Good evening, soldier. We've just got back from the Battlefield 3 frontline, having taken a sound thrashing at the hands of fellow beta participants. The beta? Invites went out to Medal of Honor LE buyers and EA Origin members earlier today. There's a single map on offer, the Paris-based Operation Metro, and it's playable solely in Rush mode, with one team defending pairs of M-COM stations against the other.
All four infantry classes are available, from honest manly frontline Assault troopers to those stinking Recon weasels (guess which class we played most often, and which we were most often killed by). Kills, ability usage and objective-related actions ensure a steady flow of XP to the coffers of the class in play, unlocking new guns, abilities and gadgets.
So far, so Battlefield - but you'll be surprised by how fresh the experience feels, with all sorts of variables putting clear light between the new game and Bad Company 2. We have our doubts about how far the single player has evolved, but the multiplayer is another kettle of fish entirely. Brace for subheadings!
1. Operation Metro is a cut above
The Parisian theatre of war has taken centre stage in most preview coverage, so much so that we suspect you're in danger of getting bored. Un-bore yourself this instant! Operation Metro's a DICE tour de force. Each set of M-COM stations sits in what is effectively a map within the map, from the metro tunnels themselves, with their plethora of shortcuts and treacherous flanking routes through busted train carriages, to the wide-open plaza above, its gleaming high-rises affording tactically advantageous views of both the metro entrance and the defending spawn point. Never before has a Battlefield map layout fluctuated to quite so thrilling a degree.
2. Light/dark contrasts are crucial
We're still getting to grips with Battlefield 3's new environmental touches, but the stand-out is how dramatically shifts in light affect your aim. Prone outside the metro entrance with bipod mounted machinegun primed and ready, we found it difficult to discern targets within, the game simulating the contraction of our irises. Assault players poking their rifles outward had much less of a problem finding us...
3. Unlocks are more frequent
Like Gears 3, Battlefield 3 appears to have taken the importance of drip-fed rewards to heart. After a couple of spawns, for instance, we had the wherewithal to mount a scope on our rifle. Either that or we're just enormously good at this.
4. Movement shows the influence of Mirror's Edge
Mirror's Edge may have an uncertain future, with repeated EA assurances that the franchise has momentum failing to turn up anything concrete, but Faith fans should take heart from Battlefield 3's surging, bouncing implementation of body physics. By dint of hammering A, and assuming you don't clip an edge, you can bum-slide across car bonnets and vault fences in a flurry of khaki leggings. Seamless.
5. Suppression changes CQC utterly
When you're pinned in Battlefield 3, you're really pinned. The screen blurs as bullets chip at nearby objects, castrating your chances of hitting anything over five metres away. Winkling out of the suppression window is extraordinarily difficult - you're better off throwing a frag, digging in and yelling for the cavalry. We're still getting to grips with the mechanic, but we suspect it'll prove divisive: the idea is to simulate panic, but those players who pride themselves on their ability to stay cool under fire will resent the imposition.