I am a snake. A snake of WAR. I'm wiggling towards the M-Com station on my belly, hoping nobody on the enemy team will notice my approach. They're clustered defensively behind a low wall, throwing fire towards the glinting scopes of my squad mates. They're hiding in a bush a hundred metres away, the cowards. Quietly, I right click to unfold the bipod on my light machinegun, plant it on the ground to keep my weapon stable, and open fire. Three of them die before I'm shot in the head. Going prone is brilliant. Here's a bit of advice if you're diving into the beta. Always look down.
The Battlefield 3 beta opens up today, giving everyone a chance to sample Operation Metro, a three stage Rush map that moves from a rambling park, into a dark metro station, and then emerges into the sunlight for a wide open battle in some beautiful Parisian streets. I've been wriggling my way through it for the last days. Here are a few first impressions.
Let's start with the guns. The wild, bucking animals of Bad Company 2 have been tamed. The enormous kickback and inaccuracy of Bad Company 2's weapons encouraged skittish burst fire. In Battlefield 3, an assault rifle will rattle in the hands for the first few shots, and then focus its bullets into a manageable stream. I lost a lot of one on ones in my first few games being too careful with my weapon. Don't be afraid to hold down the fire button and let rip on fully automatic.
The shooting is weighty, satisfying and most importantly, powerful. Soldiers in Battlefield 3 aren't the lead sponges they were in the previous game. Extra caution and judicious use of the prone key are needed to survive open areas. It's not uncommon to see squads running across the greens of the opening section of Operation Metro suddenly dive to the ground in unison as a sniper shot whistles overhead.
Snipers are odd animals in Battlefield 3. It feels as though DICE are concerned that the larger maps will make things too easy for distance specialists. Three measures aim to curb the sniper's dominance. There are no one-shot body kills, even with high level rifles. Scope glint will let the player you're targeting know exactly where you are, and those players can then throw a hail of bullets your way to suppress you, blurring your screen and affecting your accuracy. The starry gleam of a sniper scope looks great and the knowledge that you're being targeted adds an unexpected layer of tension.
One visual effect that doesn't work quite so well is the flashlight add-on. This adds a super-powerful lamp to the barrel of your gun that blinds enemies you're aiming at. If you're on the receiving end, it looks like this:
The only solution is to fire blindly into the light. The downside for the guy using it is that EVERYONE knows where he is, but at close quarters, light can be a devastating weapon. Being blinded and then shot is an annoying way to die.
As expected for a beta, there are rough patches. Crawling around on uneven terrain can cause clipping issues and I've been sniped by a man hiding inside a solid rock. One match, in which every player fell through the floor and battled it out several metres under the world was one of the most surreal fights I've had in a game, but these are all issues that we expect to be cleaned up before release next month.
The beta lets us try out Battlelog for the first time, too. Your profile page on the Battlelog website acts as the main menu for the game. You search for servers and launch new games from links on the page. This caused problems when I pushed the graphics settings too hard. The client would only run a blank screen, but with no options menu outside of the game, it took a re-install to get it working again. Currently, if you want to change any of your settings, you have to get into a match, enter the field of battle, find a safe spot, lie down and then open up the options menu. It's beta, of course, but hopefully this won't be the case in the full game.
There's one thing missing from the beta at the moment. Vehicles. DICE are running a series of passworded instances of the huge 64 player Caspian Border map, and may well open this up later as part of the open beta. That map includes jets, choppers, tanks and light infantry vehicles, and is much bigger than Operation Metro. That's when we'll get a taste of what Battlefield 3 can really be. Right now, it feels like a more streamlined, prettier version of Bad Company 2, with added belly-shuffling and more sensible weapons. Port it into a huge map with jetfights dogfighting above, and it could be incredible.