Private Foyle’s Battlefield 3 Multiplayer Impressions…..continued!

Welcome back to Private Foyle’s Battlefield 3 Impressions (If you missed the first batch you can catch up here).  Since yesterday’s initial deployment to the battlefield Private Foyle has been issued with the latest war correspondent technology: A screenshot capture button.  So we no longer need to rely on his frankly terrible literary powers of description to paint a picture of his online capers, he can use the power of his terrible photography instead.  You have been warned:

Kharg Island - Not as Piratey as the name suggests

KHARG ISLAND – CONQUEST LARGE

Oh, yes.  Now this is more like it.  No more tight tunnels.  No more sheltered courtyards and running infantry battles.  Here is a proper Battlefield map.

We find ourselves fighting over flags dotted around a desert peninsula.  The land is open and barren, with fragile warehouses and occasional stone buildings breaking up the crisscrossing sand and tarmac roads.  Warships wait menacingly just off shore.  And is that an Aircraft Carrier I spy?  This is clearly a vehicle led map.

Flag successfully defended

Again I’ve joined mid-game so I deploy my trusty Assault class onto an already captured flag.  After impatiently waiting about 30 seconds to defend against attackers that don’t show, I give up and go looking for a vehicle.

Jeep! Jeep!

Here’s one!  It’s not a tank but it’ll do.  Onwards to battle!  Which way to the frontline!?

Who leaves anti-tank mines THERE!?

OWWW!  What are the odds!  If you can’t quite place that picture it is approximately where the one before was taken from.  I got 2 metres before driving over an anti-tank mine.  Balls.

Luckily one of my erstwhile squadmates (whom I’ve not even seen yet on this vast map) has commandeered a tank that needs a gunner.  It’s so handy just spawning into vehicles like this!

The view from a tank's mounted gun.  The green tint matches the nauseous feeling you get being driven around

Here we’ve just blown up an enemy tank!  I say we, I mean the driver who controls the main gun, but don’t worry I did manage to shoot a few guys before we met a fiery death after something (possibly one of the planes overhead?) missile locked us and blew us up.  I now realise the bleeping warning signals mean somebody has missile locked you.  You live and learn!  Or….well, you die and learn and then respawn.  Into….. an attack helicopter!

SQQQQQUUUUUUUUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!  WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHEEEEEYYYY!

Wooooah.  I've still not got used to the chopper controls

Blank screen:  YOUR TEAM LOST!  Buggar.  I didn’t even reach the mainland.  Must get in an attack chopper again soon.  And back on this map, it’s awesome.

No time to rest, though, onto the next map:

OPERATION METRO – CONQUEST

I was going to quit this one having played it to death in the Beta, but then I remembered that was only the Rush version, and a Conquest game played out on the Paris park at the start of the Rush map would be awesome.

Battlefield 3 running on my PC. (There's a sprinting joke in there somewhere)

Oh, right.  The Conquest game plays out in the bloody tunnels.  Bah.  Well, I’ve started so I might as well finish.  We capture 2 flags and then meet a complete bottleneck on the escalators down to the train tracks.  Handily there’s only 3 flags so we are technically winning.  As long as we can hold the escalators this should be easy.

Blurry screen = you are being suppressed, get out the way of the bullets

As well as accruing a ridiculous amount of healing points for plonking down medkits at the top of them (check out the screenshot above: 415 points from healing alone!) I spend most of the game lurking at the top of the escalators like in the picture above and (when I’m not being ‘suppressed’) pop over to shoot peoples.

Only paramedics can spell defibrillator without looking it up

The rest of my time spent resuscitating the piles of bodies that form at the top of the escalator and before you know it…

Hooray!

Hooray, I guess.

Incredibly boring map, though.  Remind me to never play Operation Metro again in any form.

Back to Kharg Island for me I think.  More impressions to follow, I expect.

