Developing a big-budget shooter in 2011 is like performing in a soap opera; you've got winners and villains, people to feel sorry for, and it certainly doesn't hurt if you ham it up a little. It is important to back up the pomp and spectacle of this drama with some actual gameplay footage, though, so while EA CEO John Riccitiello was up on stage in New York telling advertisers how Battlefield 3 was designed to "take down" Activision's Call of Duty series, developer DICE was in London showing off the GDC 2011 footage which made such a splash to begin with.
Powering the game is the Frostbite 2 engine, which has been expressly designed to do stuff with things like shaders and real-time lighting that my tiny brain doesn't quite understand. What I can tell you, with absolute certainty, is that if a developer has constructed an impressive new engine for a highly anticipated military FPS, one which combines swanky animations with top-tier physics and destruction, it's probably a safe bet to assume big explosions are a case of when and not if.
In the case of Battlefield 3, DICE's latest manages to keep its impeccably modelled architecture out of an explosive blast radius for about five minutes - in the skittish world of the modern military shooter, however, five minutes feels like two weeks. The demo, set in the Iraq border town of Sulaymaniyah, is cut into three sections, all involving military actions that I really wouldn't ever want to be involved in. The finished game also promises to take players to, and then presumably destroy chunks of, Tehran, Paris, and New York.
There's no indication yet whether this globe-trotting will be done in the multiple-character style favoured by Call of Duty, but in Sulaymaniyah you're thundering around as military man Henry "Black" Blackburn, a nickname so unimaginative it proves how four years of endless modern shooters has truly caused the well of naming inspiration to completely dry up.
We're looking at this carefully selected piece of footage running on a PC powerful enough to blow a hole in the space-time continuum - the game hasn't been shown on consoles yet, but DICE is promising great things - and the whole demo is designed to proudly boast just how much Frostbite 2 improves on its predecessor. The opening scene, for instance, is a close-up shot of your squad arriving in an APC, and your three companions veer involuntarily to the right as the vehicle brakes. It's a lovely little feat of animation, and a perfect showcase of the new animation capabilities of Frostbite 2.