The nineties had Mario and Sonic, the noughties brought us Guitar Hero versus Rock Band, and now? Now we've got Battlefield going up against Call of Duty in the war of screaming men, waged by two publishers who shout just as hard and twice as loud.
It's a fight Activision's nonplussed about but one that EA's spoiling for, and the tale of the tape at this year's E3 was fascinating in itself. Modern Warfare 3's on-stage demo was a short sharp shot of everything that Call of Duty has come to mean: an aggressive spectacle where World War III is a skybox for a very violent yet undeniably alluring game of whack-a-mole.
Battlefield 3, on the other hand, would like to paint itself as the more considered side of the coin. The game's E3 demo was relatively plodding, a Jarhead to Modern Warfare 3's Team America, and the choice of location for the game's behind-closed-doors multiplayer reveal makes that sentiment all the more explicit; whereas Infinity Ward has taken a wrecking ball to New York for its latest, here DICE takes Paris as the backdrop for its own take on modern warfare.
The message would seem to be that Battlefield 3's the more refined, more cultured and more European choice. It's certainly the prettiest, and the startling promise of the game's early teaser videos is delivered upon fully - although this is done on PCs that look like they'd comfortably house a family of four and would require an appropriate mortgage (hands-on with console versions is a privilege currently reserved for US chat show hosts).
With the heavy script of the single-player thrown out of the window, it's short of a little shock and awe, but the basic spectacle is intact. DICE's Frostbite 2 engine brings a handsome Paris noon to life, and this particular map does its best to show the game's lighting model at work in every situation. A lush urban park is lit by bright midday sunshine, from which players storm the subterranean metro that's best navigated by the beam of a torchlight, before returning to fight between shop fronts that crumble with delightful conviction.
It's a chance for Frostbite 2 to flex its muscle and parade its subtly improved destructibility, an area that DICE helped to pioneer with the Bad Company games and one that, for all of its profound impact on second-to-second play, has seen surprisingly little pick-up elsewhere in the genre.
The sound is dominated by the piercing chink of cracking tiles in the Metro station as a ticket hall is slowly degraded in a pitched firefight, while out on the streets, cascading facades can now cause physical harm. It's an addition that feels like an acknowledgement of one of Bad Company 2's greatest thrills, wherein it was possible to level whole buildings and obliterate entire squads that were seeking cover within.
The map is also a showcase for DICE's design skills; the seasoned multiplayer cartographers have a wonderful knack for orchestrating the chaos of battle through canny architecture. Playing host to Rush mode, the Operation Metro map is multi-tiered, with the capturing of M-Com points unlocking new areas. There's a well-maintained pace to the match that plays out, the opening park enabling squads to organize their attacks and capitalize on several flanking positions before funnelling the fight into the claustrophobic confines of the metro. The noisy climax in the streets above is a fitting end to a squad's hard work.
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