Battlefield 3 PC Multiplayer, a Far Better Place to Hangout

"Is this re-spawn on enemy thing driving anyone else crazy?" Yes, Odiepookah13, it's sure driving me crazy. Also: the guys in the Ventrillo room I was using last night while playing Battlefield 3 online, putting it through its paces. We died, then we died some more, "deploying" smack in the middle of unfriendly fire. That's a problem, I'm sure you'd agree, though it's the only serious one we ran into playing through various modes and maps. In fact the PC launch of EA/DICE's love letter to online team-frag wonks was pretty much hitch-free, from my vantage anyway.

You probably know how multiplayer works, but just in case, here's what's on tap at launch: There's the all-out vehicle-intensive Conquest mode, Rush mode with its area-unlock objectives, the reappearance of Team Deathmatch for the first time since Battlefield 1942, Squad Deathmatch with an IFV (infantry fighting vehicle) that can break deadlocks, and Squad Rush, which is basically Rush mode on a much smaller scale. Five ways to play, or up to "45 distinctly different multiplayer experiences," according to EA/DICE. I spent most of last night in Team Deathmatch, though sifting through the U.S. server lists, Conquest is clearly still the most popular mode.

How does it look? Insert some choice superlatives here and that's how it looks, i.e. like a proper late-2011 cutting-edge PC game should. Need I say more? Speaking of, my gripes about the console version's graphical aliasing at distances and that screwing up target-sighting are allayed at 1680 x 1050 pixel resolution with texturing et al. set to "ultra," antialiasing set to "high," and 16x anisotropic filtering. I'm betting most of you picked this up on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, and I can't say enough how much you're missing, not to mention compromising in terms of control, playing with a gamepad instead of a keyboard and mouse. If you must, you must—you want to go "where everybody knows your name," I get it—but contrasting versions really drives home the compromises we've made, abandoning cutting edge PC gaming for half-a-decade-old set-top boxes.

(MORE: Battlefield 3's Pretty, Messy, Tedious Solo Campaign)

Most of last night, my group spent getting acquainted (and reacquainted) with the game's classes and weapons, and learning the maps. The servers we played on were set to hardcore rules: friendly fire on, no visual player identifiers, no in-game maps, etc. That's the way to play this game, by the way, figuring out how to work in a squad and coordinating with your team, instead of running around like it's 1996 and you're still playing Quake (which, alas, many players do).

The maps we encountered ranged from small to mid-sized, most crammed with one or two story buildings and at least one single-entrance, king-of-the-mountain-style snipe spot. Figuring out which buttons do what and why is up to you. We spent much of last night mapping out the interface, figuring out SHIFT-F1 brings up the in-game Origin overlay, or that 'J' conjures global chat and 'F' swings your knife. You'd think by now there'd be a tutorial for newcomers, even an in-game wall of text, since there's no manual. There's the strategy guide, but that seems a little much if all you're after's the basic stuff. Don't roll your eyes, Battlefield vets—you, of all people, know how ridicuously complex this game can be, and the idea's to win over new players, not scare them off, isn't it?

Speaking of, another quibble with the PC version: how the game loads. After double-clicking the Battlefield 3 shortcut, you'll watch EA's Origin client load, which brings up a Steam-like "Beta" window, which then loads your default web browser. The first time you do this, you may have to download a special browser plugin (my default's Chrome, and I did). And then the game loads, right? Wrong. Now you're looking at The Battlefield 3 Social Network, a browser-based interface that's part menu screen, part Facebook. Below the "campaign" and "multiplayer" buttons, there's a Battle Feed that looks like Facebook's update feed, complete with comments and a "Hooah!" (think "Like") option.

But you just want to play, right? Patience, young padawan, you're still a few clicks away. Click "launch campaign" up top and a "game manager" tells you it's "loading level..." and then—finally—the game's unskippable EA/Frostbite 2/Dolby logos load. "Press enter to begin," says the game. What? Why? Okay...and then—you thought we were finished?—click "campaign" again, elect to "resume," "start new," or "continue," and after another load screen, you're finally in the game. The most convoluted game launch process in history? Perhaps. In any case, it sure seems silly. Maybe there's a shortcut in the install folder, I haven't looked. But I shouldn't have to, should I? What if you just want to bypass the social network business and play?

You can't, because here's the other catch: If you're invited (or want to invite others) to join a server, you have to do it through...the browser interface! At least that's how it worked last night, testing with a friend. If you're in the game, all loaded up, and someone sends you an invite, you're not prompted within the game proper. You have to ALT-TAB out of the game, cycle over to the browser screen, and click to "join" (or "decline"). Now maybe we were doing something wrong, or we ran into a bug. I can't say. But if what I'm describing is how it's supposed to work, then it doesn't work, because that's kind of ridiculous.

That said, I can't wait to give Conquest a proper go tonight and delve further into other modes like co-op. We burned through the first two co-op missions last night—one team defend, one vehicle/helicopter sortie—and unlocked "Exfiltration," an escort mission, before signing off. I'm also expecting DICE to patch the respawn-on-enemy glitch mentioned above soon. It was happening to everyone, judging from the chat outbursts and expletives popping up in nearly every one of the maps.

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