Battlefield 3 hands-on preview

We just got back from a little trip to Dolby Laboratories for a quick hands-on session with EA’s upcoming 2 ton gorilla, Battlefield 3. The demo showed off “Operation Guillotine”, and put us in control of U.S. Marine Sgt. Blackburn as we pursued members of the People’s Liberation and Resistance (PLR) movement through the outskirts of Tehran. Check out the new trailer, shown running on the Xbox 360, right here:

As the trailer aptly conveys, the mission starts off with a short briefing before the squadron runs down a hill, trying to take cover under an overpass. Sgt. Blackburn, that’s us, was unfortunately tasked with schlepping a mortar to the position through enemy bombardment. If you thought playing dodge-ball with explosions was already too fun, try doing it with your hands full. We pushed forward and set up the mortar, firing off some counter-shots before getting a rifle. A quick jump over a wall put us into enemy fire, and we quickly had to lay down some suppressing rounds as we ran for the nearest convenient bulletproof boulder.

It should be stated that it feels great being able to go prone again; there’s few things as annoying as being forced to squat behind not quite big enough cover and eat bullets. Don’t think the benefits of going prone are a one way street though, we had a hard time spotting some clever enemy that had gone prone in some bushes, and just about bought the farm.

Above: This nighttime scenario really showed off the kind of lighting wizardry Frostbite 2 is capable of

This is the first look we’ve had at the game during nighttime, and the lighting effects of the Frostbite 2 engine are definitely impressive. As you can see in the trailer, the flood lights set up throughout the level do a great job of simultaneously helping and disorienting the player. While the lights allow the player to see their enemies in the dark, they also obscure anyone standing directly in front of them by blurring the player’s vision with massive lens flare. It’s an interesting take on visual cover that treats even the lighting itself as a strategic element. The developer we were talking with also mentioned that nighttime maps in multiplayer will have a similar feature, where players can temporarily blind one another with their flashlights.

After taking out a few PLR members, we gained a foothold in a ravine before pushing up a hillside into a building. At this point we had a few on-screen prompts to knock open some blocked doors, each of them leading to eerily empty hallways. Naturally, the last door concealed the jackpot, 3 heavily armored PLR members ready to take our head off. We were quickly knocked to the ground, but years of gaming intuition had told us to make sure our shotgun was at the ready in the narrow hallway, so we made short work of the armored enemies. We were about to pile into a Humvee and give chase when the demo sadly came to an end.

Above: You wouldn’t think so, but the Tehran Hotel has a 5 star rating on Yelp

The lion’s share of Battlefield 3’s footage has been coming from the PC version, so it’s nice to finally see the 360 and PS3 versions in action. While the consoles can’t quite keep up with a modern gaming PC’s graphical prowess, the Frostbite 2 engine looks just as good in action regardless. Little things like more detailed textures are definitely nice to have, but aren’t of major concern when you’ve got a small army of angry players waiting to simultaneously ram a jet fighter into your face and crush you in a tank.

Battlefield 3 is set for an October 25th release date on PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3

Sept 16, 2011

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