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Battlefield 3: Massive hands-on

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

"Everyone wants there to be a fight between us - and I understand that - but the problem is that if you say it's 'a fight' you're assuming you're competing at the same sport."

So says Patrick Bach, executive producer on Battlefield 3. We're sitting in DICE's gorgeous Stockholm HQ for an exclusive interview, and he's not afraid to offer his candid thoughts on the rivalry with Modern Warfare 3.

"We have so many things in our game that aren't a part of Modern Warfare, so it really comes down to personal preference," he says. "You choose based on the depth you want, the maturity level, your own personal taste... it's all about how you get your fix. We're building the game we want to play, and there are a lot of Battlefield fans who agree with us."

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Those who've already sampled Bad Company 2, or watched the stunning Battlefield 'tank' demo and Modern Warfare's 'Black Tuesday' gameplay from E3, will instantly know what he means. Battlefield and Call Of Duty - despite sharing similar themes and existing within the same genre - are chalk and cheese. While COD thrives on adrenaline, with its arcade-style, twitchy feel, Battlefi eld is a more considered, sharper, smarter shooter.

Unsurprisingly, Bach isn't phased by our Call Of Duty prods. It's a subject he's accustomed to talking about; he even seems to relish it. Furthermore, having sat down and played BF3's multi-player just before our interview, we can understand why he's so full of confidence. It's brilliant. It's no secret PSM3 has backed Battlefield in the past. For many, Bad Company 2 remains the best online shooter available; its smart mix of team-based play, pure shooting, vehicle combat and widespread destruction has enchanted those brave (or knowledgeable) enough to sample it over Call Of Duty's safer, more linear option. Why are we telling you this?

Because, in many ways Battlefield 3 is more of the same. There are tweaks and improvements to the overall formula, and it's all set within a new game engine - Frostbite 2 - that makes it look stunning, but the core Battlefield experience stays the same.

LAST TANGO IN PARIS
Before speaking to Bach - and later Lars Gustavsson, the multi-player lead - we sit down for a few games of Rush. For the uninitiated, Rush asks you to destroy a series of objectives: blow up the M-COM stations in the first part of the map, for instance, and you open up the next phase. Rinse and repeat until the attackers have destroyed all their objectives, or the defenders have shot/blown/stabbed up all the attacking team's respawn tickets.

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It's a Battlefield staple, and as we progress through the Paris map (dubbed Operation Métro) from a beautiful public park, down into the underground system and up into the light again to a commercial street - everything feels familiar. Paris has a neat mix of open areas. We progress from the park's treestrewn open spaces (waterways trickling under ornamental bridges) to tight, concrete-heavy bottlenecks in the ruined Metro, complete with derailed trains and twisting access corridors. It all looks stunning.

Flowers patch the park with colour, the water shimmers and, in the distance, the Eiffel Tower looms over that historic Parisian skyline. It almost seems a shame to smash the place up. The first thing Battlefield veterans will notice is that the spawn/respawn screen has changed. You can now swap between classes on that one screen, so there's no need to back out to fiddle with kit. It's a streamlining exercise, but anything that gets us into the fight quicker works for us. More significant change comes with new classes.

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