We took a short trip out of the office to see EA Games at its swanky Guildford office. The purpose of this visit was to play a segment from a Battlefield 3 single player mission. To say we were excited is a bit of an understatement. What follows may contain plot details, so if you want it to be a complete surprise, then click away now.
The segment we played was set in the outskirts of Tehran at dawn. It was about 10 minutes long, which wasn't anywhere near long enough for us. It was fun though, and it's built up a lot of excitement for us about the forthcoming release of this game.
The segment starts with some waiting for the "mission go" command. There's some chatter here, but nothing crucial. Then it's a jaunt downhill to plant your mortar launcher. As you do so, the landscape around you explodes with rockets and the sound of distant gunfire. All the time a subtle but tension-creating score plays.
You play a pivotal role here, in that you put down the mortar launcher. Without you, no mortar, and then what? Well, there would be no illumination rounds, that's what. Then it's a quick hop over a wall and down another hill. Here it starts to get interesting though. There's a lot of gunfire, and you need to do a sniper turn to pick off some fairly distant enemies.
It was here we felt a little superfluous. As fun as it is, we did kind of feel like the unit could have managed without us. Although, with that said, at times they appear to be the stupidest grunts on the earth, failing to shoot things our grandmother could hit, and generally being a bit slow on the uptake. There is, also, a slightly linear feel too, that comes from being shepherded from one place to another to fulfil the task of the moment. How you feel about this will depend on how you like your gaming. We, personally, like a bit of story, and don't mind taking a team role.
Then we had to clear a building. There weren't a huge number of enemies to defeat here but one door conceals some chaps who want to do you some harm. There's also some slow-motion where you get to waste someone in your own time. If this game was launched a few years ago, this would have been more impressive. As it stands, it gives you a chance to get your ducks in a row and shoot the three or so baddies behind the door so you can get your eye into the game. Your infantry friends are useless here, you have to just get on with it yourself.
Once you clear the building, you're out in to the street and into a Hummer to proceed to the next part of the level, but, sadly, that's all we saw.
Well, there's nothing revolutionary in the gameplay here. It's a pretty standard shooter, although there seems to be a story from what we gathered of the fragments we played through. It's also leading up to something big, although we don't know what.
Gun selection is good, but we felt the long-range weapon we were issued was more than capable of doing all the jobs the segment demanded. Picking up other guns just got us shot at more, and didn't really add much. Gun choice is a lot more relevant in the co-op missions, where stealth plays a huge part.
Speaking of co-op, we also had a quick go at this part of the game too. And it was actually a very enjoyable experience. Working as a pair, you have to clear a building and rescue a hostage. From there, it's your job to protect him, and your team. This involves taking point and clearing the streets of any gun-toting miscreants. We found this more challenging, and there were two of us playing.
This, for us, is where the excitement is though. Battlefield 3 may well be a single-player game that rivals the likes of CoD but it will always have a multi-player heritage that sets it apart. EA doesn't seem to have forgotten this, producing a game that is a challenge, but great fun too.
On co-op, we didn't feel that progress saves happened often enough. This adds to the challenge, but also adds to the likelihood that your console will be thrown out of a window. If your teammate gets badly wounded, you can leg it over and rescue them. Of course, this is risky in itself as you too could be shot and killed. We speak from experience here.
Of course, it's very hard to judge Battlefield 3, based on one small segment of the game. One thing is for sure though, the single player works well, and is fun. Co-op is a challenge, and enjoyable too. And, although Battlefield has always been about Multiplayer, it's great to see such structured and enjoyable single player levels.
Speaking technically, we played on PS3s and that's not our first choice for a game like this. The more FPS-orientated controller of the 360 would be preferable, and, as always, Battlefield should be a big hit on the PC.
In terms of the graphics, it might be a bit early to judge how it looked. It was, however, a little glitchy, with the occasional missing texture. There is currently some debate about console games and their graphics quality, and it's clear that the PC can generate a superior picture. From what we saw, this game is sleek enough and the Frostbite engine makes all the difference. We'd trade photo-real graphics for a believable environment any day, and Frostbite delivers that.
As with our other hands-on with Battlefield 3, we haven't played long enough, or with finished code, to be able to judge it. So, do not take this as a review. We know that when the final game is released, there will be a lot of changes.
Can Battlefield 3 be as good a single-player game as CoD? We'd love to know what you think.