The week before E3 2011, GameSpot traveled to the Swedish capital of Stockholm to visit developer DICE. It may have been a beautiful Nordic spring day outside, but we spent the whole afternoon in one of the developer's dark, air-conditioned meeting rooms. This was no bad thing, however, as we were about to become the first people in the world to play the year's most anticipated shooter in multiplayer.
Until today, Battlefield 3's marketing campaign has been relentless, with a steady drip of videos, screens, and information on the game's single-player campaign. However, DICE has remained tight lipped about the game's multiplayer--a clear attraction for fans of a series that has its roots in online multiplayer. You can see the relief on executive producer Patrick Bach's face, who is not only eager to talk about Battlefield 3's all-new multiplayer modes, but also to hear what we think about it as we're playing.
So, what exactly does DICE have lined up for Battlefield 3 multiplayer? Well, Rush and Conquest modes are a given following their success in Bad Company 2. The difference here is that they'll take place across bigger maps and have many more consecutive objectives. "Many maps out there are arenas; our maps are a journey," explained Bach, calling out the competition. Team Deathmatch will be returning after an absence in the Bad Company games, and it will be enhanced by the destructibility of the Frostbite 2 engine, according to Bach. Finally, following the success of the downloadable Onslaught mode for Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 will also ship with a co-op mode; this time, it will allow two players to team up on 10 unique maps.
DICE isn't resting on its laurels though. There are plenty of brand new features making their debut in Battlefield 3. The headline is Battlelog--a pre- and post-game activity platform that will "change the way you play Battlefield games together," according to Bach. Dice is keeping quiet about the specifics at this stage, but given the feature's striking resemblance to Need for Speed's Autolog, it's safe to assume it will include stat tracking, social features, and maybe even media sharing facilities. Bach did confirm that you'll be able to access the service "when you're sitting on a bus," and in a bold two-finger salute to Call of Duty's recently announced (and paid-for) Elite service, it will have a "monthly fee of zero."
Thankfully, our visit to Sweden not only allowed us to hear about the game, but also to actually play it. Our hands-on consisted of four rounds on a map called Operation Metro that was set in Paris. We played as the US Marines, taking on a team of DICE Battlefield veterans in a multi-point Rush objective to secure the French stock exchange. The map opened in a park, with the first goal being to secure a temporary enemy base before continuing underground through the metro system and then back above ground into downtown Paris. The map was characterized by the multiple routes we could take through the metro tunnels--using service areas, escalators, and even the trains themselves--which means there is plenty of replay value. DICE also delivered on its promise to deliver a multiplayer journey; each run through took about 10 to 15 minutes.
DICE has made some subtle but very important tweaks to the character classes in Battlefield 3. The soldier now doubles up as a medic, packing medikits and a defibrillator, as well as an M16 assault rifle with combat optical gunsight. The engineer has access to a repair tool for fixing vehicles, as well as a SMAW antitank rocket launcher for blowing them up, in addition to an M4 carbine with flashlight. The support soldier is able to dish out valuable ammunition, while also laying down suppressing fire using the M249 light machine gun with bipod and M145 optics. Finally, the recon class has access to C4 explosive packs and the MK11 sniper rifle with 6x scope. All classes also have access to an M9 pistol, hand grenade, and knife by default, and they can be fully customized as you gain experience playing the multiplayer game.
The changes to the classes have some interesting results in the game. The support soldier gains experience points for laying down suppressing fire, while those caught in the crossfire will have their vision compromised through a shaky cam and other subtle visual effects. The engineer's flashlight may make him more visible to the enemy, but it also allows him to light up dark areas, such the Metro tunnel, as well as startle anyone he shines it at--again through subtle visual effects. You can also opt out of being revived by a medic, if you'd prefer to respawn as a new class, for example.
Vehicle damage has also received a major overhaul. In Battlefield 3, if the enemy fires a rocket into the back of a tank, only the guy in the rear will be killed, rather than everyone in the tank. A vehicle can now be incapacitated, but the gunners will still be able to fire out when it's at low health; it just won't be able to move anywhere until an engineer repairs it. DICE will also introduce new rewards for players who act sneakily when playing. You will be able to customize your own dog tags and then steal other people's by performing a stealthy knife kill in multiplayer, for instance.
And then, of course, there's the graphics. DICE has garnered a lot of attention for Battlefield 3's impressive visuals, which are powered by its own Frostbite 2 engine. It's worth mentioning that we were playing the game on the PC, but it did indeed look mightily impressive, both through incredibly realistic destructibility and more subtle visual effects. It's especially noteworthy just how much DICE has nailed physicality in the game through animations, such as your legs swinging over obstacles as you vault them. But it's the prone maneuver, which has been the subject of so much forum talk already, that impresses the most: Hitting the ground and laying down fire via the machine gun's bipod just feels so right.
Battlefield 3's multiplayer mode is being shown at this year's E3, but for those of you not fortunate enough to be roaming the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center, be sure to check out our video interview to see more of the game. There's clearly a lot more up DICE's sleeve, though, so be sure to keep it locked to GameSpot for more intel on Battlefield 3 as we get it.