The Frostbite 2.0 engine is the feather in DICE's cap, and the Swedish developer tends to wheel out some videos of its raw potential before allowing journalists a chance to see Battlefield 3 in action. It really is a sight to behold: when running on a PC, that's admittedly more expensive than my house, Battlefield 3's take on contemporary warfare is simply unmatched.
As for the Xbox 360 and PS3 version, well, we're only allowed to see that via the YouTube footage of a US talk show.
After numerous presentations of the single-player campaign, clearly going for a considered Generation Kill vibe rather than the bombast of a Michael Bay movie, DICE has finally allowed the world at large to sample the multiplayer offering, albeit with 24 players as opposed to the PC's maximum of 64.
The map - Operation Metro - takes place in downtown Paris. In the single-player campaign this is relevant because the city has been invaded by Russia, but in multiplayer you don't need to worry yourself with messy contemporary politics - all that matters is that there are loads of M-COM stations scattered around each map, and you alternate between really wanting to blow them up and really not wanting them to get blown up.
It's a return of the popular Rush gametype, a mode originally birthed in Battlefield's offshoot Bad Company series. After playing Battlefield 3 it's clear that, while this is definitely not a sequel to Bad Company 2, DICE has rolled many of Bad Company's better features back into the main series.
The other two modes confirmed to be included are Conquest and Team Deathmatch - the latter added in because DICE is well aware it's the most popular multiplayer mode on the planet, and also because it gives you a stomping ground where you can temporarily forget about objectives.
Operation Metro unfolds over four key areas in Rush, opening in a sun-kissed park before progressing into the darkness of the underground, before pushing back outdoors for one final, frantic confrontation. The series' focus on destructible environments is back and more noticeable than ever, and in one instance an explosive dislodged enough scenery to kill a pair of teammates in the wrong place at the wrong time.
DICE's map designers really are some of the best in the business, and twenty minutes with Operation Metro funnels you seamlessly through every design staple of modern map design. The pace is pitch-perfect, and the repeated push for M-Com stations is fraught and tense when playing with equally matched teams.
Engineers get their own flashlight, which is powerful enough to blind other players when close, and Medics - who, in the world of Battlefield, are basically superhuman killing machines - have now been combined with the Assault class to ensure everyone on the frontline has more than a fighting chance.
Scouts, on the other hand, now have the extra burden of having to breathe in before squeezing off deadly accurate rounds. It's a change for the better, encouraging the use of the entire range of classes while still rewarding those who invest due diligence in perfecting the art of faraway attacks.
Finally there's the returning Support class, absent from the Bad Company games, which come with their own stability-enhancing bipod attachments that can be deployed on any surface. Battlefield 3 also includes the ability to suppress enemies, so now peppering bullets around enemies might be almost as important as actually hitting them.
But where are the vehicles? An armoured APC is the only toy available on Operation Metro, and while it comes with its own customisable loadouts and a machine gun powerful enough to turn most enemies into a red spray, it would have been great to see a tank, helicopter or jet. This isn't really a cause for concern, however, as there are plenty of maps still to be announced and it's entirely likely Operation Metro is skewed towards frantic infantry engagements.
You can't get very far into a conversation about Battlefield 3 without somebody mentioning the rivalry with fellow shooter heavyweight Modern Warfare 3, and I'm certainly not helping by bringing it up here. But they're very different games, and Battlefield itself looks set to be very different from its own iconic ancestry. DICE's third effort, at least from a 24-player session on Operation Metro, looks like it's attempting to straddle the middle-ground between Call of Duty's frenzied chaos and Battlefield 2's focus on wide-reaching teamwork.
Battlefield 3 will be released for PC, Xbox 360, and PC on October 28.