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Mike Nomad
10-28-2011, 06:45 AM
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PC Battlefield 3 multiplayer: the evolution of aggression



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By Ben Kuchera | Published about 18 hours ago


We've talked about the single-player game (http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/10/battlefield-3-has-a-single-player-campaign-unfortunately.ars). We've complained about the game's stability issues at launch (http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/10/battlefield-3-on-pc-doesnt-exactly-work-right-now-try-later.ars). We've gone over the reasons why Battlefield 3 isn't being sold on Steam (http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/08/battlefield-3-not-coming-to-steam-ea-provides-good-reason.ars), and discussed why that might be a mistake (http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/08/what-ea-will-lose-if-battlefield-3-remains-off-steam.ars). But these are all peripheral issues to the real question: how good is the game's multiplayer?

Bad Company 2 may have set the standard for single-player action in the Battlefield series, but most of us only played that portion of the game once. Multiplayer, if past games are any indication, will be enjoyed for years.

This is DICE's first game with the Frostbite 2 engine, and EA has used the opportunity to aggressively go after the reigning king of war games (http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/08/what-battlefield-3-needs-to-steal-from-modern-warfare-3-and-vice-versa.ars), Call of Duty. Picking a favorite is a little silly—the games are very different takes on competitive first-person wargaming—but it's clear after playing the multiplayer portion of the game extensively that EA and DICE have released a game that's very special. This could be the high water mark for multiplayer gaming for quite some time.

So... about Battlelog

The Battlelog system for managing your character and launching multiplayer games has become somewhat controversial since the open beta, but now that stability seems to have improved, there's little to complain about. Battlelog opens in your Web browser and allows you to check your stats, invite friends to games, check the status of your unlocks, and even see reports from each round you play. The amount of information available is impressive, and it's fun to go online and explore your stats and progression even when you can't play the game.

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Battlelog


You can pull up a report from recent battles to see who was the most accurate player or who was the best with certain vehicles, check to see who scored the most points, look at what weapons you prefer... Battlelog gives you access to plenty of data about your playing style and about those you play with or against. You can even leave a comment on each battle to praise good players or to talk a little smack.

Battlelog is also your server browser, and it's simple to filter for certain game modes or maps. You can create a list of favorite servers, invite others to your game, or anything else you'd like to do. It works well, is more or less intuitive, and gives you a high degree of control over how you play the game. Some players will be annoyed that Battlelog isn't located inside the game itself, but is there that much of a difference between entering a game from your browser or from a game menu?

And the approach has upsides. Before writing this review, I checked out which weapons and vehicles I favor when playing, then redesigned my dog tags... all from a computer that doesn't even have the game installed. I could manage my friends list or check the progress of my platoon (platoons work like clans, with their own pages and collective information). I could become a fan of a platoon, ask to join, or simply look up the stats of the players involved (this information can also be kept private).

The game is huge

Nine maps ship with the game, and they offer a variety of locations and conditions to fight in and through. We're reviewing the PC version of the game, which offers servers that can handle up to 64 players at a time. That's a lot of soldiers in one game, and if you have a server that's completely filled, some maps will turn into nothing but run-and-gun gameplay. Other, larger maps handle the higher populations much better. Seine Crossing, for instance, is a mess with 64 players, while Caspian Border and Operation Firestorm come alive with the higher player count.

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Multiplayer trailer


The Frostbite 2 engine that powers that game is an amazing feat of technology, and it handles everything from the soldiers' animations to vehicle physics to different lighting conditions with ease. You can check out the game's thread in our forum (http://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=1135761&start=4720) if you'd like to see how it performs on different systems, but this is a wonderful excuse to upgrade your computer. I'm able to run the game using the Ultra settings and I get around 50 frames-per-second; the graphics are stunning.

