E3 2011 is under way, and many high-profile games are in attendance. Few games have a higher profile than DICE Studios' Battlefield 3, the remarkable-looking modern military shooter that made a tremendous showing at Monday's press conferences. While we've already posted the majority of the details on the Operation Metro map, which takes place in near-future Paris, in our exclusive hands-on preview, we had the opportunity to spend some more time with the multiplayer mission on the PC to glean a few more details.
Operation Metro takes place in the Paris of 2014, and in Rush mode, which we played, the game's two warring factions fight it out across four areas, which unlock successively as the attacking team captures each area's two objectives. (Venturing outside of the current "hot" area will pull up a massive "Warning! Leaving Combat Zone!" message onscreen and gives you 10 seconds to get back into the right area.) The areas were surprisingly varied--while the first zone was an outdoor park with plenty of leafy vegetation to provide concealment (but not much in the way of cover), the successive areas delved deeper into the heart of the city, turning into the streets of Paris, the city's subway system (escalators and all), and ending in the Parisian stock exchange. As we mentioned in our original preview, this mission is intended to be "infantry focused," and as we've mentioned, infantry have become highly streamlined in Battlefield 3.
There are only four different kits (the weapon loadouts that define a character class in the Battlefield games) this time around, but now that the assault and medic classes have been merged into a single combat medic class, each of the four kits seems very well rounded and capable. The engineer continues to act as an antitank class that can also repair damaged vehicles, and as mentioned, the class also carries an M4 carbine as a primary weapon mounted with a flashlight, which will become important in the game's darker subterranean areas and can blind enemy soldiers if shone directly in their eyes. The scout class can still call UAV drones and still carries a long-range sniper rifle, though this time around, the weapon will have suboptimal accuracy when fired from the hip and will be at its absolute best when used by a player who is lying prone and holding his breath (performed in the PC version by pressing and holding the space bar) to reduce the drifting of your sights as your character breathes.
Most interestingly, the support class (also known as the heavy weapons class) has been tweaked so that players can drop ammo packs for allies--and they can automatically mount their heavy automatic weapons when sitting still and putting their weapons into zoom mode. When support players' weapons are mounted, any gunfire they lay down near enemy players--even shots that don't hit home--will be considered suppressive fire, for which support players will receive points that contribute to their cooperative squad score (the statistic that shows how much you've contributed to your team). When enemies are suppressed, their screens get slightly blurry, hampering their accuracy somewhat, so providing covering fire seems like it'll actually be a worthwhile benefit that support players can bring to their team--especially for those players who don't have amazingly good aim. Also, should allies take out enemies that have been suppressed by support players, those support players will also earn additional squad score points. In addition to equipping each kit's default set of weapons and items, each class will apparently have three different slots for further character customization. You can even customize your character's dog tags--most likely with your character's most impressive statistics, such as number of sniper rifle kills, number of objectives captured, and more, so on the off chance you somehow get killed in battle and your tags get stolen, they'll at least know what a tough son of a gun you were. Even more intriguingly, you'll also be able to customize Battlefield 3's vehicles, though it's not completely clear how that will work.
Speaking of vehicles, we should mention that despite Operation Metro's infantry focus, the attacking team in the park has access to one drivable vehicle, an LAV-25A2--a modified recon vehicle whose heavier armor and mounted turret essentially make it a light tank. Since we happened to be on the attacking side, as soon as the match began, we found ourselves unable to resist our innate Battlefield vehicle-hoarding-jackass instincts. We completely ignored our surroundings, mission objectives, teammates, DICE staffers' personal space, and the bounds of basic human decency in favor of sprinting toward and commandeering the vehicle.
Once we were in the driver's seat, we immediately flashed back to the good old days of driving while shooting in Battlefield 2, which is exceedingly easy in the default, third-person driver's view. The camera hung behind and slightly above the vehicle's cockpit, which made steering a breeze since we could clearly see which way the treads were pointing. However, the perspective also gave us plenty of viewspace above the cockpit to aim our turret at enemy soldiers on the horizon. We made our way to the first objective in style, using the turret to blast far-off enemies into oblivion and switching to the secondary antipersonnel cannons--which have an alternate thermal scanner view that does a fantastic job in helping you sort out heavily camouflaged foes from foliage--to deal with enemies that had gotten in close. Sadly, the initial leg of Operation Metro ended near the area's objectives, which were fenced off by crates and industrial flotsam that made further progress by vehicle impossible.
Once we got into urban combat, the tone of the map, and of the action, changed significantly. In indoor environments, cover instantly became more important, and the environmental destruction made possible by DICE's proprietary Frostbite engine became much more apparent. The studio's general manager, Karl Magnus Troedsson, explained that Battlefield 3 will have three levels of environmental destruction: large-scale set-piece destruction that will be scripted into various levels; "facade"-level destruction of medium-sized environmental objects, like small buildings; and "microdestruction"--namely, the chipping away of solid objects under repeated gunfire. We saw plenty of the latter in our foray into Paris. Errant shots caused glass-encased decorations to shatter in the financial building, while concentrated fire chewed up concrete supports in the subway. Of course, modern-day close-quarters combat isn't anything new in today's first-person shooters, but the variety of switching from classic, open-field Battlefield gameplay to CQC on the same map during the same match helps set Battlefield 3 apart. This is an extremely impressive-looking shooter. And it launches this October. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates.