The end of this year is going to be an orgy of exciting sequels: The Elder Scrolls 5 , Mass Effect 3 , and the tenth Battlefield game, Battlefield 3. It's a sequel to the third Battlefield game, Battlefield 2, which was the 1,940th prequel to the original, Battlefield 1942. It all makes perfect sense.
The important bit is that it's not part of the Bad Company sub-series, whose last entry Bad Company 2 is what most fans are playing these days. That means it can handle 64 players, fighter planes are back, and most exciting of all: you can lie down. All these things were in Battlefield 2 but lost in the Bad Company games. If Battlefield 3 is going to be the culmination of all the things we love about the series, what else does it need?
Rich, Tim and myself came up with ten demands and cut them together into a blackmail note using letters hacked out of Edge magazine with our Future-branded safety scissors. Then we typed them out.
1. Jets for pilots only
Battlefield 2's saddest sight was the aeroplane queue. You could gauge the tone of a server on spawn by checking how many workshy freeloaders were bunny hopping around an empty runway, desperate for their jet to reappear. For every competent pilot who could flip upside down, fly under a bridge and still drop a cluster-bomb on that oncoming column of tanks, there were ten chumps who'd leap into the cockpit and fly their multi-million dollar charge into a tree. By hanging around miles from the main conflict and depleting the fighting force, Battlefield 2's idiot pilots killed the game for the rest of us with our feet on the ground.
Battlefield 3's jets are confirmed, and I pray that DICE have found some way to kill the plane-camping trend. Maybe by introducing a short test before players earn their air-driving license, including reading and writing comprehension. Inclusion of the word 'lmfaooo' would constitute an insta-fail.
2. A Steamworks server browser
We tried "Make a new server browser!" Then we tried "Make a better server browser!" Then "Make a server browser that works!" It didn't work. Bad Company 2's is marginally more usable than the previous Battlefield games, but it's still bad, finding friends is still a pain, and the 'Play now' button is still the 'Play never' button. I tried it just now - after five minutes of churning, it put me on an empty server.
Our revised request: "Give up. Use Steamworks. It's free, it uses Steam, and it works."
3. Infinite imagination married to absurd physics
This video sums up Battlefield perfectly for me. Bored of dogfighting? Get out of your plane, fire a rocket, and get back in. It's easy for developers to stamp down on silliness and stupidity, especially when the game they're making is so drawn from reality. But that's not as fun as absurdity. My favourite Battlefield moments were the times when, on a private server, the PC Gamer team raced jets through dams, tried to park six tanks in a swimming pool, or swapped jets in middair. Whatever the Battlefield team decide to do with Battlefield 3, I hope it retains that core absurdity.
4. Co-op against bots
This may be futile - a co-op story campaign is already confirmed, and bots are already anti-confirmed. But I'll make my case anyway.
Co-op campaigns are great, typically much better than single-player ones. But they're essentially the same kind of thing, so they don't help the true multiplayer side of Battlefield. DICE are keen to stress that their efforts on the campaign won't affect the multiplayer, but the loss of bots really does.
Not everyone wants to take on a world of viciously proficient players in one of the most brutal shooters around. And even those that do sometimes just want to mess around. Even if they suck, bots let us do that. They're the perfect way to learn the basics of the game without being slapped in the face for not having unlocked the M60, and they're often more fun to play against with a friend than real people are.
Playing Battlefield 1942 with two players against hundreds of incompetent bots was amazing fun, and one of the only times Battlefield's ridiculous side - standing on aeroplane wings firing a sniper rifle - mixed with its brutal side.
5. Complicated sniping
The sniper rifles in Bad Company 2 came from some alien world that had its gravity turned up way too high. Long range shots would dip over their course, and this made them brilliant. For one, it made preternaturally gifted snipers less effective: those that survived on the speed of their right wrist alone suddenly had to calculate trajectories. It also made a successful, map-long headshot unbelievably satisfying. Lining up a sprinting target, judging his course, working out the height compensation, then lancing him through his stupid brain is a pleasure I'm desperate to recreate in Battlefield 3.
6. Huge maps
They don't all have to be vast, but there's a kind of experience you can't have on tightly focused maps - one I uniquely associate with Battlefield. It's being alone with my squad, miles from the action, lying on top of a gas tower - the fighting just distant booms. All other radio comms come through with a crackle, but when my sniper says 'Enemy spotted', it's clear and close. That distance makes the war feel terrifyingly huge, and your experience in it very personal. You're not just another screaming voice in the fray, you and your men are moving strategically through a vast landscape to achieve something specific in a greater conflict.
