Christmas is always a big deal in the videogame world. It's a hit-driven business, and Christmas is when most videogame spending is done. So it's when the publishers bring out most of their big guns, the big games intended to sway you from buying any other game ahead of them.
Battlefield 3 is one of those big-hitting games. EA's big FPS property, it's developed by Swedish team DICE (or EA Digital Illusions CE, which is less likely to roll off the tongue without scraping it up and causing it to bleed), the team behind one of my favorite games of all time - Codename: Eagle. It is, of course, having a Christmas tête-à-tête with the current king of the hill, Call of Duty. While it's not clear which of the two will win out, should there even be a "victor", what is clear is this: Battlefield 3 is going to blow your mind.
But I digress.
The singleplayer demo we saw started off with the player strident atop an impressive looking tank, which was headed apace towards what can only be described as hell on earth. A battlefield, stretching horizon to horizon, peppered with the trails left behind by rockets that can kill you if they detonate in your zip code - let alone anywhere near you.
Presented on a PC, the Frostbite 2 engine was able to deliver high-speed, mind-boggling visuals on a full-sized cinema screen. You can only imagine how amazing the levels of physics-driven destruction, to-the-horizon detail, and oh-my-god-is-that-real smoke and lighting effects will look on your 22" monitor. Unfortunately, we can still only imagine what it's going to look like on a console, as EA are still keeping that one to themselves.
Back to our chap on the tank. He's in this wide open desert space, flanked by more tanks - their distance ensuring tactical advantage, while allowing DICE to demonstrate their incredible dust and terrain detail technology. These are wide open spaces, technically empty, but they're chock full of detail. And the sound. Simultaneously you can hear a host of separate sounds that bring your tank to life; whirring, humming, grinding, motor thrumming, metal on metal - it's all here.
Without warning (well... it is a battlefield, but we mean specific warning), shells start raining in; the enemy, it seems, have armor too and they're bearing down on you. The sound and visuals continued to impress, with visceral thumps and shakes as the shells pop around you.
Gameplay evolved throughout the experience, with the player switching visual modes (thermal imaging looks amazing) and using UAVs to remotely designate targets for the artillery. Throughout, the feel was intense action and the presentation backed it up with an audio visual package that you'd be vastly understating if you were to refer to it as best in class. Having never been in an actual combat situation in a desert, it's hard to state authoratively as to the realism of the proceedings. What I can tell you, though, is that it was every bit as intense and incredibly visceral as anything I've ever seen. Period.
There was also a nice rip-reel of multiplayer action in Paris, briefly highlighting something that's going to be incredibly important to the reception of this title. Without question, it's the multiplayer of this title that will win (or lose) the war come November.
It's hard to keep the discussion of the visual package to a reasonable length because, without exception, it was incredible to behold. It felt real, in that oh-god-i-never-want-to-see-that-happen-anywhere-near-me kinda way. Stuff blows up with huge, billowing clouds of steam, dust, smoke and bricks. Everything from the simulation of the plexiglass in your vehicle to the recoil of your rifle is backed up by a similarly impressive audio package that, realistic or not, feels right.
Make no mistake, EA is making a big play to be the undisputed king of the hill in the FPS genre - both in single AND in multi-player. From what we've seen, they're very much in the running to achieve exactly that. No matter which camp you align yourself to, one thing is for dead certain: it's going to be hard to find time for doing anything other than playing virtual war on your gaming platform of choice come the fourth quarter of this year. We can't wait.
NZGamer.com appears at E3 2012 thanks to Orcon Broadband.
Pros: Massive, over-the-top, set pieces