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DICE rolls-out the kind of Battlefield game that its ardent PC fan-base has been yearning for...
Here's how a first look preview usually works: the relevant publisher shows us a short demo of a game - usually played live by one of the dev team - and then we come back and write about it for you lovely people. Naturally however, the translation of this can never be perfect. Firstly, readers have to put up with a games journalist's hit-and-miss attempts at describing a scene (if we could do this well, we'd probably be novelists already); secondly, most journos will mix in a little opinion to make the article a bit more appealing to readers; and finally, you obviously can't actually see what's been shown - you have to take the writer's word for it. That's not so much the case where Battlefield 3 is concerned. At a recent EA showcase, DICE showed us the 'Fault Line' demo that it ran at GDC earlier in the year - the same demo that has since been released as a three part series of trailers. So, in an attempt to break with convention (and no, it's not because of laziness), we're going to let those trailers do the talking in this preview with a little bit of annotation from our end where appropriate.
In this first instalment of the trailer series, US Marines are conducting operations across the Iran/Iraq border in an attempt to fence in the insurgency of a terrorist organisation called the PLR - the year is 2014. Post-processing effects really have been kept to a minimum here. DICE has edited some of the coverage from the full playthrough we saw, denoted by an artefacting effect in the cuts between scenes, but it's only really uneventful sections where you're moving from A to B that are missing. Just take a look at the impressive character models on show though. Battlefield 3 is a PC-lead project and the build we saw (and the one being shown in this trailer) is run from a PC rig, exhibiting better visuals than we've seen on any current-gen console shooter available, period. It really is the kind of graphical quality that we'd expect to see from early games on next-gen consoles.
Trailer 2 captures our favourite part of the demo as your squad moves to the roof of a building in pursuit of a sniper. Some effects have been accentuated in the trailer, such as the blinks every time a shot is fired while your squad crawls alongside the lip of the building's top floor. This blinking effect was in the build that was demoed to us, although it was a lot more subtle so as not to have a jarring effect on the gameplay. What this section of 'Fault Line' exhibits better than anything else, though, is quite how far DICE is going with its Frostbite 2 engine in Battlefield 3. The way the wall crumbles as the sniper fires bullets down on you and, in particular, the level of destruction as you fire a rocket into the sniper's nest is staggering. Played through live in our first look, the frame-rate didn't stagger for a second as each window in the tower block shattered and a gaping hole was left in the building's structure.
Your character separates off from his squad in this final part of the trailer series to investigate a suspicious wire, believed to trigger an IED. A fight breaks out with a member of the PLR as the Marine attempts to defuse the bomb, culminating in an impressively choreographed brawl sequence. Although we'd hoped that the fight might be fully interactive, we can confirm after speaking to DICE that it's a quick-time event (note the mouse button prompts in the bottom corners of the screen). The final scene moves the action back out onto the streets though, reuniting the Marine with his squad and once again showcasing impressive cinematic moments as the bullet casings from the mounted guns on an attack chopper rain down from above.
One thing you don't see in this trailer that was present in our preview is an earthquake at the demo's conclusion, hence the tremors from the earlier two trailers. Once again, Frostbite 2 was in full effect as shockwaves actually appeared to roll through the concrete beneath the Marines' feet and roads cracked into hundreds of pieces like a smashed window pane (see, that's the dodgy scene setting we told you about at the top of this article). One thing's for sure though: Bad Company 2 already showed that DICE is at the top of the pile when it comes to destructible environments and now Battlefield 3 is set to stretch that lead over the studio's competitors to ludicrous proportions. Any developers who can make an earthquake look as convincing in an urban setting as DICE have managed to in 'Fault Line' deserve a vast chorus of plaudits as far as we're concerned.
So, that's it for details really until E3 rolls around and EA will likely have more footage to exhibit. What we've seen so far pitches Battlefield 3 right at the top of the pile for this year's batch of shooters - it may even be a CoD beater. Multiplayer has been kept under wraps for now but, given DICE's heritage in that area, there's no reason to doubt that it'll be genre-leading. The one thing that DICE has divulged on the multiplayer at this stage is that it will cater for 64-player matches for the first time since Battlefield 2, which is no doubt down to DICE's brave decision to lead the project on PC. It's certainly going to be a game that finally does that platform justice after years of negligence from the industry, and as impressive as the trailers above are, they really can't do full justice to what we saw in a live demo. Sadly, compressed video that's streamed over the internet simply can't compare to a 92-inch screen and top-of-the-range speaker array. We can assure you that as impressive as the visuals and cacophonous gun sound effects are on this page, seeing and hearing them first-hand is twice as stunning.
DICE is clearly going all-out with Battlefield 3 to make it a true sequel to what was arguably the best multiplayer shooter of the last decade in Battlefield 2. The studio finally appears to have a single-player campaign lined up for the series that matches the scope and vision of its much-loved multiplayer format. Make no mistake, Battlefield 3 is the real deal.
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