<table class="specifications"> <tbody><tr class="odd"> <td colspan="2">Our Velocity Micro gaming rig (http://www.velocitymicro.com/)</td> </tr> <tr class="even"> <th>OS</th> <td>Microsoft® Windows® 7 Home Premium 64-bit</td> </tr> <tr class="odd"> <th>CPU</th> <td>Intel® Core i7 2600k processor, Hyperclocked</td> </tr> <tr class="even"> <th>RAM</th> <td>Patriot 8GB 1600Mhz PXD38G1600LLK Memory</td> </tr> <tr class="odd"> <th>Video</th> <td>EVGA GTX 580 1536 MB 015-P3-1580-AR</td> </tr> <tr class="even"> <th>Motherboard</th> <td>Asus P8Z68-V Pro Motherboard</td> </tr> <tr class="odd"> <th>Storage</th> <td>Patriot 2 x 120GB Wildfire SATAIII SSD PW120GS25SSDR in RAID 0</td> </tr> <tr class="even"> <th>Optical drive</th> <td>LG UH12LS28 BDROM/DVDRW</td> </tr> </tbody></table>
In-game visibility is rarely discussed, but it's an important aspect of the Battlefield 3 experience. Lens flare, dust, explosions, smoke, and debris all fill the game world, so areas with heavy fighting offer little to no visibility. The more you fight and blow up, the harder it is to see what you're firing at. This gives both sides of the battle opportunities for sneakiness and tactical movement.

The multiplayer is a much better argument for the power of Frostbite 2 than the consistently jaw-dropping visuals in the single-player campaign, because you can drive and control everything you see. You can blow holes in the sides of buildings, fly over the action in helicopters or jets, race across the larger maps in jeeps, and everything looks and acts like you'd expect. The game isn't realistic, exactly, but the way the vehicles and weapons interact with the environment is satisfying. Nothing feels better than shooting from the ground at someone leaning out the side of a helicopter to take a shot, or jumping over a hill in a troop transport to get into position as quickly as possible.

It can take quite some time to move across some of the larger maps, and the game's size makes it more important to stick with your squad and spawn on your teammates. It's important to cultivate a selection of players to join you in combat instead of jumping into random servers; the people in your team and squad will determine how often you win or lose a match. Communication and cooperation really do affect the outcome when fighting an organized foe. If you find yourself sprinting across a large map on foot to get to the firefight, something went wrong with your strategy or planning.

The game also offers the ability to spawn directly into certain vehicles if they're unoccupied, which is a nice touch. This doesn't keep people from grabbing jets and helicopters only to fly them directly into buildings, but one can only hope the average skill of pilots goes up as the game ages.

Vehicles

Vehicles have been heavily revamped since Bad Company 2. They will slowly regenerate their health now, unless attackers can deal enough damage to disable them. Even then, you have to be careful when the game gives you points for disabling a vehicle; it's still possible for the vehicle's crew to be alive, and an engineer can still repair the vehicle and put it back in the fight. This small detail changes how firefights play out, so you have to be relentless. Don't stop attacking just because you've disabled a vehicle! It's important to continue pouring rounds into your target until you see the explosions and get the points for killing the people inside.

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Don't just drive away with a vehicle! Always make sure you have a gunner so he can draw fire


Players can make vehicles more effective by using them and unlocking abilities. For instance, you'll notice that the jets are underpowered when you begin to play; you can use the guns, and that's it. As you gain experience using the jets, however, you'll unlock flares to defend against missile lock, then add heat seeking missiles, then a fire extinguisher to make it harder for enemies to disable the vehicle, and eventually other goodies. Powerful anti-air weapons and vehicles will oppose you, so spending time to expand the abilities of your pilot is worthwhile.

Last night I had the (dis)pleasure of playing on a server with someone who specialized in vehicles. With all the tank powers and upgrades unlocked, he was devastating on the battlefield. This may annoy some who think everyone should be using the same vehicles, but once you dig in and begin to level up different classes and unlock new abilities, you see why it's such a fun mechanic. The player in the tank wasn't just good because of the equipment, he had also put in the hours to learn how to properly utilize everything.

This approach differentiates Battlefield from Call of Duty. If the other team focuses on tanks, you're going to need to change your strategy to take care of them. You need to learn to use the vehicles on land and in the air to attack, defend, and to move your troops around the battle effectively. On many servers, the vehicles are instruments of anarchy, but if you stumble upon a server with higher-level play and communication, they become necessary parts of the puzzle.

Infantry

Most players will spend the majority of their time on foot, and there are four classes to choose from when heading into battle. The Assault class focuses on offense, and has the added ability to drop health packs or revive fallen soldiers. Wrapping the Medic class into this package that focuses more on combat is smart, and creates a powerful and versatile class. (This is where I like to live.)

The Support class can lay down suppressing fire with its light machine gun while dropping extra ammo for others on the team. The bipod lets you steady your gun on different types of cover, which gives you extra accuracy while also decreasing your profile. If you put one of these in a chokepoint, it becomes easier to hold an area of the map, and the game now awards points for suppressing enemies with your fire.

