One thing is clear, Battlefield 3 wants Modern Warfare’s crown, bad. Their latest trailer and ad campaign is entitled “Above and Beyond the Call”, and their free Battlelog service is clearly a direct competitor to MW3’s paid Elite service. With the game only a few weeks away, we attended a full day event and played a chunk of the campaign, the co-op and, of course, the multiplayer.
Above: The "Gone Hunting" level is a fantastic setpiece that still manages to be fun to play
We kicked off the day with a sizable chunk of the campaign, and while EA is still a little protective of some of the plot points, expect a lot of the same political intrigue and twists that modern military shooters are famous for. The initial missions take place in a city near the Iraq-Iran border, and there’s a sense of paranoia as you move from building to building, knowing that your enemies are lurking in the shadows. There's a cool sequence in which your squad comes under sniper fire and you're forced to crawl behind cover and find where he's shooting from. Once your squad has spotted him, you whip out an AT4 anti-tank gun and put a fairly large hole in the building where the sniper used to be. The majority of the combat falls well within the regular FPS standard though, with squads of enemies attacking head-on, ducking behind cover and taking potshots.
After a few missions in the city, the game switched locations and put us in control of a pilot on a nearby battleship preparing to attack a military air base. The mission, “Going hunting” is BF3's answer to Modern Warfare's AC-130 missions, and it's a strong retort. The brief control tutorial is masked as a systems check, and the quiet run up to your first dogfight is intense and exciting. While you're only in charge of the plane’s weapons during this portion, the rival planes are smart and drop flares to throw your homing missiles off. The quiet hum of the jet and the muffled radio chatter contrasts well with the terrifying beeping of a locked missile coming up on your six. The next segment has you peppering the ground unit objectives with lasers and bombing runs, though this one definitely feels like the AC-130 sections we'er familiar with.
Above: The narrow corridors of the city in the single player are a big shift from traditional Battlefield map design
The game is favoring strong defense over offense at this point, with a heavy emphasis on cover and tactics over just straight run and gun. It took us several deaths to remember that you can once again go prone behind even the most diminutive cover. This explained why we were still catching bullets with our head when ducked behind a too short wall. The weapon recoil also took a steady hand, we picked up a light machine gun and really had to be patient trying to hit enemies at range with it. Fortunately, most of the game’s weapons feature a switch that lets you manually set whether the weapon will fire full automatic, three shot burst, or semi-automatic (single shot).
After a few campaign missions we jumped into co-op mode. If your initial impression of co-op reminds you of Modern Warfare’s Spec Ops, you wouldn't be too far off. Players choose from an number of scenarios and run through them with a friend, trying to complete it as quickly as possible and get the high score.
The scenario we played had us escaping from a large office/museum after capturing some intel. Even on normal difficulty, the co-op was challenging, there’s a huge number of enemies to handle, so communicating with your buddy as when to move and when to hunker down is important. The enemy does a number of unusual things, and the first few deaths taught us that the enemy isn’t afraid to flank and ambush you. The scenario concluded with us reaching a parking garage and piling into an SUV that one player had to pilot out of the garage while the second player rode shotgun, literally.