It's a bizarre certainty that whilst games may frequently have a lead platform, one can never be sure as to which hardware the game will be demonstrated on at any given time.
Having spun the triangular winning wheel and drawn the PlayStation 3 as the preferred platform for this particular press event, it's clear Electronic Arts is keen to push the narrative and close-quarter combat rather than showing the sort of eye-melting vistas we've seen in the PC version.
For all their blustering of late, EA has good reason to concentrate on the pure mechanics of this ferociously anticipated shooter. Where Call of Duty may strike at the heart of the action-focused, multiplayer-enthused FPS fan, so Battlefield must find a point of differentiation on the console, and it's here that this demonstration of Operation Guillotine aims to underline this tactic.
Lying in a small gutter atop a hill in the middle of the night may qualify as the end of a good evening for some, yet here a sombre procession of troops anticipate hastily barked orders from a radio. These instructions mark the beginning of a stealth attempt to infiltrate an apartment complex in the besieged city of Tehran below. Playing as marine Sgt. Blackburn, the first orders are to clear a path to allow another battalion – company Misfit – to rendezvous below. Tension builds until the squad is ordered down the incline at a steady pace, joining previously unseen allies in an effort to dash to cover several hundred metres away.
Naturally, nothing is ever that easy in combat. Mortar rounds rain down, copping several presumably unimportant squad members along the way. The sense of fear is palpable; nearby explosions upend miscellaneous terrain, and light streaks from incoming rounds carve a trail through the sky. The pandemonium of a hundred tiny effects are all synchronised to create a war experience easily able to match the very best available this generation.
Once this charge reaches a forward defensive position next to a concrete wall, it's time to return fire. Several mortars are hastily constructed, the process driven by a simple button push at the right location. After this low-level attempt at retribution for the loss of several squad members, it's time to vault the defensive wall and deal with the enemy from a more horizontal perspective.
Illuminating various gun emplacements through the thick incoming mortar fire and enemy muzzle flashes, it's necessary to break out a SCAR-L rifle and ACOG scope whilst AI-controlled teammates throw grenades with varying levels of success. By sweeping out these entrenched positions, forward movement to the apartment block becomes possible, cleaning up any straggling enemies along the way.
Controller preference aside, shooting mechanics are smooth and functional, never allowing the auto-aim to unduly compromise the overall feel during intense combat. By tweaking the sensitivity, it's possible to get a wide sweep using the thumbsticks, and as the scope reticule features smooth magnification and exceptional detail, even long-range kills are satisfying to obtain.
Enemy combatants are not without intelligence; some actively take over machine gun emplacements after witnessing their comrades fall. Some even spring from the apartment complex itself, however are swiftly cut down by the combined firepower of several dozen severely psychotic allied squaddies, and one in particular who felt that an appropriate entrance can only really be made with an incendiary grenade.
Anything but a cake-walk, the apartment block is bristling with hemmed-in targets, remnants of a campaign we have no narrative knowledge of. Enemies they are, however, so swiftly moving from room to room liberally (and on occasion, deftly) lobbing grenades as an icebreaker seems to do the trick. Here the AI controlled physics appear strong, as foes stumble around after the concussion, falling out of windows and allowing themselves to be cut down.
Blocked doors require swift tapping of the circle button to breach, typically leading to slow-motion scenes where it's possible to retaliate to jack-in-the-box enemies within a short time window. The exploration continues through the ground floor as each room is searched, and all enemies dealt with.
Following the fumigation of the apartment block, Blackburn exits to a Humvee while other troops are hastily patched up by medics. The short demonstration ends there – bare minutes of play revealing a surprisingly coherent and compelling mission very much centred on squad-based tactics and efficient close-quarter combat. There's no indication of grandiose effects such as collapsible terrain or sweeping cinematic set pieces, more a concerted effort to show that Battlefield 3 isn't entirely out to trounce the competition based on mere performance alone.
With an open beta about to start on all platforms, Electronic Arts will finally place one of the most anticipated titles of this hardware generation in the hands of fans the world over.
There's no doubt that, with the commitment to detail witnessed in this demo, fans are likely to discover one of the most impressive shooters to date, and it stands to reason that EA will be looking forward to an outstanding launch come October 27.