It’s raining. The streetlights are shining back up at me from the wet cobbles as I leap from the Humvee, landing with a dull thud that echoes through the silent street and delivering a fearful chill straight down my spine. There’s a hostage in the building whom we need to get out – we being my new German buddy Kierse and I who have both been selected for this dangerous operation. We have all the prime technology of the USMC in our hands, radio support in our ears, we’re dangerous and we’re ready for this. We’re also running forward five paces, running back another six, spinning around on the spot, hopping up and down, raising the scope, going to crouch, sprinting and going prone.
If we really are the finest the USMC has to offer I think the hostage would be best served if he jumped from the window and took his chances with the windscreens of our Hummers. There was, of course, a purpose to all of this; we were hands on with the very first demoing of the PS3 version of Battlefield 3’s newly announced Co-Op Mode. Following a short presentation by Producer Patrick Liu, in which we took another look at the incredible Caspian Border trailer, Patrick offered us a few general pointers for the mission we were about to play, Exfiltration. “Try to use your silenced weapons for as long as you can, watch out for cameras in the corners and don’t leave your Co-Op buddy behind because if you go down, it’s not going to be easy for him to get you back up. I think we’ve only had about eight people make it through this one without a total wipe this week!”
Were it that I had more experience with a PS3 controller, that probably wouldn’t have been too much of a problem. Sadly, I think the last time I invested any time with a DualShock controller was back in the days of Cortez and the TimeSplitters so, despite how welcome Patrick’s advice was, it wasn’t going to be all that much use to me as I had far bigger problems to deal with first. Thankfully, Kierse was a much more able player than I and within no time at all, we’d snuck our way into the first room and taken out the two idle soldiers with some carefully executed headshots. Or, at least, that was what Kierse saw on his screen; I was too busy staring at the light bulb, panicking as the first shot was fired and inadvertently changing weapon to my much beefier assault rifle, unloading an entire clip into a wall before hitting my mark and raising every alarm in the building in the process.
It doesn’t sound good, but it was actually probably the best thing that could have happened in this situation. My crazed spray and pray approach to gunfire had taken out the light bulb, plunging us into darkness and taken some rather meaty chunks out of the far wall, demonstrating both how subtle and how powerful the Frostbyte2 engine really is.
We fought our way through the hallways, battled up the stairs and then barrelled our way down a corridor, running down some considerably quieter stairs before emerging back onto the street where our platoon of Humvees were parked up. We exchanged confused looks, both with ourselves and then again with the beautifully rendered, grizzly manly men of war that were manning the various seats in the Hummers who, in turn, returned a look of shame and disappointment. In all of our excitement we’d completely forgotten about the hostage, something Patrick was quick to remind us of, and so back through the building we sprinted, getting a better feel for the controls and quickly freeing our clearly confused hostage from his equally disorientated captors.
Having escorted him back out onto the street, we had the boys fire up the Hummers and moved into flanking positions on either side of the road, protecting our convoy as we pushed deeper into enemy controlled territory. They came out of nowhere, firing from every balcony, every rooftop, putting all of the panic and fear I’d managed to shake straight back into the pit of my stomach. I was too exposed, losing health and running out of bullets. I dashed for a row of pillars on the far side of the street and hid myself from all of the many crosshairs that were trained on my chest. I thought I was safe, but then the pesky – and brilliant – Frostbyte2 engine reared its wonderful head once more and, before too long, I found myself emitting worried squeaky noises as I struggled to find a bit of the pillar that offered enough protection as bullets blasted their way through it, destroying not only the pillar but any hope of actually getting out of here alive.
I figured it was time to find safer cover and so turned to dash back toward Kierse, but it was too late. One final bullet forced me to the ground, leaving me only able to fire my pistol as I slowly started to bleed out and the world began to blur and fade. Keirse tried his best, but in trying to save me he killed himself, ending the mission and prompting Patrick to wrap things up for this preview. The game had reloaded quickly though, so I asked Patrick if he’d mind me doing one last quick thing. I ran back through the street, re-entered the building and headed back to that very first kill that I’d missed. Keirse had already absconded from the battle and so it was just me, but with flawless execution, I silently head-shotted the first guard and charged straight at the second to execute a brutal and magical knife takedown, which put a far bigger smile on my face than society should really allow.
A grateful nod, a thank you to Patrick, the receipt of my Battlefield 3 VIP Floor Pass and my dejected (at the thought of no more Battefield 3 until October 28th) eyes lit back up (Genuine Eyes). It may have been over for my Co-Op experience, but the 64 player PC version was now only a short queue jump away. I felt guilty flashing the pass to the security guard, glancing over at the thousands of people who were patiently queuing for their chance to go hands on with this mind-bendingly epic FPS, but that soon passed when a diligent EA representative passed me a free T-Shirt and told me to enjoy the demo. I’m very easily distracted where freebies are concerned. Before entering the hall, I was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the sixty three other players and look through to those currently enjoying the demo. There were only a few minutes left, but this only made it all look the more appealing as everyone in the room seemed to have already slotted back into the Battlefield PC groove and were just stacking up the awesome as they tooled around the Caspian Border in Tanks, hurtled through the skies in Jets or battled for the streets with their varied kit customisations.
