Editorial | 10/21/2011 at 2:08 PM

Battlefield Report: October 21, 2014

Beta Testing Battlefield 3 and Ghost Recon Online

Do I really need to introduce Battlefield 3? The highly popular first-person shooter lands in U.S. retail outlets next week in all its glory, promising to blow away the competition and bring PC and console gamers together under one roof. So what’s new? A lot more than you’d think.

First off: the pacing of Battlefield 3 - as compared to Bad Company 2 - is much faster. Bullets fly with impunity, especially in close quarters. Explosive ordnance carries more personnel damage, and fully automatic rifles and machine guns have the capability to chew squads to pieces. Movement speed has increased slightly. Gameplay as a whole has a much more “twitchy” feel to it, which I was not a fan of at first. Luckily the Kings of Balance, DICE, have made some additions that help to keep the flow quick but with ways to break up the craziness.

One example is flashlights. Left 4 Dead made great use of tactical light attachments on weapons, to the point that just simply turning them on or off might change the outcome of an encounter. Battlefield 3 takes this concept further by causing a very realistic blinding effect when the light is passed over another player’s face. Seeing a trio of flashlight beams coming down a hallway can be a tip-off, but charging face-first into them is a mistake. As someone who has assisted in close-quarters room-clearing (including with off-duty Houston S.W.A.T.) more than once, it makes a lot of sense for a military-themed shooter to finally include this primary tactical tool.

Another example is the new laser attachment. Like the flashlights, laser pointers will provide the player with certain benefits (a momentary blinding effect if pointed at another player, and increased hip-fire accuracy) but will also reveal their location.

Prone is the new crouch! Missing from the Bad Company titles, the prone position (belly crawl) is back. This is employed by campers, sure, but in a game where everyone is rushing forward in a spawn-die-repeat fashion it helps to be able to respawn with a squadmate who has masterfully taken cover by lying down behind a desk or in a bush. He may not be racking up a 30-kill score or running the bomb in, but he’ll get points for holding down a tactical position.

The map that was made available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 beta participants was called Metro. It takes place in Paris. Just like in the Bad Company games, overtaking two positions in the first section opens the second section, and so on. The three sections consist of an open park (perfect for snipers and open-ground tactics), the underground Metro station (where taclights, fast reflexes, and communication are key), and finally a street overlooked by two buildings opposite each other - and can be occupied - and a glass-covered showroom ripe for overwatch positions. The capture locations are nestled in a corner storefront and next to an abandoned public bus. You can imagine the last-ditch scramble if the match makes it to stage three.

I enjoyed the gameplay, overall, despite the major changes from Bad Company 2. Enjoyment notwithstanding, I did experience a lot of bugs and glitches. Furthermore, the visuals suffered - the biggest offender was by far the texture pop-in. As I understand it, though, the beta was comprised of very unpolished code. If the online lag, animation hiccups, and texture kinks are worked out in the build that hits store shelves next week...then this could very well be my favorite Battlefield yet.

Ghost Recon Online is not Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (a gameI’m more excited by than any other game that I can remember). Ghost Recon Online is a free-to-play shooter that puts more emphasis on player classes and customizations than previous Ghost Recon titles. It features simple gameplay and a storefront closely modelled to that of games like Combat Arms.

Unfortunately getting into a game was a test of patience. Three sessions of 90 minutes or more were met with constant disconnections and server issues. Judging by the public chat room and the closed beta forum posts, I was not the only one...but it seems it was still a pretty isolated problem. In-game moderators chatted with me about the issues and promised to try and fix them, but the problem was not resolved within the week-long period that the program was open.

The games that I was able to join were simple and straightforward, based on capturing two points of the map. As far as I could tell there was only one area to spawn in for each team, resulting in quite a bit of spawn camping - an issue that Ubi is aware of and supposedly rectifying.

The cover system was pared down - but still instantly recognizable - from Splinter Cell: Conviction (and the upcoming Future Soldier). You could slink along cover, peek around or over it, and vault it if it was low enough. Swapping cover didn’t seem to be an option, although it’s possible I just didn’t see a prompt for it. The maps were simple and symmetrical with objects strategically placed, Gears of War style.

Shootouts were...iffy. The guns felt nice, and recoil was moderate - standard Ghost Recon fair, I suppose. Hit detection was quite literally hit-or-miss. What your brain tells you is a kill shot might not register that way, leaving you open to attack. It took away from the immersion (and more importantly: the fun) when getting the drop on an enemy didn’t have a positive outcome for you. Thankfully, controls for iron sights make aiming more precise for those wonky firefights, and a handy sprint button is available to get you back into action quickly should you expire in battle.

Because of the aforementioned connection issues I never did get to finish a match, but whatever points I had earned were mine to keep anyway. I visited the store to see if there were any worthwhile upgrades or weapons. The store itself is very slick. Rolling your mouse over an item will compare it to what you already have equipped, highlighting the improvements and detractions appropriately.

Ultimately, though, I didn’t spend any points, and for two reasons: 1. everything I saw was only available to rent for 24 hours, which is such a waste of hard-earned points, and 2. only a certain selection of weapons can be upgraded. The default pistol and rifles - by far the most interesting of everything that was available - could not be upgraded. In essence, paying for a weapon and getting it up to full upgrade specs would grant you use for 24 hours...that’s not customization, that’s a trial.

So far it seems like Ghost Recon Online is going to be a fun game that won’t be able to motivate me to stay interested. But I hear there’s another closed beta coming up before the end of the year...so I’ll pop in to see if there are any improvements.

Like, you know...being able to play one full match.

Ghost Recon Online is going to be a good title to check out while waiting for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. The third-person perspective is slightly less obtrusive than it was in the Advanced Warfighter games, and it simplifies gameplay without sacrificing the natural feel that Ubi has injected into the Tom Clancy franchise.

Battlefield 3, on the other hand, is going to cause at least as much controversy as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Whereas everyone expects par for the course with Modern Warfare, Battlefield 3 has been construed by DICE as the PC-centric, be-all, end-all of tactical warfare games. And I think it has just enough changes to irritate fans of Bad Company but not enough to placate the hardcore PC crowd. It’s one to watch, for sure.