It came as a complete surprise when Seeson Mahathavorn, Community Manager at EA’s Battlefield 3 contacted me about an opportunity to be a part of an exclusive Battlefield 3 experience in Seattle during PAX. There was absolutely no way I was going to pass up the chance to be among the first to get some quality time with a game that dominated at E3 earlier this year and garnered so many awards from the video game industry. Little did I know that the gaming would only be part of awesomeness.
We were under strict guidelines to keep most of this information secret, and until only recently were participants permitted to share about how EA not only invited us to the Battlefield 3 event on Friday night, but EA covered not only our flight and hotel expenses, but they also provided each of us a three-day pass to PAX. This was no mere event – this was a complete gaming experience.
By the time Friday night rolled around, I had already met former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, numerous friends from the gaming community, and had taken in my first day of PAX. It was finally time to settle down with the game that people on the show floor waited hours to spend just minutes with.
The Battlefield boys lined up gaming stations along the perimeter of a massive ballroom, with each station set up with a PS3 AND a PC (along with a snazzy set of Astro headphones, complete with Battlefield 3 tags). Dinner tables and a mightily impressive buffet occupied the center of the room.
As other invitees starting arriving to the event, I recognized many awesome community leaders, and met people I’d only played with over Xbox Live as well as some new folks. When we settled down for dinner, I started chatting with the people at my table and realized that just about everyone there were really hardcore Battlefield players with a tremendous amount of passion for their communities. I knew then that it was going to be an awesome night.
After a delicious meal (I regretted not getting seconds!), Seeson presented us with some party gifts that knocked our socks off. Off Duty Gamers provided hand-made bracelets made out of parachute cord, Gunnar provided their awesome glasses, Razer sent along their gaming mice, and ASTRO Gaming hooked everyone up with backpacks. It was definitely the Oprah moment of the night.
It was time to finally settle into our stations, and the first item on the agenda was two-player co-op gameplay on PS3s. After seeing what Battlefield 3 looks like on a PC from my time in the Alpha test, I was anxious to see if the graphics would hold up on a console. Even in its early build, I can happily report that Battlefield 3 looks stellar on the PS3. That is not to say that it looks just as good as it does on a high-end PC, but there was never a moment when I thought, “Gee – that looks like crap.” In fact, but for the use of a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard, I would have forgotten which platform I was playing on. Most significantly, the experience of playing Battlefield 3 on a console is just as intense as playing on a PC.
As my partner and I entered the first dimly-lit room, it was all tactical. We would call out our moves, spot out enemies, and watch each other’s backs. Gaming in the modern war never felt more real or intense. What grabbed me most about Battlefield 3 is the movement of your character. Each step feels methodically placed and completely organic, all the while maintaining a brisk pace. You never feel like you’re skating on ice, but you’re definitely moving fast enough to know the adrenaline is pumping through your character’s veins.
Once we located our objective, my partner and I proceeded outside of the building and rendezvoued with our convoy of humvees. You never feel safe or in the clear in this game, especially in the middle of a street, at night. Multiple balconies, alleys, and barriers are menacing hiding spots for bad guys. This translates into a truly intense campaign mode that builds the tension right up to a firefight.
Our A.I.-controlled allies seemed adequate, but they were never the ones to finish off any hostiles – that’s up to you to do. Fortunately, hitting the back button on the controller identified all of the enemies that were hiding in the dark for both my partner and I to handle, and once they had been finished off, we were ready to proceed to blow up a gate that was obstructing our path. Naturally, that’s when the bad guys came back with reinforcements – and RPGs, grenades and tons of guns.
One element I really enjoyed about Battlefield 3′s campaign mode was that level of insecurity I felt every time I was out in the open. In hostile territory, the reality is that there just might be bad guys lurking in every shadow and behind every corner. They won’t necessarily announce themselves with an epic cutscene or with a giant scipted scene – you’ll simply get shot at. This is what makes Battlefield 3 one of the most realistic shooters I’ve played.
PC MULTIPLAYER – RUSH
After we were overwhelmed by enemy forces (we never did get to blow up that damn gate), it was time for a short break while our EA hosts prepared the PCs for some good old, team-based multiplayer action. First up was the Rush multiplayer mode, where the two teams are designated as either attackers or defenders. The attackers must destroy each of the various objectives on the map (Operation Metro is the map we played in), and defenders must prevent the attackers. I was on the team of defenders for several rounds, and just for fun, EA set up our communications so that everyone could talk to each other. This made for lousy team strategy, but for epic trash talking.
With Rush mode in the Operation Metro map, the game starts out in an outdoor park, and there are two objectives for the attackers to destroy. Once both objectives are destroyed, the defenders are forced to fall back underground into the subway system to defend two additional objectives. Snipers can be a great asset to the team in the park, which is a large open area, but the players who take advantage of the lush foliage and low walls to sneak into the middle of the map will quickly rack up the kills. The subway system on the other hand, is largely about close-quarter combat, with a few great chokepoints that make securing both objectives extremely challenging for attackers. In all, Operation Metro is a fantastic map, being both huge, and varied in its environments. And while Rush isn’t my favorite multiplayer mode, it was fun being able to camp without being called a lousy camper.
PC MULTIPLAYER – TEAM DEATHMATCH
Once we completed a few rounds of Rush, it was time to move onto classic Team Deathmatch. This time, we were given the chance to play on a map that was not featured in the recently-concluded private Alpha test. Much smaller than Operation Metro, this map put teams in the streets and inside buildings for potential sniping. What really amazed me about this map was the placement of cover. Every time I ran around a corner, there was an object I could take cover behind – a car in the middle of the street or a conrete planter would be exactly where I would want it to be. Battlefield 3 is a fast-paced shooter, but there is no other FPS that takes the tactical element of a cover system and necessitates it while integrating it so logically.
In terms of what makes playing on the PC so great, since I’m an old school mouse and keyboard gamer, I really loved playing on the PC, especially compared to using the PS3 controller. The graphics of course, are really gorgeous, and along with Battlefield’s superb audio effects, I left that evening convinced that I would have to pick up Battlefield for both the Xbox 360 and the PC (what can I say – I’m addicted to Achievements).
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to check out any other map, or jets, for that matter, but we all still had the time of our lives.
I cannot thank EA enough for the exclusive opportunity to not only get my hands on Battlefield 3, but also to be a part of a group of people who are so passionate about the gaming community and about Battlefield.