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Battlefield 3 is a critical game for the comeback of Electronic Arts. And today, at EA’s E3 press event, gamers got a first good look at the way the game will play when it launches on Oct. 25.

EA is eager to prove it can beat Activision Blizzard in the first-person shooter business, which has become one of the most competitive markets in all of video games with a punishing schedule for game developers. Billions of dollars are at stake, and the winner will capture some of the most hardcore fans for any product in any market.

EA said that a multiplayer demo of the game will be available in September. On stage, it showed off a tank battle in the middle of a huge desert. The combat looked incredibly realistic, and the audio in the crowded Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles was deafening. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a tank battle look so realistic. After a stretch of normal combat, the scene switched to a night vision view of the battle. The tank battle was a great scene for EA to single out because it’s a weak point of Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty games.

The second part of the battle focused on the view from aboard an airborne gunship. The quality of the animation was awesome and it looks like EA is hitting the target with this game.

This fall, EA will launch Battlefield 3, its latest entry in the great feud between EA and Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty series. As you can see from the images, the graphics are startlingly realistic. This means that EA has been busy, investing millions upon millions of dollars in better computer graphics and larger development staffs in an attempt to knock Call of Duty, the best-selling game of the holidays for the past couple of years running, off its throne. The latest Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 title will debut Nov. 8 along with a new social network called Call of Duty Elite.

EA released new scenes of Battlefield 3 today at the E3 trade show in Los Angeles. As you can see from the images, combat games are pushing the absolute edge in realistic graphics technology, whether you hate violent games or not. Good or bad, this is the state of the art.

You can tell that this competitive battle is a huge one just by looking at the frequency with which each company is now launching major games. Activision Blizzard is now launching a major Call of Duty game every November and it follows that up with a couple of multiplayer map pack launches in the subsequent months. EA launched its  Medal of Honor game in October 2010, and it launched its Battlefield Bad Company 2 game in March, 2010.

That’s a punishing release schedule. This means that each company has multiple teams working on the titles, which take tens of millions of dollars to make and a team of maybe 100 people working for two years. With the multiple teams at work, each company can now release a major title every year or even more often than that.

The game is being made by EA’s Digital Illusions CE (DICE) studio in Sweden. That studio has toiled on the Battlefield series since it began. With Battlefield 3, DICE has upped its game considerably, shifting from games that really did used to look like video games, with all of their clear flaws that reduced the feeling of realism. But the scenes that EA is showing off now look more like a movie or a combat video.

The new Battlefield game is set in Iraq, near the Iranian border, in the year 2014. As you can see from the trailer, U.S. Marines are engaged in pacification efforts in the middle of a city. The graphics are pretty darn stunning and are among the most realistic I’ve seen. You can look closely at the see-through smoke, the facial hair on the soldiers, the dancing flames, the sunlight coming through the windows, the shadows, the haze in the city.

Normally, video game companies make a scene look more sexy with pre-canned animations that are more like computer-generated films than actual game play. But as you can see when the action starts in this firefight, the live game play is almost indistinguishable from the look of the scripted sequence. That’s the mark of a very realistic video game experience.

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