I think that's why I never got quite as immersed in Bad Company as the previous games: the tighter maps make it a frenetic onslaught like Call of Duty, without these moments of peace and perspective that make the war feel real.
7. Destructible buildings
Bad Company 2's 'collapsing house' noise shot straight to the top of my list titled 'gaming noises that make me go “ohshitohshitohshit!”,' right next to the gurgle of Ravenholm's headcrab-chucking zombie. Houses used to be my friends. Their walls would save me from bullets, their staircases would provide neat little fire channels. Bad Company 2 broke my trust in houses.
It was a game where the safe and mundane turned against you in seconds, and it made the battlefield fluid and consistently lethal. Every time I escaped from a collapsing building, I left exhilarated. I'd turn and look back at the empty air where, a few seconds ago, stood concrete and bricks.
Battlefield 3 promises to be a bigger game. When you hand sniper rifles to internet soldiers and tell them to go and play across a mile of sand and buildings, it means repeated long-range death. Frustrating death. Unless you play the sniper's game better than he does, you'll never shift him from his hidey-house. But if you can bring the sky down on him, crush his friendly walls thanks to the weird magic of the Frostbite engine, you can turn the tide of the battle.
I've had a good taste of what previous versions of the Frostbite engine can do, but now I want more. I want to be able to accurately punch holes in rooftops, I want to be able to extract the core of a building with such precision that it topples. And I want to be able to blow everything - everything - into small chunks of masonry. Cover is so last year.
The shock blocks, the shooter rebooters: they make you hardier against ventricular tachycardia. When the Battlefield series introduced these, I discovered I find saving lives as satisfying as taking them. Healing isn't enough: that's just buffing a number so it doesn't drop to another number. Running through a firefight to a fallen comrade and bringing him back from the brink of death is saving someone, and it feels amazing.
Given that they've typically died of a gunshot wound to the head rather than a heart attack, I realise the mechanic makes absolutely no sense. I just hope DICE know that's no reason to take it out.
9. Clear objectives
The Rush games mode introduced in the Bad Company series had one major success: team focus. Battlefield's traditional flag-capturing is creatively stupendous fun when you've got a crew of communicating squadmates, but dipping into a server and pootling between unmanned flags alone is a lonely experience. Rush - with its two objectives, and two sides fighting to destroy/protect them - guides players into choke points. By doing that, it creates the kind of ridiculous firefights and moments of personal glory that make you alt-tab out of the game, IM your friends and type “GUESS WHAT I JUST DID.”
Even the most ham-fisted of Bad Company 2's teams eventually point themselves at the right target in Rush mode. The game's long, narrow maps corral have drawn battle-lines, letting two great waves (both armed with automatic weaponry) crash into each other. Conquest maps are more amorphous. When I hop into a Rush server, I'm guaranteed satisfaction; in Conquest, I get frustrated and self-important.
I'm not suggesting Battlefield 3 drops flag-capturing entirely. I'm not even suggesting DICE port Rush mode over verbatim. Instead, I'd like them to take Bad Company 2's excellent lessons on board. I want to be led by the nose, given reasons to push toward the largest concentration of enemies. I want to be yanked into valleys of death, be a willing participant in the game's killing fields, not a solitary figure skirting the outskirts.
10. Chain of command
I understand the simplification in Bad Company 2: you don't want squads to be these ultra hardcore private clubs with a leader shouting at everyone and ruining their fun. So there's no leader, squads are just little friendly gaggles of soldiers who happen to be able to spawn on each other.
It works for getting a few people to stick together, heal each other and improve their chances. But without prior organisation, squads rarely achieve anything. Everyone can designate a target for the squad, but precisely because of that, no-one pays much attention when they do.
Battlefield 2 might not have been as noob-friendly, but it was clear and decisive. Squad leader says we go there? We go there. Squad leader says hold? We hold. Whether he was a pro or a noob, we'd follow his orders - frankly because we got bonus points for it. I was as happy to follow orders as give them, because in either case, anyone who doesn't like it can just leave the squad.
It meant Battlefield 2 - and 2142 - had an uncanny way of forming relationships between players. Anyone can make a game that's fun if you play with friends in an organised squad. Battlefield 2 was one of the few that could inspire that experience between total strangers. Back in Karkand, I'd follow ^^andy^^05 to hell and back. On Oman, mrbuzzard and neurax executed my orders perfectly. And I got so attached to my squad in Dragon Valley that when my commander asked me to send them on a suicide mission, I countermanded the order and went rogue, leading them to a better point of attack and winning the game. I want that feeling back.
Those are our ten. What are yours?