I just had the chance to try out the new open beta for Battlefield 3, and immediately took note of several positive changes that make the once monolithic shooter more approachable.
For starters, the beta features a single map with a single game mode. Operation Metro is a four-part map set in France, progressive stages of the map take place in a open park, subway tunnel, a station and a set of streets. The Rush gametype is reminiscent of Counter-Strike mixed with Team Fortress 2, with one team moving down a linear map attempting to blow up “comm-stations” while the other team tries to prevent their success until the time runs out. Its more fast-paced, fun and accessible than the Conquest gametypes of Battlefield’s past. A persistent system of unlocks and level-ups rewards players who do well in games, I got a cool new shotgun after just ten-minutes of play.
Completely revamped is the scoring mechanism, which is far juicier and overarching than it was in the past. Experience is rewarding for everything strategic, for assisting kills, giving health and ammo, achieving objectives and scoring headshots. Most notable is the “suppression” system. Should players shoot at an enemy without successfully hitting him, said enemy would suffer from blurred vision as bullets whizz by. Its a system that adds strategic depth to the game as victims are forced to retreat into cover and newbies have a way to contribute to the team without actually killing anybody.
Particularly problematic in Battlefield 2 was the dominion of snipers over entire maps. Battlefield 3 alleviates the problem by adding specific weaknesses to sniper rifles. For one, lens flare notifies targets that they are being spotted, allowing them a short time to react and defend themselves by returning suppressive fire. Its a system that both adds tension while balancing gameplay.
One balancing issue that was problematic in underground areas was the capability of a single weapon to dominate the battlefield: a flashlight. When mounted to the barrel of a rifle, the flashlight entirely blinds its victims, forcing them to return fire blindly in hope of survival. While the flashlight does give away enemy positions, it does severely weaken players that fall into its scope.
As to be expected from beta software, the game still is very buggy and features a host of gameplay glitches. Falling through the environment was problematic and forced me to suicide to respawn and re-enter the game. Clipping issues allow for snipers to fight from inside rocks and dash underneath hills. Hopefully, EA will have the chance to iron out these glitches before the game launches officially in three weeks.
One thing that surprised me was the degree of environmental destructibility that the physics engine afforded. I smiled in glee as my grenade detached three radiators from the wall and tossed them aside in a flurry of rubble and dust. Hopefully, this can serve to a greater strategic purpose besides just looking pretty.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with the open-beta. While the beta featured none of the game’s much-touted vehicles, I had a lot of fun with the Counter-Strike like attack/defend gameplay. The linear maps gave the game a much more focused feel and prevented me from aimlessly wandering around the map in confusion. Ultimately, the beta works well to whet my appetite for innovation in multiplayer shooters. I look forward to seeing where this game goes.