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Battlefield 3: Massive hands-on

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

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DICE hope the gradual wearing down of the vehicle's abilities will allow passengers more chance to disembark, keeping them alive longer. Ground-based vehicles regenerate health too, even without the aid of a Repair tool (no word on helis or jets), although don't expect them to survive longer under sustained fire.

Back in Paris we fi nish off the M-COM stations in the park, only to see a series of explosions rip a hole in the ground, exposing the Métro system. We pour in, but here the going is all tight corridors and blind bends. Our Engineer is dispatched quickly. We respawn as a Support soldier, position ourselves by a choke point, go prone and squeeze the trigger.

NOOB TUBE
The M249 echoes deafeningly around the subway - DICE's award-winning sound design remains glorious - and the points start to fl ood in: +10 Suppression, +100 Enemy Down, +50 Kill Assist, another +10 for Suppression, another +100... it's like going on a Bad Company 2 tank rampage. Without the tank. We're only brought to a stop when one of DICE's QA testers, clearly hacked off with the suppression of a haughty journalist, flanks us, blows up the wall we're pressed against and knifes us in the back. Ouch. With that he claims our Dog Tags, which now display our PSN ID, a small picture and a personal stat: think Tank Kill total or your online rank.

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It's a nice touch - it feels, when you steal them from an enemy, like you're taking something really personal from them. Besides their dignity, of course. We make short work of the two M-COM phases inside the Métro and emerge, blinking, for the fi nal fi ght in the streets of Paris. Interestingly, you can take out the lights, plunging whole corridors into darkness before equipping a rifl e-mounted flashlight and using it to blind unwitting enemies.

Back outside, we make a sprint for a nearby apartment but are stopped in our tracks as an RPG smashes into the building, bringing down the corner in a shower of massive concrete lumps. "Wow, you're pretty lucky," says a watching dev, leaning over with a raised eyebrow. "If that fell on you, you'd be dead." This destruction isn't just for show - you can remove the entire frontage from all the buildings at the end of the Paris stage. Shaken and stirred, we press on inside. The street below is swarming with enemies, so we start picking them off with our freshly spawned Recon (sniper) grunt.

Our cover doesn't last long, though. Rockets stream in, removing the front of the building bit by bit. It's an incredible sight - Red Faction-beating destruction, done in a game as handsome as Killzone 3, running as smoothly as Modern Warfare. It's the final proof that Battlefield 3 is the shooter to beat this year - by some way.

SACRÉ BLEU
Back in our interview, we try drawing out Patrick Bach on some of BF3's other features. He reveals a dedicated co-op mode, running over ten unique maps and supporting two players, pointing to a completely separate campaign. He also tells us a little about Battlelog, a community/stat service similar to Need For Speed's Autolog, which persistently tracks your stats and keeps you updated on what your friends are doing. He even notes, pointedly, that it'll be free - a sly dig at Activision's Call Of Duty Elite service, which requires subscription.

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Bach rounds it up by talking briefly about single-player, although keeps plot details to himself. The snatches we've seen so far are designed to set the tone for the solo campaign, rather than give clues about what might be happening. Given the presence of Russian militants in multi-player, however, expect more than just a 'straight' modern war story. It all adds up to Battlefield 3 being one hell of a chunky proposition, and that's how DICE want it. "If you pay £50 for something, you demand the full package," says Bach. "Otherwise you can always buy another game that'll give you more hours of entertainment."

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