What can you do in 10 minutes? You could check your inbox, and maybe send an email or two. You could cook an omelette. You could watch Miracles by Insane Clown Posse, laugh, and then watch it again. You could lose your virginity.
For Battlefield 3, 10 minutes is just enough time for a quick pout and swagger, another step towards the approaching showdown with Modern Warfare 3. You could argue that the game probably doesn't need much more publicity at this stage of proceedings, but hey - if DICE wants to show off its wares, even for just a brief moment, who are we to argue?
The latest cutlet is a sliver of the single-player campaign, a wafer-thin slice of Operation Guillotine. Protagonist Sgt. Blackburn and his chums are hiding in a park in the North of Tehran, and are tasked with meeting up with another unit, Haymaker, before fighting their way further into the city, crossing a canal, and then securing a building. It's FPS 101, really, but that's ok - because this is really an excuse to get a feel for Battlefield's combat.
The demo, which is being shown today on PlayStation 3, takes place at dusk. As the player follows his buddies down a hill, the Frostbite 2 engine does its best to show off its impressive lighting effects, with harsh city lights piercing the evening gloom. For further emphasis, the descent concludes with Blackburn using a mortar to fire an illumination round into the night sky, bathing the urban battlefield in cold blue.
The launching of the mortar itself is almost entirely automated. There's a quick button tap to place the weapon, then the rest is handled by your AI compatriot. Unsurprisingly, there's a fair bit of this sort of semi-cinematic stuff: a single press to clamber onto an ally and up over a wall, and later a few repeat jabs to breach a door. On the evidence of this demo, Battlefield 3 does little to buck the current trends for the genre. Having said that, the typical FPS devices all work very well.
There's a commendable lack of hysteria to the action. The soundtrack restrains itself to an insistent, synth-driven throb, and as the case invariably is with Battlefield game, the sound effects are impeccable. The guns bark, their shots echoing in the dark of the half-ruined city, and it only takes a round or two to snuff out the opposing force, who at times appear to be little more than shadows with guns. The auto-aim seems remarkably generous, all but removing the need to re-target, but thankfully it can be disabled via the options menu; I swiftly do so, if only to delay my rapid progress.
Along with the sound design, the sombre atmosphere is the demo's strongest asset. The level design seems smart, if familiar, leading Blackburn to an entrenched enemy position, around the flanks, and then through an occupied apartment block. When we move indoors, I switch the SCAR-H for a beastly Remington 870 - for those of you who don't speak Gun Nut-ese, this is a pump-action shotgun. It's a good one too, despatching foes with all the single-shot-kill efficiency you'd want from such a tool.
As I emerge from the rear of the building, a marine lies prostrate on the floor as a medic applies a tourniquet. I switch back to the SCAR, but that's it - end of demo. Blackburn clambers into a humvee, and then rumbles off to whatever awaits him.
Even in a 10 minute slice, there's plenty to like about Battlefield 3, though it's hard not to be concerned about the game's unfinished appearance. The graphics themselves are perfectly decent, but there are several signs of work that still needs to be done. Allied soldiers disappear into thin air as they scale the wall at the demo's start, while a brief detour around the back of the apartment block results in all sorts of problems, with large chunks of the world disappearing. It's perfectly normal for preview code to feature issues like these, but it's still a bit worrying given that the game is due out in six week's time.
It's also clear that you're not supposed to be able to make such deviations in the first place. Stray too far from your colleagues and the screen will darken as an on-screen warning slaps you on the wrists; it was likely an error that I was able to get behind the apartment in the first place, as you end up there after you've cleared out the building. I probably shouldn't be surprised by this enforced linearity, but it still feels like a bit of a shame, given the expansive terrain that Battlefield is known for.
Regardless, the game looks good - and perhaps more importantly, it still looks like a genuine contender for the upcoming scrap with Modern Warfare 3. Let's just hope that the console versions get in shape before judgement day arrives.
Battlefield 3 will be released on, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on October 28.