Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The Fog of War: Notes from the Battlefield 3 Beta
It's hard to tell, but to be honest, I'm not optimistic. I've been in a bit of a visual design mood lately, and because of this, certain aspects of BF 3's visual presentation stood out. Complex, fast-paced games need readable, navigable on-screen information systems, especially on a console where control inputs are limited. Unfortunately, BF 3 does a sub-par job of conveying crucial information.
The in-game HUD is pretty, but its symbols and numbers could be redesigned to be more readable. Instead of denoting grenades with "G," why not use a widely-recognizable pictogram? Implementing this symbol would also allow for multiple grenade types with different physical profiles. It took me a while to figure out that the three dots near the ammo count represent the gun's firing rate. Changing them to be shaped like bullets would have communicated their significance much more quickly, as it would be clear that a group of bullets meant auto-fire while a single-bullet meant a single shot.
The health percentage number is interesting, but is usually irrelevant, as a few bullets is enough to kill you and your health is also denoted by visual distortion. A simple health bar would have sufficed and had the added bonus of offering a visual representation of how damaging a particular attack is, rather than forcing the player to try to keep track of the numbers in their head.
Much of the game's encounters hinge on seeing enemies from afar and constantly monitoring distant terrain. Unfortunately, the mini-map's position in the lower-left corner of the screen draws your eyes away from the horizon. Of course, this may be by design, but it still makes maintaining situational awareness difficult.
The loadout screens also fail to make practical use of screen space. When cycling through weapon and item options on the class selection screen, you have to press a button to display the possible options for each weapon and piece of hardware. The menu that pops up inhabits what was previously empty space, so why hide it in the first place? Similarly, the more detailed weapon views only show you one weapon and one set of accessories at a time. Getting a description or changing require button presses that completely replace what you just had on the screen, thereby making it difficult to compare equipment without inadvertently changing it. Making more efficient use of space by employing pop-up menus or multiple columns would be faster and more informative for new players.
Large-scale communications problems also detracted from my experience. Jorge and I attempted to join each other for a game, but without an in-game invite notification system or the ability to back out to a lobby without quitting the entire game resulted in a comedy of errors. Even if you successfully team up with a partner, BF 3's huge maps and objective-focused rules make a anyone without a good headset a liability. Ideally, you could learn from your mistakes and modify your tactics after you are killed. However, the game's ridiculously zoomed-in kill cam act mainly as a showcase for how weird the game's animation looks from a third-person perspective. Of course, not all shooters need copy Modern Warfare, and I can see the philosophical argument against kill cams, but I'd rather have a static scorecard than the headache-inducing, jittery view that follows a death.
Admittedly, these criticisms are very specific (some might say "nit-picky"). BF 3 is a solid game with impressive scope and I can see its appeal. However, when you're trying to go head-to-head with Modern Warfare, simply being "solid" doesn't cut it. A polished experienced is crucial, especially in the console space where other colossi like Halo and Gears of War roam.
Still, the Battlefield 3 beta did hint at a couple of secret weapons the game can use in its campaign for shooter domination. No other game can claim to have bionic aircraft technology:
And if the following clip is any indication, there seems to be some sort of "demon spawn" character class that I failed to unlock: