It's hard to start to talk about the Battlefield without using a lot of superlatives and hyperbole. The series has been a benchmark for online FPS multiplayer for so long that it has become a sacred institution, especially for PC gamers.
This is where Battlefield 3 suffers more than most as it is the first direct Battlefield sequel in some time and so, quite rightly, fans are expecting something really big.
Of course, DICE being the ambitious and generally fun-loving guys that they are doing their very best to create a game that will truly provide a groundbreaking experience, both in single player and multiplayer and will make as big a splash as Battlefield 1942 did when it first arrived on the PC.
The first thing that is pretty obvious when you talk to anyone from EA or DICE that is connected with the development of Battlefield 3 is how genuinely enthusiastic they all are about the game. Passion drips off every word that they utter when they talk about it and it is a truly refreshing site to see developers on an established franchise with this much passion for their work.
There is really no need to worry that these guys are exaggerating at all when they talk about what they are doing and it's a great thing to see as we head in for our preview screening.
The screening is packed full of salivating games journalists waiting to see their first taste of live play on Battlefield 3. DICE has brought their very best gaming PCs to this event and plugged them into the biggest HD TV they could find and creamed the resolution right up so we can get a feel for just how far they are pushing the new Frostbite 2 engine for this game.
The lights go down and the gameplay demonstration begins. Sadly it begins with footage that EA has already released in the Fault Line videos but what you don't get from the videos (even streaming in 1080p) the level of detail that DICE has managed to include in this game.
We watch spellbound enjoying every little detail of the Middle Eastern city that our fire team is beginning to explore. Their first job is to locate and recover a patrol that they have lost radio contact with. From their marketplace headquarters they head out through alleyways, stopping to let vehicles and armour pass them while they lurk in the shadows rather than drawing them into a needless firefight.
As they close on the patrol's last known position the happen out into a car park and immediately come under fire from a sniper located in the hotel opposite. The detail here is immense. The soldier in front of our character takes a bullet to the shoulder and his blood spatters onto the screen. He falls to the ground with impressive authenticity, showing off Frostbite 2's new physics system in spectacular fashion.
As we drag our injured comrade into the cover of an open garage the rest of the squad fall into cover amongst the cars as enemy soldiers begin to pour out of doorways and side streets. We make our way to the car park again and enemy troopers armed with RPG spring up on a couple of balconies and the intensity of the combat jumps up again. Bullets, glass and masonry are flying everywhere as the trademark deformable cover again shows off just how far the physics component of the engine has been developed.
One thing to note is that the demo being shown to us is not just an endless chain of relentless firefights. In fact, in the first five minutes not a single round was fired until they emerged into the car park and came under fire from the sniper.
We can wax lyrical about the impressive technology advances that DICE has made but the other thing that they are really concerned with is bringing a much more authentic pacing to the military action that they are immersing you in. DICE has gone to great lengths to stress that they will be pacing things at a much more realistic level.
The parts where your squad is moving between objectives is used very carefully to build up the atmosphere. For instance, in the build up to the sniper shot, before crossing the previous street, the enemy insurgents careen down the road in a pick-up with a heavy machine gun mounted on it causing the squad to pause and check that the coast is clear before crossing.
This is not a game about being an all-killing super-soldier. Battlefield 3 is about being an infantryman or a medic or a tank driver or a helicopter pilot and playing on the strengths of those roles rather than trying to do everything yourself.
Back to the action and, our squad carefully deals with the ambush and moves on to deal with the sniper. They take up position on a roof opposite the hotel, crawling prone and hiding behind air conditioning units while the sniper continues to take pot shots at them.
Finally, they arrive at a good spot and you are handed a rocket launcher and told to take out the sniper's position. A wait for the sniper to pause to reload an a quick pop up over the parapet leads to the rocket shot and one of the most entertaining displays of destructible environments yet. The rocket takes out the sniper and half of the building as well. We watch as it crumbles in plumes of concrete dust leaving behind a huge hole in the building with small sporadic fires in what is left of some of the rooms.
Moving on from the demolition antics, the game cuts to a later sequence where the encounter a suspected IED and your job is to follow the suspicious wire to its end in order to find the controller and disarm the device before it takes out the rest of the squad. This involves crawling down a few ventilation ducts to find the insurgent's basement hidey hole. When you get there and try to disable the booby trapped device it's operator interrupts you and a QTE ensues as the two of you battle over the detonator. Of course you win and disable the device.
As the demo goes on the action is interrupted by increasingly frequent tremors hinting at an earthquake to come. And come it does. The final set piece we are invited to view is a pitched battle on the streets of the city involving several squads and vehicles. You are tasked with running to an overpass to secure a machine gun and provide covering fire for your advancing squads. Just as you secure the weapon and begin laying down fire helicopters appear providing heavy support against the insurgents armour at the end of the road. The helicopters launch off a salvo of rockets as the careen down the street and all of a sudden the big earthquake hits. One tower block on the street begins to crumble and collapse taking out one of the helicopters.
On that bombshell the demo ends but it is clear that DICE has big plans for Battlefield 3. Although we have already seen the kind of intense deformation and natural disaster set pieces in Crysis 2, Battlefield 3 puts it into a much more realistic context. Although all the action of the demo we saw takes place some where in the Middle East in the Iran/Iraq region. The game will shift focus moving from Tehran to New York and Paris along the way.
This is only a taste of what Battlefield 3 and the Frostbite 2 engine is capable of and, with the excitement and enthusiasm that DICE are pouring into the game's development this is sure to be, not only the finest Battlefield game yet but a benchmark fof miltary shooters on both PC and consoles.
Battlefield 3 is due out this November on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.