank chassis, the hum of the engine, the thump of helicopter rotors, radio chatter, and a brooding ambient soundtrack (though this last element faded as the mission progressed, making us wonder if it was inserted for the demo). The visuals were equally robust. The tank rolled over arid ground for a solid minute and a half, showcasing scrub vegetation and looming mountains in the distance. The wind blew dust clouds and the sun glinted off of specks in the players vision, creating a solid sense of atmosphere.
As the convoy approached a smoking settlement on the horizon, the player climbed down into the tank and took up control of the main gun. An explosion indicated that enemy tanks had arrived on the scene, just as a prompt appeared on screen telling the player how to aim and attack. An AI driver was apparently handling the driving duties, leaving the player free to take his aim and blast the enemy armor. Each shot kicked up a lot of dust and smoke, making it difficult to visually confirm kills. Fortunately, the radio chatter told the player when he had scored a hit, and the dust eventually cleared to show the flaming husks of enemy tanks. As more enemies approached, the player switched to the thermal camera to get a better bead on them. This fight proved a bit tougher, and a warning tone indicated that the player had taken a bit of damage this time around.
Tanks destroyed, the convoy trucked on until they were brought up short by enemy rocket artillery. The player then switched monitors in the tank, peering into a camera attached to the airplane provided close air support for the assault. In this mostly black-and-white view, we watched a familiar laze-the-target sequence that neutralized many of the enemy vehicles, clearing the way for the tanks to roll on through. The convoy crested a ridge and was greeted with open fires and ruined structures where the airstrike had hit. Enemy soldiers took aim at the tanks with rocket-propelled grenades, and with the closer combat and soft targets (read: human soldiers) came a more zoomed-in view and lower caliber ammo. The player went into to full assault mode, switching between larger shells to destroy fortified positions and rapid-fire bullets to gun down fleeing enemies. The action came to a fairly decisive end when the player tagged a remaining artillery vehicle that was apparently situated next to an ammo cache. Explosions of all shapes and sizes burst forth, but as the triumphant squad crested another ridge, they saw their fight was far from over.
Then the demo really did come to an end, concluding a lengthy and visually impressive live showing. The only drawback was that the entire tank sequence seemed to be on rails, leaving us to wonder what kind of vehicular freedom the campaign has in store. We'll be able to find out for sure when Battlefield 3 launches for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on October 25, 2011, or perhaps even earlier in September, during the multiplatform open beta. We'll have more on that beta and on Battlefield 3 as E3 unfolds.

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