I’ve spent a good chunk of time with DICE and EA’s Battlefield 3 open beta release on the Xbox 360. I have had previous experiences with both open and closed beta tryouts, as well as user stability testing for a recently released title, so I understand that these betas and early tryouts are not a complete reflection of what’s to come. The thing is, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep that in mind with every game I play in this beta.
One map and one mode comes available for those who wish to download the beta (the map being a rather large, segmented one called Metro, and Rush being the sole game mode available.) For those unfamiliar, Rush is a team based mode in which the objection for the attackers is to destroy two established target locations, while the defenders keep them at bay. If the attackers succeed, the map opens up more to reveal another set of objectives, rinse and repeat. The map its self is a complimentary way of showing off both the Rush mechanics, as well as how vast these maps can be. The first fourth starts above ground, while the next half escapes into a decimated train station, and then concludes above ground. With the size and scope of the map comes ample opportunity to find certain choke points in which a defender can lockdown and prevent the attackers from advancing. there’s a somewhat striking balance between close, medium and far combat, with each succeeding area that opens up, providing even more for each battle type.
Lets get what works out of the way – first and foremost is the audio. There hasn’t been a console multiplayer FPS with such clear and distinct sound effects before BF3. Each weapon has it’s own pop, each footstep from a nearby player can be heard, every roaring explosion has a clarity to it that’s rarely experienced in any game from any genre. While some competitive multiplayer titles have tried to focus on sound as the x-factor, BF3 completely dominates in this, and can aid in a players successes or demise more than any game in the genre before it.
The general button layout and controls are also top notch. While Call of Duty veterans may scoff at the fact that RB is utilized for the unsheathing of a knife, it quickly becomes second nature, though there will be some rare fumbling about with the wrong button, out of habit. Aiming holds no hassles, and utility items are easily accessible via the d-pad. The further one progresses their character online, the higher the level they obtain, which helps unlock more weapons and other add on items, such as a flashlight (which is both cheap, yet detrimental), scopes and grips. There’s a great sense of customization available, and the thrill of reaching a new level or performing X amount of Y kills to unlock Z, remains throughout.
Sadly though, nearly everything else experiences some sort of issue, whether they are cosmetic, or unnecessary blemishes that shouldn’t have made it through alpha. As shocking as it may seem, BF3 is visually underwhelming. There’s a lot going on at once, which would be understandable to bump down the visual quality on an underpowered console (in comparison to a gaming rig) but there’s just this overwhelming sense of “blah” when it comes to looking at the action. Trees swaying is a commendable addition, but player models are downright putrid, especially on death animations, with the world around you just barely above average in quality. Sure, it’s entertaining to see a tree fall to a rocket launcher and a balcony crumble when the same rocket hits it, but the luster quickly wears off.
Hit detection seems to be lacking as well, despite the lag free gameplay that goes on. How I can point blank shoot an enemy on the crotch with a shotgun and do zero damage, yet I can be well over twenty yards away and headshot someone with full health with the same shotgun and take them out (while aiming at their crotch), escapes me. The same goes for other instances and weaponry. I’ve short burst fired near point blank at an advancing player and they died a second later, yet sometimes I can unload a dozen shots point blank into someone, get hit by their shotgun point blank, die, and see that they lost zero health. Again, these are all lag free games, and the general BF3 game is almost immaculate for me in a connection sense. Then there’s a balance issue with the rocket launcher from the engineer. Five rockets is three too many. Not to mention that unlike most other games within a similar vein (Call of Duty for instance) there’s no random deviance to each shot, meaning if you fire at a target from a distance, you will just about always hit that target. Against an inept sniper without a rock solid wall in front of them, the rocket will actually get an unregistered headshot from a distance. But then sometimes a point blank chest shot doesn’t take down an enemy (took someone to 14% on a point blank shot….really?)
Finally, there are the bugs, as well as the shoddy overall way the game works. As mentioned, damage inconsistencies run rampant, which can be infuriating at times. But these bugs….there’s no excuse for them to be this close to release, in the manner of which they are portrayed. While it’s been recently patched (so they say) going prone in certain areas can press the player under the geometry. That’s not all — while under the world, the player can still aim at and shoot enemies through the floor and kill them, with absolutely no repercussions. With a sniper rifle, I was able to peg off a half dozen players in no time. This was supposedly patched, which has eliminated these instances by about 75%, but it’s still there. A teammate had placed a mobile beacon down near a rocky area, and my squadmates and I were able to spawn under that rocky area, stand up under them and freely blow away anyone that came within 30 yards of us. The only downside was having to suicide in order for us to escape the under the world state we were in.
Since this recent patching, other anomalies have appeared, which are mostly visual disturbances. Bullet trains began to leave what looked like light streaks behind. These streaks were reminiscent of public school florescent lights, strewn across the air. They can be quite distracting, though they happen infrequently. Player animations have taken a nosedive as well, where it’s not uncommon to see a player float by with their arms and legs stretched out above their heads an below them respectively. When playing in the subway station portion, if I spawn on a squadmate, there’s a 50/50 chance in which the color will not appear. Everything will look like it’s set to night vision view, but in a dark blue, with less lighting highlights. Occasionally when the player dies, instead of the killcam fixed tight on the adversary that too you down, a plain looking background with what looks like a giant folder and a large black circle appears. It seems like more and more bugs and oddities are discovered every hour, stuff that really shouldn’t be this prevalent this late in the development cycle. Before I finished up this article to post, my stats completely reset. All my k/d, weapons and items earned and so forth, all set back to stock. I can’t explain why this happened, especially since there are a good number of players who are still lvl 20+ and such.
The unusual thing about this all though….I’m still having a ball with this beta. The overall gameplay is still solid, issues notwithstanding. There’s legitimate potential for the full multiplayer based game, and if there’s proper stability and smooth gameplay throughout, Battlefield 3 can definitely be the one multiplayer FPS that gamers should flock towards. We can only hope for the best, as Battlefield 3 is rapidly approaching is October 25th release date. Again, the gameplay its self is still engaging and still a blast, but the sloppiness that can be fixed, really did take its toll on this beta phase. We’ll see how well DICE and EA get their final product in just a few weeks.