[A note on the screenshots and system requirements – I won’t bore you with the details but my PC isn’t the newest and most powerful beast, so is running the game on ‘Custom’ graphics settings set a tiny bit below ‘medium’.  Apparently ‘low’ is the equivilent of the XBOX 360 version, so it should be better than screenshots of that, but it’s not going to match up to others you might have seen.  If you’re worrying you’ve just spent £1000 on a new rig and that’s all it’s going to look like, don’t worry, yours will look a lot better!  But for those wondering if their old faithful can play the game mine is a Dual-Core AMD 3Ghz; 2Gb RAM; GTS 250.  Ok, I lied, I did bore you with the details, but if you read til the end you probably wanted to know!]

Private Foyle’s Battlefield 3 Multiplayer Impressions

Battlefield 3 - at least the 5th game in the Baattlefield seriesIt’s here!  Battlefield 3 has arrived and after finally being dispatched far too late by my chosen online retailer I’m at last able to get my hands on the game.  I’ve played some of the singleplayer and I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  It’s taken hefty inspiration from Modern Warfare, and is painfully linear for much of the campaign, but the level of detail in every aspect of graphics, dialogue, sound and the sheer spectacle of some of the set pieces probably set it a notch higher than its inspiration.

I’m not going to go in depth about the singleplayer, though.  There’s already a million reviews out there for it and all of them will tell you one thing, if you weren’t already expecting it: you shouldn’t buy this game just for the singleplayer.  Battlefield has always been about the multiplayer and that’s where we’re going to be taking a good look today.  I say ‘we’ because I’ve drafted in a comrade and online alias of mine to give us a frontline perspective of his very first deployment into the 3rd Battlefield.  His name is Private Foyle and he’s a veteran of every single Battlefield (except the first Bad Company game), and even got to spend many hours on the Battlefield 3 Beta.  What he hasn’t learned through years of walking into lines of cross-fire, over-cooking grenades and trying to stab tanks to death with a rifle butt just isn’t worth knowing.  What he’s going to do is run through a round or 2 of some of the new maps and describe his experience as he goes, hopefully giving us an impression of the game and the maps as he does so.  So without further delay, lets try and patch him through.

Private Foyle, can you read me?

<over radio static> Yep, roger, I can here you.

Great.  Private, what’s the sit-rep?

Err, the err, the what what?

The situation report!  What’s happening there, what can you see?

Oh, right!  Well, I’ve been deployed high in the…in some mountains.  There’s alpine vistas everywhere I look.  Lot of dust.  Lens flare.  We appear to be fighting for a tunnel, that cuts through one of the mountain ridges, linking one valley full of mining machinery with another valley…also full of mining machinery. 

What’s the tactical sense in capturing that?

Err, none that I can see, but we don’t get paid to ask questions.

No, you don’t get paid at all.

Well, quite.  Right.  There’s 3 flags to capture.  One at each end of the tunnel, out in the open, and one in the middle.  There’s a tank here, and ooh, a helicopter!

What’s the plan of action?

Err, probably get in the helicopter before anyone else and see if I can work out how to fly it. 

And if that fails?

Um, probably just shoot some guys.

Ok great.  Take it away Private Foyle:

Damavand Peak - In Conquest mode there is no peak

DAMAVAND PEAK – CONQUEST

Right, the games begun!  Where to spawn?  Deployment area or…inside the scout helicopter?  Helicopter obviously!  Hmm, how do you fly these things?  WASD controls throttle and rudder, that’s fine, but using the mouse to steer and pitch is insanely inaccurate.  No time to perfect this, though, let’s just find the enemy!  I hit the throttle hard and climb up over the ridge leaving my team mates to charge down the tunnel.  Reaching the peak of the ridge I tilt the craft forwards to reveal the enemy deployment area and their already captured flag at the other entrance to the tunnel. Holding the forward tilt so I can aim the guns at their flag (no idea if there’s anyone there to be hit but it’s a good place to start) I charge down the mountain side machine guns blasting and….. POOFSH!  I blow up over the enemy deployment area.  Approximately 10 seconds into game.  I’ve lost the team’s only helicopter.  I have no kills.  Damn.

