Battlefield 3 had one of the most anticipated turnouts at E3, and by the second day of the show, their theater entrance was already festooned with multiple awards and nominations. People were lining up for five hours just to get a glimpse of the game. That's dedication. If John Lennon and George Harrison suddenly came back to life and reunited with Paul and Ringo for a reunion concert, I'm not sure I'd wait five hours for those tickets to ride. That's a slight exaggeration (of course I'd wait), but that really shows some serious dedication to a video game.
The reason people were waiting that long is because DICE is determined to bring you the "biggest and best Battlefield game ever," courtesy of the Frostbite 2.0 engine. It's bringing a much increased level of scale and destruction to the game, which takes the game into a previously unexplored environment: dense, urban areas. While the large-scale "Thunder Run" tank assault was shown off at the E3 press conference, behind closed doors, the developers were putting their "Operation Metro" under the scope and letting us get hands-on time with it.
This is an infantry-focused, 32-player map, and our mode of choice was Rush. It consists of four different areas that unlock as you progress through the level like normal Rush mode maps. But each of these four areas is so large in this map that they could be standalone multiplayer maps. That's the sort of scale they're working with here. This level's theater is Paris, and you'll immediately notice the difference in settings from Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Instead of dense jungles and sparse settlements, you're in the sprawling outskirts of Paris with enormous billowing clouds in the background and the city under siege.
With an initial assault taking you through a city park complete with merri-go-rounds and slides, you'll learn quickly that it's much smarter to approach slowly and flank, lest you run directly into the path of an enemy bullet. With my Call of Duty: Black Ops mindset firmly entrenched in my thumbs, that's what I kept doing. Even in BFBC2, I would frequently run at full speed up to where the battle was taking place and figure out a plan of attack later. This time around, you need to do that from the start or you'll suffer. It's much more of a stop and pop than a run and gun.
After you destroy the first two M-COM stations in that area, which isn't easy, you're faced with an impassable pile of rubble. Calling in air support, two fighters scream overhead and drop two JDAM bombs on the street, opening up the Paris Metro and providing you with a new path in. This is where the game completely changes, taking you from a brightly-lit park to the innards of a subway system in disarray. Instead of open spaces, you're confronted with dark, cramped spaces as you move into the stations below.
DICE wants to make Battlefield 3 a much more squad-based game, and they've tweaked the classes accordingly. The biggest change is to the Assault class, which is now combined with the Medic class. They figured that since the Assault soldier tends to run out to the frontlines and brave enemy fire, it only made sense to give them the ability to revive fallen allies and to toss out first aid kits. They're also boosting weapon mods in a big way by giving main weapons three attachment slots for items ranging from flashlights to extra ammo.
Two new features have been added to the Support class, which should prove extremely useful when moving up maps. His machine gun has a bipod mounted on it, and when you zoom in via the scope in front of cover, or while prone, the bipod extends, and you'll have much more accurate fire while zoomed. He can also use the "Suppressing Fire" feature, which sprays bullets at foes, and decreases their accuracy. It's a new, dynamic feature that real soldiers will most likely hail for its realism.
Another addition to the game are highly customizable dogtags that can pimp your kills and skills, and you now have to stealth kill enemies from behind in order to steal their dogtags. These are all about bragging rights. Additionally, while "Operation Metro" isn't vehicle heavy, there is a LAV-25 armored vehicle that proves useful when moving groups up the battlefield, and is equipped with a very handy night vision mode that is invaluable in spotting lurking enemies. As with most vehicles in the game, they are hotly contested since everyone wants to drive.
Playing through the level, the environment and verticality are immediately appreciated. Our squad was stuck in a chokepoint outside of the metro station, but entering some of the flanking buildings revealed multiple levels, allowing us to rain lead down on the entrenched defenders. Of course, those buildings didn't last long under sustained gunfire and explosives, but they got the job done. Each area is different enough from the last that you literally feel like you're moving into a different map with each push.
Everyone quickly learns that one of the best features to use in dark environments is the flashlight flash. You can literally blind someone if you hit F on the keyboard (we're not sure what the controller equivalent will be) to blind them, and then send a few rounds their way. I first encountered this as a stealthed up a non-operational escalator. At the top on the left was what I thought was a mounted utlity light, blasting out a white cone of light. I ignored it and kept creeping forward, and then it turned and drilled me full of bullets. Very annoying, and cool.
Some of the best moments in this multiplayer felt cinematic, like our first push up through the subway stations. Ticket windows became entrenched positions, and side entrances became ambush slots as we battled our way inside. Moving slowly forward and scoping in for kills was the way to go, and it felt miles beyond the BFBC2 mutliplayer, which, while I enjoyed it, felt very repetitive. This was just our first encounter with BF3 multiplayer, and if they can keep this up, it will be one of the must-have games for 2011.