Battlefield 3 Co-Op Hands-On Impressions -- Two Words: Buddy SystemBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Oct 08, 2011
With the looming pressure of taking on Call of Duty while having to deliver a robust multiplayer mode and a quality single-player mode, it was rather surprising that EA DICE even bothered to include co-op functionality into Battlefield 3. And while this feature might use the same level assets as the campaign levels, the maps in co-op are unique to this mode. After playing just one of the half dozen missions in co-op, it was even more surprising that it was reasonably fleshed out. This impression was partially based off the various mid-mission goals, the steady stream of enemies, and all the mayhem that resulted in an embarrassing amount of deaths for both me and my partner.
Here's a spoiler tip about the beginning of the first mission, titled "Hit and Run": cover your buddy's back. That might sound like common sense, but in the context of this mission, it's not only to anticipate the enemy soldiers attacking from behind, but also to watch and admire their dramatic entrance as they rappel through the windows. There's actually a lot of window breaking going on in "Hit and Run," more so than any other mission and multiplayer mode I've played in Battlefield 3 so far.
One particular narrow room was especially exciting to power through where one side was just a wall of windows. Better yet, there were snipers and gunners in the building across the street with a decent view of us through those windows. This is where my partner and I differed to our tactical approach. She decided to just charge through the room, using the museum pieces in the middle of the area as cover, while the completionist in me wanted to take out all the guys from the other building. In the end it worked out: I got my kills, and she hardly got shot.
That scene was one of three key shootouts in "Hit and Run." The next phase was an intense hold-your-ground scenario where we were anticipating a rush of operatives on our tails. This was one of those missions that allowed us to use claymores and the ten seconds of prep time we were given was more than enough to plant a few explosive surprises for the opposition. Call it a borderline exploit, but my partner and I also had the benefit of being very close to one of the game's countless ammo refill boxes, the kind where you don't have to press a button to refill; just stand next to it. So it was just a matter of chucking grenade after grenade and wait until the gunfire stopped. It was a somewhat cheap tactical decision, but the detailed and intricate design of this office space did make for a visually challenging shootout.
The third challenge was a situation that seemed ideal for a co-op game: the synchronous, multi-level infiltration. In other words, while my partner took on foes on a balcony level, I did the same on a lower level. It was fun to experiment with tactics, whether it was more efficient to focus on the enemies on their respective levels or take care of the partner's opposition since those enemies aren't focused on you. Admittedly, we did both die at least once in this area (among other sections) which speaks to the heightened challenge of Battlefield 3's co-op. When I asked executive producer Patrick Bach about the difficulty settings, he confirmed my suspicion that co-op is meant to be harder than the single-player campaign. It makes complete sense since the player would have the advantage of a (presumably) competent human partner versus typical squad AI.
Before I had the chance to let my pulse slow down, this mission decided to leave one last memorable impression. Much like the other Paris mission we reported on in our recent single-player mode preview, "Hit and Run" also features an engaging garage scene. The twist is that this mission takes advantage of the vehicular appeal of the Battlefield series. Yes, you have to make an automotive getaway. The multiplayer mode might have tons of compact cars as decoration, but it's in co-op where you're able to drive them.
Out of the many hours I played at this Battlefield 3 media event, it was this section that truly highlighted the lighting prowess of the Frostbite 2 engine thanks to the small, tight spaces. Our lighting was limited to the headlights of the car and the flashlight on the my rifle. Compounded with my partner's limited experience of driving cars in Battlefield 3, this section made for an initially hilarious exercise in garage escapes as she tried to navigate and weave through other cars while I tried to aim and fire at the numerous enemies trying to stop us. Considering the amount of wrong turns we took, and my inability to get consistently steady shots from a moving car, the enemy AI was rather forgiving as we made it out of the garage on our first try, which then triggered the fade to black and the end of the mission.
It was both messy (on our part) and a rush. With the Parisian setting and this car chase, I couldn't help equate the experience to something out of a Jason Bourne film, Ronin, or something from Luc Besson. There's an extra level of tension because these missions do not have checkpoints; deaths of either player results in "game over."
When asking Patrick on his recommendation of whether to play the single-player first or the co-op first, he responded by saying that it didn't matter. The premise of these co-op missions deal with intelligence gathering related to the information that the characters in the single-player story act upon. Much like Splinter Cell: Conviction, the events in Battlefield 3's co-op appear to be slightly earlier than Blackburn's single-player story. It'll be curious to see how the complete co-op experience will provide context to the main story when Battlefield 3 comes out on October 25.