DICE welcomed VG247 readers Colin Gallacher and Chris Hockey in Sweden earlier this month to play some Battlefield 3 co-op. Here are Chris’s impressions of the trip and the game.
Massively anticipated follow-up to DICE’s 2005 shooter, Battlefield 2.
Set in the Mid East, and based on the Frostbite 2 engine.
Releasing on October 25 in the US and October 28 in the UK for PS3, 360 and PC.
It was difficult not to be impressed by DICE. From the surroundings in a beautiful part of Stockholm, to the studio and the people, it was a fabulous day and we were treated graciously and generously. Many friends were envious of my trip, but they can’t be as envious as I am of anyone who works at such an amazing place.
On to the game we were there to see: DICE and EA have set the bar incredibly high for themselves with Battlefield 3, and from our experience in Stockholm they’ve surpassed it. The co-op mission we played on PS3 fulfilled my own high expectations too.
While it was a sustained, concentrated experience, it retained the Battlefield feel, with choices to be made about your approach – go stealthy, picking targets and taking your time, or blasting your way through with shotguns and grenades. It genuinely felt like a co-operative mission, rather than just a single-player game with an extra protagonist. It was not a level that could be done as a lone wolf, and was all the better for it.
Technically the game is a masterpiece. Lighting was especially impressive, lifting what could be ordinarily, mundane areas of the map from dull traversal spaces to tension-inducing grasps in the dark. It cleverly disguised some console texture resolution issues too.
Sound, a traditional battlefield strength, seemed to be even more visceral in the tight confines of the first area of the level and lost no detail when, further into the map, we ran into bigger firefights. We were later to learn that the engine does complex dynamic range calculations at all times to make sure the player hears the essential sounds, while retaining the cacophony of war all around.
Patrick is delightfully philosophical about game production, mindful of every aspect of the art. He’s also not a man for hyperbole – refreshing, considering current trends – and looked uncomfortable when asked about Call of Duty comparisons.
AI was more difficult to judge. Enemies used cover well, but we were never threatened with being over-run or flanked too easily. Perhaps this was a consequence of the co-op nature of the mission, causing it to be more cautious. However, during the course of our play session, no one managed to complete the level. It certainly wasn’t an easy task to be given.
Later in the afternoon we were treated to a round-table with Patrick Bach. Softly spoken and enthusiastic, in a suitably understated Swedish way, what most impressed me was the obvious amount of thought he gave to our questions, and his willingness to take feedback. Battlefield players (and internet commenters) can rest assured that there is pretty much no suggestion that can be made about BF3 that Dice hasn’t thought about and – more importantly – thought about in depth. DICE doesn’t dismiss ideas without good reason.
Something that really struck me during our time with Patrick, it’s that he’s delightfully philosophical about game production, mindful of every aspect of the art. He’s also not a man for hyperbole – refreshing, considering current trends – and looked uncomfortable when asked about Call of Duty comparisons. He seemed to want Battlefield to speak for itself, and whilst obviously loving his game, he wouldn’t be drawn into what he considers an unnecessary playground argument. I think he genuinely believes there is room for both franchises in the market, and that the success of one should not preclude the success of the other; I’m not sure EA and Activision would agree, however.
Our final treat of the day was a hitherto unseen mission from the single-player campaign, Operation Guillotine, played for us by Patrick himself. A breathtaking night attack on a city that was later revealed to be Tehran began with a breakneck run down a hill towards the city. The lighting was even more impressive – a newer build perhaps? – and the shell effects were intense. Patrick told us afterwards that distant sounds do arrive after the visual cue, as in the real world, but to maintain intensity and connection with the game the speed of sound Battlefield 3 uses is faster than the real thing. As an audio geek, attention to detail like this pleases me far too much.
Further down the slope as allies, who are all unscripted, crumpled and fell all around, we finally arrived at the city outskirts to set up a mortar. The star shell launched from it lit the scene fantastically well, both aesthetically and practically, showing the silhouettes of the distant defenders. As the shell faded, the muzzle flashes of those same defenders help locate them in the growing dark. It was a frantic few minutes, a big contrast to the slower demos previously seen. The only piece of scripted action came as we arrived at an apartment building that needed to be cleared. Two allies threw grenades in through the windows, allowing the player to enter from a side door. Patrick later said it was possible for a player to do this for themselves, but if they waited too long your AI colleagues would force the issue. Hopefully this will avoid the perennial problem in these kind of games where there’s an entire army waiting around for the player to decide when to open a door. The demo was cut short at this point, to avoid spoilers, but it was still immensely impressive despite the lack of story context.
With the end of the demo came the end of our day at DICE. I cannot thank everyone there enough for being so welcoming and sharing their time with us, especially considering they’re only two months from release. Many thanks also to Kevin and Tom from EA, who looked after us so well in Sweden despite cancelled flights and various other trials.
Most of all a huge thank you to Pat and VG247.com, for the chance to enter the competition in the first place.
It was an experience of a lifetime and I’d urge anyone to visit Stockholm if they get the chance. Beautiful city, beautiful people, not so beautiful prices; an amazing place.
Battlefield 3 launches on October 25 in the US and October 28 in the UK for PS3, 360 and PC.