Respawning at the central control point my more sensible teammates have captured I find a handy crate to hide behind and try and pick people off.  This is going well, much less laggy than the Beta, although this is a 32 player map.  Reach my first rank up just crouching behind this crate and blamming opponents silly enough to come charging up the tunnel!  Easy!  Until… AIEEE!  A tank!  Throw my only grenade vainly at its tracks and run into the nearest cover: a concrete doorway.  Where does this go?  Oooh, a really tight pedestrian tunnel running parallel to the main one.  I wonder if I can reach the opponents flag from here?  Take 10 paces before meeting a tidal wave of enemy fire coming the other way.  I’m not the only one with that idea then!  No where to hide in the narrow corridor = dead.

Respawn inside squadmate’s jeep.  Oooh, I’m manning the guns!  Where are we?  Oh crap!  The middle of the enemies deployment area!  Squadmate parks under enemy’s flag at the end of the tunnel and obviously expects me to keep the hostiles at bay until we’ve captured it.  Luckily most of them are attacking the central flag, but after picking off a few strays we’re interrupted by an enemy APC!  Having gulped down my panic my mounted gun soon cripples the armoured truck and picks off the fleeing inhabitant as they try to escape.  Turns out noone was on it’s mounted gun so no wonder it was so easy!  We capture the flag just in time… they have their own chopper lifting off.  A tense chase around their base (us being chased, natch) ends with us exploding into the tunnel (literally) after trying to make a hasty retreat.  I must have done a lot of damage to the chopper though as moments later I’m awarded points for assisting in it’s destruction.

Conveniently our own chopper is available again as I respawn from that fiery death.  This time I try controlling it using WASD and directions keys instead.  This is MUCH easier.  Position myself at the friendly end of the tunnel and send volleys of machinegun fire down the tunnel.  Have no idea if I’m being any use, though, as I’m so low to the ground the dust kicked up by the rotors is obscuring my view.  This should be annoying but I can’t help a beaming smile at the graphical detail and fun of it all.

In all the excitement I’ve failed to notice we have now lost the central flag and must have done so a while ago as our ticket counter is dangerously low compared to theirs.  I ascend again quickly ,this time ready to bail out over the enemy base and parachute into a corner.  No one seems to have noticed me so I pick off a couple of their guys from behind but all in vain…the screen goes black and the outcome appears…YOUR TEAM LOST!

Buggar.  Oh well.  On to the next map!

Ironic because you will cross the Seine many times in one game

SEINE CROSSING – CONQUEST

Now for my first 64 player game.  I’m deployed mid-battle into a squad lying down on some stone stairs leading up from the banks of the Seine onto a Parisian street.  Paris glows in the sunshine, and looks every bit the lovers’ holiday destination of choice that it is…except for the half exploded military roadblock I can see on a bridge up the river.  Oh, and the noise.  And the cowering on the stairs.  Just from the sound of gunfire and explosions near and far you can tell there are more players here.  It sounds like chaos.  I try to get some bearings.

A quick glance at the mini-map identifies why we’re lying on the stairs: 4 angry red triangles line the other side of the street that we’re trying to push on to.  Having my one grenade I line up a throw that loops over the wall and across the street.  After a finger crossed pause a KER-BLAPT throws grey dust into the air above the street and those magic words appear: ENEMY DOWN 100 points.  Wow, that actually worked!  My squad use the momentum to peer over the top of the stair way and hurl machine gun fire at the enemy position.  Car windows shatter, brick dust flies, sparks and muzzle-flash consume my field of view.  Taking it in turns to pop up, shoot, then duck back down to reload we successfully clear the other side of the street and advance on the previously enemy occupied building.

