This past weekend, I, like many others, spent some serious time playing the Battlefield 3 Beta (on Xbox 360) to see if this would be the game that would unseat Modern Warfare as the must have military shooter. In my time with it this weekend, I can say that as of now, Battlefield 3 does not stand a chance.
From all of the hype surrounding the game I have been watching the trailers and reading everything I can about the game to get more and more insight in to what this game was going to offer that the Call of Duty series was not. There are obvious differences like the ability to operate vehicles, the destructible environments, and the fact that EA is not charging for their online stat tracking like Activision will be. These differences if incorporated well could seriously put the hurt on Activision and the Call of Duty franchise, along with the fact that Battlefield 3 is using the new Frostbite II engine and Call of Duty MW3 is still using the same engine that they used for MW2, so Battlefield is supposedly to have the edge in the graphics department. Put all of this together and you have the potential to unseat the king, but in execution so far it just does not pan out.
To be fair I have never really played the other Battlefield games so I was coming in to this one fresh, the game still is in Beta so things might change and I'm sure there will be some additional refinements and tweaks before release. The Beta also only features 1 map and does not have vehicles so the map variety and vehicle usage can not be measured just yet. I just do not believe they can make enough changes and fix enough of the holes to make people switch from Modern Warfare to Battlefield.
Being that it's currently a beta I'm not going to harp on the lag that I experienced or talk about the time it took to find matches because I imagine that these items will be ironed out in time for release. There are noticeable features missing though and that is what I'll focus on here. First and foremost unlike in most Xbox 360 online games there is no way to quickly mute members of your team or the opposition. This is really annoying if someone in the game has a mic that is on the fritz or is blasting their personal soundtrack while playing.
Another problem that I anticipate them resolving before the game launches is when you're in a party and you join a game, there are instances where you're put on separate teams, if you're lucky enough to be put on the same team you're not put in the same squad. Squads is another issue, if you have the game automatically place you in a squad, all you can do is leave that squad, once out of a squad you can not create a new squad and invite players to it, or join a specific squad it's either join the one the computer puts you in, or fly solo.
As of right now the Beta only allows users to play online, and only one online game mode so obviously my impressions are limited to what is available to try. The game type available to play is "Rush" which is similar to "Demolition" from Modern Warfare 2 in which one team defends two points and the attacking team attempts to destroy them. As the attackers one you destroy the first two you move on to the next two, then the final two, which is a unique way of keeping the game going without constant round breaks. It does give the appearance of the defenders "falling back" to their next posts as you continue to press forward.
Rush mode is fun and I'm a fan of objective based gameplay rather than just team death match so I'm glad they put this in the Beta. My only problem (which honestly is not a problem with the game but more a problem with the players) is that the game type heavily favors team work, and when everyone is out there trying to figure out the game and just blow things up no one really cares about team work so you certainly lose a lot of what could make this game type fun.
Speaking of blowing things up, one of the big differentiators of Battlefield 3 from other war games is the destructible environments which are made possible thanks to the Frostbite II engine. This is a great twist in gaming because you can just shoot out a wall to get an objective, granted it takes a lot of bullets or an explosion but it's do-able. Also if you're pinned down by enemies it's only a matter of time before what ever youre hiding behind is whittled away and you're left without cover. It really is great to see the pillar you're hiding behind take damage and get smaller during a gun fight. It really keeps the suspended reality going and makes you think and move faster than other games. I'm hoping that the environment destruction does not weigh down the game too much and put a drag on performance, I'm also certain that this feature will be completely abused by players who just try to destroy buildings and walls and it will get annoying.
This is where I know I'm going to annoy people. The graphics in some environments were good, but only the environments, the character modeling was horrible and could easily have been an original XBOX game. It did not have the feel of high-end graphics that are supposedly to crush the competition. I was expecting much more from the look of the players, to customization, to realism but was completely let down. The environments and structures were good but nothing that had not been seen or done before and it all felt a little to familiar. Again this is based on one Map but it just looked "blah" the environments in Modern Warfare 2 were better and the character models easily blew these ones away, so unless they were not using the latest builds or the final renderings just to hold back some cards I do not think visually this is going to live up to expectations.
Customization in the Demo is limited, more so than in other games of this style. You have to unlock additional weapon features by completing weapon goals which is par for the course, but you can not select weapons for the classes that you have, this may be a beta limitation but still the ability to only have one weapon to choose from for each class is a big let down. Also there is no character customization in the beta, in a time when customization is very big in games and people want to have their online avatar what represent they want in game, not having any ability to customize your character is a big let down.
Also the customization screen is difficult to utilize, unlike Modern Warfare 2 where you could spend your time outside of the game environment customizing perks, weapons, load outs, in the BF3 demo you're limited to when you can customize and the menu is very bland and unintuitive.
Hopefully in the full game the weapon choices will be more robust and sometimes there will be some level of character customization but I'm not holding out hope on that one.
I'm all in all not impressed with the Battlefield 3 Beta, I was hoping for much more and maybe the game will be at the end of the day but I think they have a long way to go and not a lot of time to do it in. My biggest concerns are the graphics, which when shown on a PC can be amazing but on the Xbox 360 they feel outdated, and it's not for lack of power from the Xbox it just feels that the game was developed for the PC and then bought to Xbox without a lot of effort. The other concern is online, it feels clunky and cumbersome. In today's market where games like Gears of War 3 and Modern Warfare have made it simple and straight forward to play online Battlefield 3 feels like it forgot how important online gameplay is to gamers.