The door ahead of us all opened and our heads all turned away from the action. We piled through to a cinema showcase of the game’s epic twelve minute long gameplay trailer, followed by a tutorial video to teach any new Battlefield players how to play and acquaint returning veterans with some of the game’s newer features. I’d like to say that I was prepared for all of this, but that tutorial presentation was delivered entirely in German, and so I made my way over to the keys armed only with my hundred and thirty hour service to the USMC in BF2 and my keen love for the mouse and keyboard to call upon.
It was like the true Battlefield and I never went our separate ways all those years ago. I was running alongside my squad mates, clambering into a buggy and speeding through a burning town without even thinking about it. Had we not have all been mousing around to take in the stunning views we’d probably have seen that M1 Abrahams Tank coming the other way, and probably would have done something about it. I died (a recurring theme for the rest of the demo, I might add). I remembered why I was here after that first death, thinking that I’d possibly rushed things a little and began to worry that I’d perhaps come on too strongly, fully deserving that nine hundred ton armoured division slap that someone across the room had delivered to me with glee. I started to treat this more professionally, started pushing buttons on the spawn UI, re-adjusted my class, selected a new spawn point and headed back into the battle… in a jet.
I’ve never been a great pilot in the Battlefield series; I’ll freely confess that fact. I take a very Indiana Jones approach to it all “Fly? Yes! Land? No.” I thundered down the runway, fired up the afterburner with a touch of the shift key and marvelled as the plane began to violently shake, pushing worrying thoughts in through my ears to think twice about taking this jet lightly. Once I’d levelled out and brought the nose down to a sensible angle, I was stunned. The forest was burning, fire was raging, smoke was pluming and I could see for miles. I’m never one to push graphics over experience but this was an experience all in itself.
I flew around happily for a few minutes before deciding to test something that had been revealed to me earlier that morning in a Community Q&A session with Battlefield 3’s global community manager, Daniel Matros. The sky isn’t even the limit to Battlefield 3 at this stage, something that the game has always prevented you from doing in the past, where planes, helicopters and jets all eventually reached a stall height – but this is no longer the case in Battlefield 3. I climbed to almost five thousand feet in the jet before deciding that this could go on for quite some time and so I thought, what with the limited time available to me with the game, I’d practice an old party trick of mine.
I bailed, five thousand feet high, leaping from my seat in the cockpit and allowing momentum to push me higher, before that Wil. E. Coyote moment where things go from up to down and I started sky diving my way back towards my rapidly plummeting Jet. I was worried I was going to miss it but I smashed my way back into the cockpit with some rapid hammering of the ‘E’ key, flipped the nose of the jet instantly back down towards the ground and then attempted to defy the laws of physics by pulling out of a violently fast nose dive, failing to do so miserably, only to then slam the entire weight of the jet directly onto that M1 Abrahams.
I’d like to claim revenge, I’d like to say I was aiming for him or that I’d managed to eject at the last second and had somehow survived. I honestly had no idea he was there as I was going far too fast and having far too much fun to notice. If I’d tried to do that, I would have failed spectacularly, but I still exchanged nods with an on looking developer who was watching from the sidelines and got straight back into it. I spawned at a destroyed gas station and made my way over to the flag capture point in the forest, the only one capture point my faithful team of Russian forces had so far failed to secure. I got into the foliage and I went prone, picked off the spawning US forces and locked down the flag. At the exact moment I managed to tip it back into neutral a friendly helicopter gunship flew over, letting lose a hail of bullets that burst through the leaves and cleaved the surrounding trees clean in half. I should have really been annoyed that the guy was on the verge of team killing me, but this was far too epic to get shirty when I was being treated to the magic of Frostbite 2.
The forest secured, me and my new squad headed back in towards the main town, emerging from the trees to a view of a road, a ditch and then a nine foot high wall just behind it. I glanced down the length of wall, looking for a way in until I remembered what it was I was playing. I switched instantly to my grenades and blasted a spectacular hole for us all to pile through, amazed at the dust it had kicked up and at how each individual piece of the wall had responded in a completely random, albeit authentic and downright cool way.
With a Death/Suicide ratio to be proud of (and a Kill/Death ratio to not be so proud of), I hung my headphones up on the edge of the screen and headed for door, exchanging one last knowing nod with my on looking fan and passing back out into the great Hall Six of Gamescom 2011. I rounded the Battlefield 3 queue one last time, looking into the hungry eyes of everyone that was waiting dutifully for their first chance to play the game. I felt a bond, a connection with these people. In just over two months, we’re all going to be out there, on the battlefield, fighting for victory at all and any awesome cost. My new brothers and sisters, comrades and enemies, all part of one giant shared experience with those proud few of us who can stand amongst the others and say ‘I was there man, I was there’.
I couldn’t wait for Battlefield 3 before I got my hands-on time today and now, I really can’t wait. I’ll see you at the beta.