The squad I was auto-assigned to when I joined clearly knows what they’re doing.  I follow in awe and try to copy what I see as they advance in a tight line, at every corner one drops to the floor and peers round.  No shots fired the rest of us pile past to the next corner and take up covering positions.  Swapping roles again another squadman peers round followed by the rest of us at a charge.  Soon we’re within site of an enemy flag on the minimap.  It’s inside a courtyard with only 2 narrow entrances on either side.  Being my turn to look around the corner I dive into a prone position in front of the opening.  Seeing hostiles I open fire and down one before another gets me.  I can see all hell break loose from the deployment screen as I impatiently tap tap tap the deploy button even though its timer is still ticking down.  Eventually it goes green and I deploy on a squadmate.  We’re still stuck outside the courtyard entrance facing volleys of machinegun fire.

I drop a medkit, one of the assault classes specialities, and start racking up points as it heals my injured squadmates.  The speed with which you acrue points in the game is ridiculous.  Every little action results in some points being added to your total.  A squadmate spawning on you?  10 points.  Healing a friendly?  20 points.  Laying down suppressing fire?  50 points.  That last one is what we try now.  Shooting near to any enemy now causes their screen to blur, forcing them to withdraw and find a less dangerous position.  We use this to our advantage as we fire wildly into the courtyard and chuck our last grenades before charging in.  A squadmate falls but I’m able to revive him with my newly unlocked Defibrillator.  We secure the courtyard and after earning a load more points healing the squad again I push on with the squad again.

The round ends shortly after with my first team victory (which earns another 500 points on top of the 200 for just taking part!)!  And I win a squad ribbon for being part of the best squad!  A quick check of the scoreboard confirms it was definitely the other 3 members that earned us that reward, but what the hell, I’m not going to refuse the points that come with it.

I’ll keep updating with more maps as they come.  On to the next one!

Unwelcome to the Zone

Talking of STALKER, a while ago I wrote about my ridiculous experience starting STALKER: Call of Pripyat for the first time and never got round to publishing it, so for no particular reason other than that here it is:

Which way to the Bureau de Change?You can tell a lot about a game by the way it chooses to introduce itself.  That Call of Pripyat begins with a brief video history of the game’s location ‘the Zone’ in which a narrator reads different information to that which pops up in the subtitles before being cut-short mid-sentence to drop you in the game itself tells you all you need to know:  It’s interesting, complex, confusing and…Bugged.  With an intentional capital B.

But in case you were worried I was judging a book by its cover let me describe my first 5 minutes with the game before I make a final verdict!:

At least I can't see any cratesIntro over you find yourself dropped into that warm, familiar FPS viewpoint: gun in bottom right corner, health bar in bottom left corner, map in top-left corner.  Ahh.  A First-Person shooter.  I think I know what to do from here.  I find myself in a clearing in a grove of malnourished trees.  Radioactive clouds hang overhead, threatening radioactive rain, and somewhere in the distance a creature groans.  Thus begins my journey.

Walking out of a gap in the trees I begin to wander aimlessly into the expanding horizon in front of me.  Nervously (this game has monsters in it, apparently)  I venture through the undergrowth.  Shrubs and bushes obscure my view as I part branches aside.  Suddenly stepping out of the tall undergrowth, no more than 10 feet ahead, 3 armed men appear!

Christ!  How do I aim!?

They don’t appear to have noticed me, yet they’re looking right at me.  Should I shoot?

Wait!  It’s ok!  They must be friendlies.  I shall go speak to them.  Maybe this Zone isn’t so scary after all.

Bumbling up to the 3 men to ask for directions I can’t quite shake the feeling that something is amiss.  As I approach to within conversational distance one of the men, presumably the leader, suddenly raises his rifle without provocation, aims straight at my head (Aieee!) and demands “Put your gun away!”.

Oh!  He wants me to put my gun away!  That’s a reasonable request.  My mother always said don’t talk to strangers who come walking out of bushes holding a gun.

“Certainly, sir.”  I look down at my keyboard perplexed.  Put gun away…Hmmm…’H’ key for ‘holster weapon’, surely? 

I press ‘H’.

Nothing happens.

My nervous smile obviously doesn’t filter through to the game as the other men in the group raise their guns aswell.  One starts to circle around to my side, out of view, always looking down the barrel of his gun, always looking at my HEAD down the barrel of his gun.

