The there's Frostbite 2. It deserves its own article, much less its own paragraph. Put simply, it's every bit the revelation DICE boasted, though it's true impact is most telling on the small-to-medium scale rather than the epic one EA felt compelled to show off in the game's marketing.
For instance, the much-vaunted ability to level tower blocks manifests just the once, and still feels inorganic - much like the way the tech was deployed in Crysis 2, for instance. Our favourite mission in the entire game - the peerless Parisian foray that is 'Comrades' shows off Frostbite 2 at its most devastatingly effective.
As you work your way up from car park-level to haute couture office space, you'll gawp as near-photo realistic explosions shake the screen, sending sprinkler systems into panic stations... before our trio of Ruskis emerge into the workplace and reduce the snazzy bureau to a particle-packed wasteland. The theatres of war - from deserts to skies to civvie streets - have never looked this... real. It's almost scary; the terror feels tangible.
BF3 appears to signal that the next step in videogame realism - at least when it comes to blowing stuff up - resides in destructible environments, making a rival shooter like, say, Rage feel both painfully antiquated and impotent.
It's an idea that the original FEAR pioneered half a decade back, but it's finally come to jaw-dropping, bombastic fruition thanks to Frostbite 2. Okay, so the physics engine sometimes has the tendency to go slightly haywire, but these comedic WTF moments are only sporadic.
There's also a visual breadth to, well... battlefields that's simply unparalleled. We bought the farm countless times just because we were too busy standing in stunned reverence at the sheer destroyed majesty of our surroundings.
Crucially, core gunplay is also up there with the class leaders - with kills being particularly, crucially, satisfying. No bullet sponges here either; nick somebody in the vitals and they go down... and stay down. While - if pressed - we'd still tend to lean towards COD when it comes to incredible rag dolls, spot-on hit boxes and 'punchy' gunplay, BF3 is sooo close now... and infinitely nearer to breaking the hegemony than predecessor Bad Company 2.
That said, the mechanics at times feel slightly archaic compared to the engine driving them, almost as if the tech is so special it almost demands similarly ground-breaking gameplay to complement it.
For instance, do we personally think BF3 may have benefited from a sticky cover system? Perhaps - at times the game feels decidedly old-school in its core mechanics - but we'll no doubt get shot down in flames (mostly by the hardcore PC crowd, natch) for even suggesting that, chiefly for the massive impact it'd have on the way multiplayer plays out. Still, it's something for DICE mull over when they do the inevitable deep dive after BF3 has been sitting on shelves for a bit...
Incomparable audio contributes immeasurably to the immersive experience. DICE have always enjoyed a massive reputation in this department, but they've truly surpassed themselves here.
Underpinned by an awesome synth soundtrack (did anyone else immediately think Mass Effect? Perhaps it's not entirely surprising given the two devs - both part of the EA stable - apparently collaborated on sound design), BF3 prefers to eschew the usual rock guitar riffs to focus firmly on the sounds of combat.
The fabulously fleshed-out weapons roster all sounds dizzyingly authentic, explosions rock the room, screams rend the battlefield... gamers with a decent 5.1 (or better) surround setup will revel in an aural feast. Sound design is often underappreciated by gaming critics and gamers alike, but even if you're fairly ignorant when it comes to the various booms and bangs it's impossible not to be smacked of gob here.
The Battlefield series' campaigns have always been unapologetically tricky; fail to respect the enemy and the screen will rapidly fade to black. For this reason it's a mite tricky to discern BF3's length - there are twelve missions in all, but two essentially frame the narrative and whiz past in a jiffy.
Also - even on medium difficulty - we, er, died a hell of a lot. Sorry 'bout that. Eight hours minimum wouldn't seem out of the equation, though... so for you saddos that actually give a fig, it probably beats out Modern Warfare 3 in that department. More importantly, we reckon BF3 could easily stand - and be sold - alone as a beefy single player experience: that's some statement considering it's also packing arguably the greatest multiplayer on planet videogames (more on that post-US release)
Everybody knows it's the girth not the length that counts though (ahem) and, in terms of the missions, around half of the twelve are - for differing reasons - as good as anything we've experienced in the genre. The aforementioned 'Comrades' and 'Kaffarov' are the pinnacle of FPS drama, while - despite its aforementioned disappointing linearity - 'Gone Hunting''s jet segment is - from a visual and immersive standpoint - pant-wettingly exciting.
If BF3's vicariously violent thrills don't help military recruitment drives across the Western hemisphere, we'll eat our sopping-wet trolleys...