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Battlefield 3 first-look preview

Let's not beat around the bush here: Battlefield 3 looks freaking amazing. At their GDC preview event, the folks at DICE showed off a PC version of the title and did their best to blow the collective minds of everyone present. We can't really say to what extent they succeeded, but we will say this: They certainly brought their A game.

Things got underway when a few developers from DICE came up and discussed what their new Frostbite 2 engine was capable of. We listened politely, but we were waiting for gameplay to prove what it was capable of. They had upgraded the way characters moved by taking tips from the animation in EA Sports games, particularly the FIFA series. They said they'd made the sound much more immersive. They claimed that the destruction of environments would not only happen on a large scale, but that we'd have to take into account how much damage our cover could take before we'd be open to enemy fire. All of this was talk, however. We'd need DICE to bring it with gameplay to convince us that it could really all be that awesome to look at.

And then they did.

The hands-off demo opens with a squad of soldiers riding in a transport on their way to the Iran/Iraq border to attempt to keep peace while the terrorist group PLR is causing all sorts of trouble in the region. Suddenly, the transport comes to a halt and the squad stops to take a look around, and at this moment the gorgeous looks of the game become apparent. As the squad makes its way through what looks like an abandoned school, sunlight peeks through small windows, and reflects on the dust in the room. It's a beautiful effect, and proved to be a strangely serene scene before all hell broke loose.

As the soldiers make their way out of the building, a crazy loud gunshot goes off and one of the squad drops. All of the sudden, they're surrounded by what we assume are PLR soldiers, all taking cover behind various walls and pillars, as well as some enemies with RPGs taking hold in the buildings above them. All the while, the hidden sniper is taking potshots with his .50 cal rifle. It's an intense couple of minutes as we watch the squad try to survive the firefight and take down the insurgents.

In the middle of it, a grenade from an RPG lands next to the player and gives us our first real taste of the upgraded animations. Knocked down by the blast, it takes a second for the soldier to get back up. In a genre where players rarely see their feet, watching a player get knocked down with the level of animation that they've implemented is nothing short of stunning.

Suddenly, before we can register what exactly happened, they whisk us to a rooftop across from where the sniper had been hiding. Apparently, the squad hadn't been pursuing him with enough stealth, as shots are immediately fired upon them when they reach the roof. It almost looks like the sniper is playing games with them, as all of the pots littered around the roof begin exploding one by one, spraying debris everywhere. Every time a bullet connects, the screen shakes and blurs a bit, adding to the feeling of stress. It's little touches like this that seem to make the game jump from simply looking really good to looking absolutely amazing.

So what's the best way to handle a sniper? By blowing up the building he's in with a rocket launcher, of course. After figuring out exactly where he was taking potshots from, the squad lays down suppressing fire while the player picks up a bazooka and fires it in the general direction of the man who's been plaguing them with bullets for so long. Fortunately, the general direction is good enough. Upon contact, the blast takes down several floors of the building, and the destruction is spectacular. It's unclear whether or not it was scripted destruction, or if the physics engine allows for such extreme devastation, but it looked impressive regardless. We can only hope that we'll be able to blow up everything in such a glorious manner.

After the building fell, we fast-forward to a sequence in which the player has to follow a suspicious wire to defuse a possible IED. Of course, that requires army crawling through a vent, running through a rat, and finally popping up in front of a detonator, wired up for killing. As he starts pulling out the wires necessary to stop the explosion, an insurgent who had apparently been hiding somewhere jumps out and grabs him from behind, and punches are thrown in a quicktime event manner. The fight is brutal and unforgiving, ending with the insurgent taking several blows to the head against the wall.

Finally, it's time for the big show. Gunfire had broken out outside of the bomb building. Rushing out there, the player grabs a huge .50 caliber machine gun and, flanked by a hovering helicopter, starts blowing away anyone that moves. The action takes place along a wide highway in the middle of the city, which looks impressively huge. Obviously, this was all run on a high-end PC and won't come close to looking that good on consoles, but we expect to be very impressed by the way it looks there, as well.

After taking down what seemed like hundreds of insurgents, things calm down a bit. The helicopter floats above the heads of the victorious squad, discussing evacuation options. And then the ground starts rumbling. A huge earthquake starts ripping the city apart, destroying streets and toppling skyscrapers. The player looks up just in time to see a building falling directly toward a helicopter, which promptly smashes into the ground. As the debris reaches the player, he blacks out and credits roll. Holy crap.

If Battlefield 3 holds up the intensity of what we just saw, expect one of the best looking, most enjoyable first person shooters in a long time.

Mar 3, 2011