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The lighting effects and level design often work together brilliantly


Engineers have the weapons needed to directly engage with vehicles or to repair damaged vehicles. They can also use anti-tank mines for area denial or for placing traps. If you want to gain ranks quickly, you can grab a lot of points by repairing vehicles.

The Recon class offers long range support via scoped rifles, but can also drop mobile spawn points or paint targets with a laser in order to help other classes attack large targets.

You need a strong combination of all four classes to be effective, and within the broad strengths of each class, players can specialize further to find a niche.

You become more powerful as you level up and unlock new weapons, gadgets, and abilities, but you'll be able fight well from your first round as long as you're smart. Luckily, everything you do gets you points, so even poor players will be able to gain levels and equipment in short order. You can get points by spotting enemies, healing your buddies, dropping ammo, or simply finishing a round. Good players will level up much quicker, but the game is balanced in such a way that everyone will be able to get ahead and see the cooler weapons as long as they're persistent.

This is another key reason why the multiplayer is so much better than the single-player game: the options given to you as a soldier are nearly limitless, and the action plays out on beautiful maps with an impressive sense of scale. You'll be firing at the attacking force, dodging grenades, calling for ammo, hoping your snipers take out the guy that keeps killing you, watching as jets and helicopters duke it out above your head and wreckage falls from the skies. You'll duck behind cover as tanks rumble past, then go prone to sneak through enemy lines before knifing someone to take their dogtags. You can be the gunner on a helicopter and rain death down on the heads of those fighting below, or make strafing runs with your jet.

Good rounds contain dozens of cinematic and exciting firefights, with you and your friends as the stars. This is the best kind of game, where even when you lose or do poorly you're always having fun, and the point system offers constant reward for your actions.

Voice chat

One of the game's shortcomings is the lack of built-in voice chat (to say nothing of the weak party chat). I'll step out of the way and let community member tpg0007 explain why that's such a pain: For those that remember, Battlefield 2 had perfectly working built-in voice communication. By default it had one channel for each squad, so only squad members could talk to each other. An extra channel was devoted to communication between squad leaders and the commander. This naturally fostered teamwork and made the experience better, even with total strangers. The quality was sufficient for very demanding and team-oriented gaming groups such that for most casual rounds there was no need to bother with third party solutions.

Fast-forward 6 years and, with all the improvements in technology and bandwidth upgrades, we have no built-in voice comm, just a clunky Party Chat that doesn't integrate with the game much at all. For all the vastly superior graphics and gameplay over its predecessors, it really amazes me that DICE just gave up totally on having a working and well-integrated voice comm for their flagship game.

There will be those that say Ventrillo, Teamspeak, Mumble etc. makes it less necessary to have an in-game VOIP system. This would only be true if somehow these external programs were able to intelligently move people into different channels according to team and squad. There is no substitute for a proper, well-built in-game voice comm for improving the experience.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

The multiplayer makes it all worthwhile

The single-player game borders on the terrible, the launch could definitely have been smoother, but when you start to dig into the multiplayer portion of the game all those complaints fall away. This is a large-scale war game with a suite of vehicles and large maps, with up to 64 players fighting for domination at once. It's a beautiful, atmospheric slice of insanity, and it's hard to know what to expect from one round to the next.

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What exactly is he firing at?


Battlefield rewards teamwork and communication over run-and-gun, and action gamers who aren't used to this more holistic approach to combat will need to adjust their expectations. The new engine shows just what is possible on the PC, and it blows away the console versions of the game in every way. While it may take a few more days for things to even out in terms of stability, Battlefield 3 promises to be one of the best online experiences this year.

The Good


The four classes work well and make sense
The vehicles provide many tactical possibilities
Jets are back!
The maps are varied and interesting
The Frostbite 2 engine provides amazing visuals and physics
The point system rewards different styles of play
Battlelog makes it easy to track your progress
The engine allows for everything from the sun to dust to hurt visibility, leading to extra tension
Unlocking new weapons and items is addictive

The Bad


Why does the chat box take up so much space on my screen?
The minimap is hard to read at a glance
Some maps become cramped with 64 players
Stability still needs to be improved
There are many game modes, but it's hard to find servers that are running something that isn't Conquest or Rush. This may also work under "The Good"

The Ugly


If you use the tactical light, you are a terrible human being, and are more of a danger to your own team than the enemy

Verdict: Buy

SOURCE (http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/10/battlefield-3-multiplayer-the-evolution-of-aggression.ars/1)