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Battlefield 3 PC Beta Initial Impressions

2011 has been an interesting year for games. Not only to we have almost every major franchise throwing their latest, greatest entry into the meat grinder, but we have the mother of all first person shooter grudge matches brewing: Battlefield 3 vs. Modern Warfare 3.

While the Bad Company games were certainly good, they were overshadowed by the growing phenomenon of the Call of Duty franchise. For the last two years, in fact, the winter release schedules have been rather barren in order to avoid the CoD juggernaut, but not so in 2011. EA and Dice are here to play and they go a long way in proving it with their Battlefield 3 beta. While not perfect, it’s enough to give a gamer hope.

As anyone frustrated with recent CoD games will tell you, deaths in multiplayer seldom come as a result of actually being shot. Rather, most trips to the great beyond come from frequent, massive explosions as the result of grenades, noob tubes, or kill streaks. The first thing that leaps out at you in Battlefield 3 is that bullets are your primary concern, which is refreshing to say the least. Sure, you still have access to the toy box of grenades and rocket launchers (though, after about 18 levels I still haven’t seen claymores), but they’re more the icing on the blood soaked cake.

Operation Metro, the only map in the open beta, is smaller than expected after the massive trailers Dice has fed the public, but it’s well designed. Segmented into four territories, each showcases several different scenarios such as open terrain, corridor shooting, and sniper traps. The textures are good, but not quite as spectacular as I expected given I ran the game on a very powerful rig. The military hardware looks great, but sometimes flowers and grass can look a little blurry when you get up close. The lighting is the really the star of the show, with some wonderful moments of glare created by the sun shining through trees.

The map is prone too a few hang ups, however. As a sniper one bug always manifests when trying to take cover next to an object on a slight incline such as the base of a tree. The camera would shake up and down constantly, disorientating you while you’re trying to line up a shot. Also, a skilled player can make it to the opposing team’s end of the map fairly quickly, allowing them to pick off the other team at their spawn points. There are barriers to prevent you from getting too close to another team’s spawn area, but if you have a scope you can negate that restriction fairly easily. In several instances, I found myself easily spawn camping the other team. While the fault sometimes lies in the use of mobile spawn points and teams not properly defending their territory, it’s a concern. Operation Metro is a rather small map by Battlefield 3’s standards, so I doubt it’ll be as easy to reach the other team’s spawn on other, larger battlegrounds.

A complaint I had with the Bad Company games is that the weapons didn’t quit feel as real to fire as the CoD guns. Battlefield 3 not only alleviates its previous shortcoming, but throws even more heaps of simulated realism onto the table with mechanics such as suppression (if someone’s firing at you and hits close to the mark, your vision gets blurry and aim grows more inaccurate. A great way to make cover fire actually matter) and reflections of light on sniper scopes. As for explosives, far less grenades are thrown around than you’ll see in CoD. Grenades lethality and range have also been reduced. Throwing them into a crowded, confined space will produce some kills, but using them outside in the open won’t yield decent results… which is *gasp* realistic. A little less realistic is the use of rocket launchers, which have their place in combat. The environments have some elements (it’s a little arbitrary which ones) that are destructible, so a well placed explosion goes a long way. Trees, barriers, and even parts of buildings can be blown out, but many more structures such as bridges and most walls are immune to such destruction. I also can’t tell you how many times defensive positions have been decimated by a few well placed rockets. Luckily, it isn’t as frustrating as one would think.

The best quality of the game is by far the sound. Battlefield 3 doesn’t sound cinematic in the least… it sounds real. The way the guns pop off is extremely natural, rather than sounding like a firefight from an 80’s film. The different between rounds being fired in the distance and those being sent in your direction is alarmingly good. The “snaps” and the “hisses” discussed in Black Hawk Down are in full effect here, and it really makes the whole experience come together. On the issue of sound, however, one unforgivable omission is the lack of voice chat during games. I think it’s a safe assumption that you’ll be able to talk to your team mates in the full game, but as the matches all hinge on the quality of team work it would severely hinder the experience if you couldn’t properly coordinate with your friends. Too many matches have fallen apart due to lack of communication during the beta.

Alas, anyone playing the open beta knows that there are no vehicles on the given map, which is a pity. I can’t wait to see how the full scale of the game plays. As Operation Metro is a small map, a full blown conflict on a larger scale would be very fun. I do have concerns regarding EA’s download service, Origin, as opening the multiplayer from a browser has proven to be a little lackluster. Trying to get friends on the same game is far more difficult than it should be which could make or break a game such as Battlefield 3. On a final note, I did experience more than a few crashes on my PC. Obviously, we’ll be treated to patches on the final version which should minimize the problems, but I’ve been booted from enough games to make it worthy of a mention. Overall, the game is on the right track and feels far more like modern warfare than the competition. For the moment, I’m optimistic, albeit cautiously. The game is going to be the best multiplayer first person shooter on the market this holiday season, but with a few tweaks it’ll be truly fantastic.

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