While my last Battlefield 3 impressions article may have been peppered with complaints about the system by which the beta itself runs, make no mistake: I’m enjoying it heartily.
Yes, Origin is clunky and the beta is full of delightful little bugs, but so is a can of month old tuna, and you don’t see me turning that away, either. Indeed, BF3 has so far shown itself to be not only satisfying on a visceral level, but a carefully crafted stage of virtual violence. For as many things are there are to whine about, DICE has preemptively silenced complaints with gameplay that puts strategy first.
Lights, lasers, action
There is no doubt in my mind that anyone playing Battlefield 3 will immediately be struck by its graphical power. Yes, some textures are muddy and models simplistic, but DICE has already confirmed that’s a beta-only problem. No, fair reader, I’m talking about the lighting.
Fire, sunlight, and explosions are all fairly typical light sources in the FPS genre. Occasionally, muzzle flares or flashbang grenades are sprinkled into the mix. But even the most cursory of gameplay experiences in the BF3 beta reveal just how big a difference a well-orchestrated visual orgy can make. Yes, the sun shines and dark corridors are brilliantly illuminated by gunfire, but there’s so much more.
The delicate, shifting shadows of the underbrush everywhere. Was that an enemy crawling by, or the wind? Firing into the shrubs may net you a kill, or may reveal your location to a separate, unimagined foe. The smarter, more patient player capable of exploiting these intricate details is usually the victor.
And while lighting plays tricks on you in some areas, it’s also a weapon. No, your assault rifle’s mounted flashlight isn’t anything that’s going to make Alan Wake jealous, but in Battlefield 3 that doesn’t mean it isn’t lethal. Turn the corner with your high beams on and any enemies looking in your direction will be all but blinded. But leave it on unnecessarily and they’ll see you coming from a mile away. And while this is an obvious tradeoff, the game is full of interesting dilemmas posed by more than just the free flow of photons.
In a few months post release, I’m sure analysts will have determined the optimal weapons and the optimal routes through each map, but at least in the beta, it doesn’t feel like there’s a “best” solution to any given situation. For every tactics there is a counter tactic. For every weapon, a different strategy. Here are some of the most interesting examples I’ve stumbled upon so far:
- Lying prone enhances aim and decreases your profile, but at the expense of reduced spatial awareness and maneuverability
- Using a laser sight increases accuracy, but a laser on an enemy’s face will be visible to him, giving your intentions away
- A melee kill is a guaranteed, 1-hit victory dance, but the animation is drawn out and the knife unsheathing sound is audible
- Frontal assault paths are direct and include cover, but are obvious – side paths are roundabout and bare, but harder to cover
- Being behind cover shields you from danger, but explosives.
While these examples are not hugely exciting on paper, they’re constantly coming up in actual gameplay. In the final version of Battlefield 3, these considerations will be amplified by the existence of vehicles. Do you take the jet knowing it can do moderate damage in your hands, or hope your next teammate is an ace pilot? Do you push forward as an Engineer repairing tanks, or do you suit up with smoke grenades and lay down a wall of concealment? Many of us face choices like this in our daily lives, and seeing them played out online is highly rewarding.
My only weakness is bullets
Of course, a lot more has changed since Battlefield Bad Company 2 and the introduction of prone. Many aspects of gameplay have been tweaked to make the experience more fluid, intuitive, and fair.
- If you spawn on a crouching or prone squadmate, you will appear in the same state as him/her. Bad Company 2 players tired of being revealed by standing squads materializing in their otherwise hidden location, rejoice
- The Assault class is now in charge of healing, giving them something to do other than endlessly spam grenades
- When being revived, the dead player now has the option to refuse the revive, preventing trolls from forcing their comrades back to life into a suicidal situation
- Kill assist points are now directly related to how much damage the assistant did to the target
- M-COM stations can only be destroyed by being manually armed, so no more C4/mines/tanks/UAV bullshit tactics
In addition to these types of tweaks, the gameplay itself and scoring systems have been changed to encourage (gasp!) teamwork. Players now earn points for staying alive long enough for teammate to spawn on them. Additional points are offered for providing suppressive fire. In other words, players now have a reason to help their teammates make it down a hall alive. Suppressive fire also causes enemy vision to blur, giving it an actual function akin to scaring the shit out of one’s foes.
Weapons, in general, do massive damage. Almost every gun kills in a single headshot, and the rest will do someone in in fewer than five bullets. While some people are whining the skill has been removed from the game since a couple stray bullets can now be completely fatal, these people are morons. High damage results in not only more “realistic” gameplay, but also means players must be more strategic in their approach to the objective. Run-and-gun tactics simply don’t work, but teamwork does. A squad that employs a mix of suppressive fire, blinding light sources, obfuscating smoke, and well-placed grenades will go quite far. And that’s without the use of tanks!
The big payoff
The end result of this carefully balanced system of scoring, measures, and countermeasures, is that winning feels rewarding. You didn’t lose because an enemy got a lucky crit or a bullshit killstreak bonus. You lost because you weren’t listening to the rustling behind you and the unsheathing knife headed for your throat. You didn’t win because you memorized spawn locations or you have the best power-ups. You won because you and your squad approached the objectives carefully, backing each other up and carefully balancing pressure with safety.
Throw in a few of the archetypal “Battlefield moments” the series is known for, and all of a sudden you have something instantly memorable – even if your memory is you staring at your own corpse. There’s just a little time left in the beta, so what are you waiting for? We need
to collect your dogtags soldiers like you on the frontline!