This morning, at PAX East, we got a chance to watch thirty solid minutes of the Battlefield 3 single player campaign, being played in real time, and it was a treat.
The first five minutes of the presentation consisted of gameplay already seen in the live action teaser released shorty after GDC - essentially the initial banter between the troops and the proceeding parking lot skirmish.
However, the very next section showed the player and his squad make their way to a rooftop that was being attacked by serious sniper fire. As shots rang out from somewhere within the tall building opposite the player's location, tangible thuds were heard as chunks of his cover disintegrated around him. The squad leader handed the player an RPG (he is conveniently the best RPG operator in the squad) and screamed to the rest of the team to provide him with cover fire.
Once his security was assured, via the spectacular display of cover fire from the rest of the squad, the player stood up, fired the RPG, and created the most amazingly-realistic hole in the side if the building I have ever seen in a game, obviously destroying the sniper, and presumably anyone on the floors immediately above and below them.
Another sequence we were shown began with the player entering a laundromat to defuse a bomb - where, in the segment, we were provided with new, and interesting, game mechanics. The first was a first-person air-duct crawling sequence, as the player makes his way down to a sub-level of the building to locate the bomb. Once the bomb was located, the bomb defusal process began. This was essentially a multiple choice sequence that boiled down to a 'cut which wire' scenario.
Rather unexpectedly, the player was interrupted, mid-defusal, by a close-quarters attack from the rear. The soldier turned around, discovered he was face-to-face with a member of the PLR, then entered an unarmed QTE combat sequence. Although we have seen this type of gameplay many times before, the sequence we witnessed was conveyed in an especially exciting way - the sense of the character's appendages swatting and kicking at the enemy created a sense of immersion not found in Battlefield 3's competition such as Call of Duty: Black Ops. Although it only appeared to involve a few mouse clicks here and there, the action on screen was brutal, very intimate, and downright thrilling.
The final segment of gameplay we saw was an outdoor skirmish involving an almost endless stream of PLR enemies - and a very limited supply of friendlies. This violent clash took place at an intersection in a very open section of town and exemplified the open-plan, and dynamic nature, of Battlefield 3's general combat loop. It was this scene above all others that convinced me that Battlefield 3 is positioning itself as a true Call of Duty successor.
The intersection was littered with cars and debris of all kinds, and surrounded by intricate buildings of varying sizes, containing balconies, rooftops, and countless other vantage points on the player's position. Attackers came pouring in from all sides, as the squad repeatedly repositioned, attacked and then defended, constantly shifting tactics depending on enemy wherabouts and the style of attack. Punctuating this action were the constant scream of orders and barking sit-reps.
As the allies began unleashing their heavier weapons, the fully-destructible buildings peeled apart in the background - with cars exploding all around. Attack choppers screamed overhead, launching a volley of missiles at our targets. The resulting combat on screen was a delicious combination of excellent physics, destructible scenery, and great enemy encounter design. It was a true physics playground, allowing the player to manipulate the environment to his favor. At one point he stood on an overpass, and shot-away the side-panelling that served as his cover, to draw a sight on enemies immediately beneath him.
All in all, the Battlefield 3 presentation was a revelation. The graphical prowess of the new Frostbite Engine is breathtaking, and really defines what the true 'next-gen' graphical benchmark will look like. The fluidity of the animation, the realism in every texture, and the subtle lighting engine that bathes the world in an eerily photo-realistic color-wash, all combine to create a stunning visual experience that we certainly cannot wait to see more of... as soon as possible.
Battlefield 3 is currently set for a Fall 2011 release on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.