“Please, don’t worry gentlemen, I just need to find the holster key and I will of course comply with your request.”

I pause the game and bring up the control options.  Holster….Holster….  I can’t find any keys referring to holstering a gun.

Hmmm.  Perhaps if I walk right up to him a ‘use’ option will appear and we’ll enter a conversation and I’ll automatically put my assault rifle away?  That must be it.

Returning to the game I stride the last few steps so I am touching distance from the man who first accosted me.  No options appear on screen but from my research of the control options I know ‘F’ is the use key.

I press ‘F’.

The man backs away a step.

“DROP YOUR WEAPON!”, he barks again.  And in the game (or was it in my head?) I hear the sound of safety catches being released.

Gulp.

Wait!  Of course!  I’ve got it!  I know the weapon keys are 1-9, maybe one of the ‘weapons’ is no weapon at all.  I’ll just need to cycle through and find the right one!  Easy.

And so, this is why, encircled by 3 rifle wielding, angry as hell, half starved, possibly drunk, definitely crazy, frightening men, I begin to brandish first a knife, then a pistol, then my assault rifle again (all the while staring straight at the man no more than a metre in front of me), then a GRENADE!  Then a pair of binoculars!?  All the while the tension between myself and the 3 angry men is growing to the point that I’m almost ready to shoot myself just to get it over with.  When suddenly, completely accidentally, I hit the binocular key again leading me to hide my binoculars away.

Phew!

The tension blows away with my sigh.  Their guns are lowered, they walk up to me again and before I can think ‘Why were they scared of binoculars!?’ those magic words appear on the screen:

Press ‘F’ to talk.

Ah.

‘F’

“Hello there stranger, how can we help you?”

“Um, could you tell me where the nearest hotel is please?”

“Why certainly: just carry on in the direction you’re headed, turn right at the irradiated school bus, go through the mutant infested swamp, over the hill and head for the derelict ship we call home.  Inside you’ll find a bar, free beds, gun and armour repair and lots of friendly faces.”

“Oh, thanks very much.”

“You’re welcome.  You take care now!”

“Um, you too.  Cheerio!”

“Bye, Bye.”

And so in the opening 5 minutes Call of Pripyat reveals itself:  Frightening, tense and baffling, but ultimately very rewarding once you get your head round it all (and you learn how to put your gun away).

Haven’t I been here before?

Atmosphere with a capital ATI love the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games.  Ever since I first stepped in to the Zone in Call of Pripyat I’ve become totally enthralled by the atmosphere, exploration and harsh environment of these spectacular open-world games.  Having completed Pripyat (twice) and then enjoying the original Shadow of Chernobyl just as much,  I’ve been playing through the slightly less well received STALKER:Clear Sky over the last week or two to complete the trilogy (albeit, in completely the wrong order).  Clear Sky blurs the line between add-on (or DLC, if you must) and full game by having the vast majority of the game take place in the exact same locations as Shadow of Chernobyl, and that got me thinking: Does revisiting an old location from a new angle add something to the game and the world it’s created?  Or is it just a player-jarring cost saving measure by a developer keen to milk every penny from an expensively created environment?  I’d love to know your thoughts on this too, but here’s what I’m thinking:

In Clear Sky it works.  It really shouldn’t but I think GSC got it right here.  One of the great features of STALKER, and any open-world game, is the feeling of exploration as you venture to new parts of the map.  Seeing a grey blob on the satellite image map and carefully heading there through the hostile landscape not knowing whether you’re going to find a giant radioactive lake infested with monsters, or an exploded government bunker (…also infested with monsters) is one of the best thrills STALKER has to offer.  To know that was going to be removed in Clear Sky where 90% of the locations were already familiar from a playthrough of Shadow of Chernobyl  had me prepared for a big disappointment.  What I hadn’t prepared for, though, was how GSC were going to change the character landscape that rests on the physical one.

