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Battlefield 3: Massive hands-on

We spend some quality time with DICE's stunning shooter...

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The traditional Medic is gone: now the Assault class carries all the first-aid gear. The aim is to take the medic's team abilities to the frontline, providing assistance where it's really needed without leaving the class underpowered or slowed by heavy weapons, such as the M60. "We saw it in Bad Company 2," says Lars Gustavsson, one of the few team members to have worked on every Battlefield since the series began, nine years back.

"Medics were rarely equipped to be on the real frontline. It was the Assault class that people took to the front, so it seemed natural to combine the two." There is a trade-off, though. Using the defib paddles now takes a little time - you must hold down the trigger to fire a jolt into your fallen friend - and there's a cool-down period afterwards. Oh, and if you're the person being revived, you have the option to refuse and respawn.

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FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
So what's replaced the Medic? Now you have the Support class, which is essentially the man who carries the big gun. In the demo we played he was equipped with the M249 Light Machine Gun, a badly-named beast of a weapon with its own bipod, which deploys when you go prone and hit the aim trigger. The animation is slick and strangely satisfying - we get distracted mid-fi ght just playing with it. At first we felt Support was just there to make up the numbers, to dish out ammo and shoot down light helicopters, but we were wrong.

Support is the king of the new suppression fire system. Here, if someone is spraying you with bullets it puts your character under stress, something evinced with screen shake and blur. It's a subtle effect, but it means if you're getting battered by constant fi re you can't just pop out and fire off a clean headshot... well, not without substantial skill. You're also rewarded for suppression in the same way you are for spotting - with XP - adding further tactical depth. Now you're rewarded for keeping enemies pinned down while your teammates sneak, say, up a tunnel, or move to flank the opposition. It seems a small thing, perhaps, but when the community get hold of it, expect some smart, smart play.

Recons and Engineers remain roughly the same, although each class now has many more customisation options - it's all part of DICE's unofficial motto of 'Play Your Way'. So if you want to go pure Assault by equipping more grenades and body armour, by having red-dot scopes instead of telescopic ones, that's up to you. However, the developers are well aware that excessive customisation can lead to the dreaded 'super-class,' so they're monitoring testing closely.

"We constantly look to see if we have combinations of kit, weapons and abilities that give a big advantage," says Gustavsson. "Battlefield is a rock-paper-scissors game - there shouldn't be a silver bullet, a combo that you can always pull out to win."

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There certainly isn't. Each area of the Paris map calls for clever use of different classes. We start with the Engineer and immediately sprint towards the LAV-25, Battlefield 3's latest multi-wheeled toy. It's similar to the APCs of Bad Company 2, with a beefy driver-controlled cannon, a secondary machinegun mounted on top and several passenger seats (four) with side-mounted guns. It's a prickly porcupine of death, and rolling in it makes you feel powerful in a way no other quite manages to replicate.

The cannon makes satisfying booms, which admittedly sound feeble next to the throaty cannon of the tanks in the single-player footage, while the top-mounted machinegun makes a racket like the locks on the doors of judgement day. Until, that is, it's taken out by an anti-tank missile. Vehicle damage works a little differently, as now a tank or APC can be disabled before it's destroyed - it won't move, but the guns still operate. So, hitting the LAV-25 in the side might stop it moving, but it won't kill everyone inside until you finish it off.

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