Hmm, is it Deja Vu....For those that haven’t played it, Clear Sky’s main unique selling point was the ‘faction wars system’ in which different NPC factions fighting for control of the zone could help or hinder your progress depending on your allegiance (or hostility) to each of them.  Ultimately the system was widely derided for game-ifying otherwise simulation-based gameplay, and for frankly being a pain in the arse, but this shift in focus to the human conflict within the zone meant that, where before all but the most secure strongholds were devoid of human beings (of the unmutated and non-zombified variety, anyway) and crawling with terrifying monsters, in Clear Sky areas you expect to be a struggle are a guided by armed-guard walk in the park, and areas you once strolled through are now an inch by inch gun-battle through the territory of a faction you had the misfortune of pissing off.

I guess what I’m trying to say is Clear Sky doesn’t feel like a rerun of the same environment because you still don’t know what to expect as you retrace “the marked one’s” steps through the zone.  The meaning of exploration is in finding out what lies over there and as soon as you realise it’s not going to be what you found in Shadow of Chernobyl that feeling of exploration returns.  Add to that the dynamic weather and passage of time, the atmosphere of a place can be completely different the second time through.  Like when an abandoned industrial site that was once the location of a fear-filled artifact hunt in the dead of night with only a torch and lightning flashes to light the way becomes a pleasant meeting with the head of a friendly faction, complete with reggae music echoing through the concrete halls and shafts of sunshine beaming in through the windows.

Stupid Map. THANKS SHOWING ALL THE BADDIES AND RUINING ALL THE TENSION!I’ve enjoyed Clear Sky, not as much as the other STALKERs, but it’s still a good game.  What it lacks is not a new environment but that feeling of being let loose in a barren, hostile world.  It’s too careful to highlight what you should and shouldn’t do via the enemy markers on the map and the faction standing meters on your PDA.  It feels too much like a game and not an experience.  What I’ve really liked about it, though, is that feeling of following in the footsteps of someone great, heading towards something cataclysmic.  Another layer of tension is added by your knowledge of the previous game, both in the locational sense and the story.  It’s something I’d like to see more of in games, especially games where you can pick and choose your actions.  I’d love to follow in the footsteps of my Fallout 3 or Witcher 2 character in the eyes of, say, an assassin or a detective tasked with capturing the person you once played.  To see the trail of destruction your original character left, which at the time seemed necessary, but through the eyes of your pursuer seems wanton, and to form new opinions of your own actions would be a really interesting mechanic to explore.  It’s not something I’m aware has been done yet, perhaps I’m wrong?

...I could swear I've been here beforeOther series’ have reused locations, especially with DLC.  Rockstar’s return to Liberty City in the Grand Theft Auto IV DLCs The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony works well because the city was only ever a canvas for the story to be painted on.  Again a slight shift in gameplay focus, from cars to bikes to helicopters, matches the shift in narrative focus so you get to experience Liberty City from a new perspective both literally and narratively.

The wonderful Opposing Force add-on for Half-Life let you see Black Mesa through the eyes of an infiltrating Marine, rather than an escaping scientist .  Gearbox created mostly new environments within the Black Mesa facility for the add-on to take place in, but the occasions when you saw a familiar locale, or crossed paths with Gordon Freeman added an overarching feeling of being part of something greater.

I guess that’s perhaps the issue with reusing locations:  If it’s a sprawling open-world like the Zone or Liberty city, there’s scope to force players to revisit with a new story or gameplay mechanics attached and it still feel new.  Something more linear like Half-Life and Bioshock are always going to struggle to create a ‘new’ feeling when you’re venturing down the same corridors to the same areas, which is why their add-ons and sequels have always demanded new locations to be built, even though players want to return to Black Mesa and Rapture.

At a time when procedurally generated 3D worlds are a possibility, like the infinitely constructing Minecraft world, what locations would you like to revisit?  Or is it best to tell each gaming story in a new location?  Let me know your thoughts or if I’ve missed any good examples of revisited locations.