Electronic Arts has released the second of five planned downloadable content packs for its immensely popular first-person shooter Battlefield 3.
Entitled "Close Quarters", its release is timed to coincide with Battlefield 3 Premium, a new subscription-based player package designed to reward those who are happy to classify themselves as belonging to a more hardcore set.
Essentially, Premium aims to streamline the player experience by including all five scheduled DLC packs, each of which will be coupled with at least two weeks of advanced access. Included as well are an additional 10 assignments that will yield shiny new dog tags to laud over fiscally challenged fighters without a subscription.
The cost may be a valid reason for concern for some; at AUD $49.99 (NZ$59.99) on Origin, AUD $64.95 (NZD $79.95) on PlayStation Network and 4000 MS Points on Xbox LIVE, it's hardly what could be described as cheap. But when considering that it brings the average price of each platform-specific expansion down to somewhere between five and eight dollars, there's actually a lot of value on hand for regular players.
The latest expansion to be released, Close Quarters, consists of four new maps, 10 new assignments and two new modes. As the title would suggest, each of the new maps are designed around the concept of tight, frenetic gunplay in confined locations. It's still possible to set up a well-timed sniper shot from a far-off vantage point, but such tactics are likely to find the player subjected to a barrage of incoming bullets.
It's simply more fun to keep moving, and developer DICE has increased the level of destructible environmental objects in order to facilitate this.
The tighter confines have allowed the Swedish developer to up the ante on what was already a fairly impressive feature of the Frostbite 2 engine. Now, virtually every environmental object can be damaged in some measure, whether that's by chipping away with sustained automatic gunfire, or merely attaching a suitably-placed lump of C4 explosive. No hiding place is safe for long, and accordingly, rounds tend to be a violent mix-up of bullets, explosions, shrapnel and madcap dashes for temporary safety.
Each of the themed maps offer their own twist on this premise. Zilba Tower is an ultra-modern penthouse location that conjures the kind of excess normally featured in a Kanye West music video. That is, until the match starts and the explosive destruction begins.
Operation 925 throws players into a high-stakes battle for survival in a high-end corporate building. Under renovation, this environment requires players to constantly check their periphery as threats will come from any angle, including opportunistic and vertically-advantaged foes willing to sacrifice personal integrity for a sneaky kill. There's a clever contrast between the modern glass-vaulted foyers and half-lit areas under construction, as well as plenty of suitably gloomy locations where enemy players can loom large and gain an advantage over those who haven't mastered the use of tactical lights.
DICE has included a nod to the origins of Battlefield 3 in the Donya Fortress map. This Middle-Eastern inspired level features pock-marked defensive positions, many bearing the scars of well-aimed mortar strikes. Gaping holes provide a perfect vantage point for picking off the enemy, as well as facilitating quick transit between areas. All the better for cleverly-timed games of "hide the knife".
Finally, the Scrap Metal map rounds out the collection by featuring a gritty industrial complex that is so visually different from the other environments, it almost feels like a new game. Two ramped sections between buildings provide chokepoints, and despite each being partially protected from the sides and roof, enough of the structure is blown away to prevent any kind of real shelter from the enemy.
Although all of the previous game modes can be found in Close Quarters, two new modes offer an excuse to break away from the tried and tested to indulge in a wholly new style of combat. Conquest Domination is very similar to the original Conquest mode, except with the capture timer reduced by about 80 percent. Players running off after capturing a point will soon find said point recaptured by the enemy, and because the capture time is so short, there is little to no time to head back and defend. Naturally, this results in a far greater pocket of resistance when trying to retake the point.
The Gun Master mode is a new take on the popular Gun Game mode for Counter-Strike. Players start with a pistol and must manage two kills before being granted access to another weapon. Each additional weapon, be that a semi-auto pistol, shotgun or grenade launcher carries with it an inherent advantage and disadvantage, making for extraordinarily varied gameplay. Before spawning, players can see what level they're currently on, as well as the levels of their competitors, adding an element of strategy to the mix.
Although Battlefield 3 has been available for many months now, there's no appreciable shortage in players willing to step up and experience Electronic Arts' homage to all things combat related. This expansion offers a new experience for a specific user base, and the differentiation from the large-scale maps of the vanilla game simply won't please everyone.
Indeed, Close Quarters may not find favour with grizzled tank commanders or expert snipers, but for those who have been waiting for a tightly-packed, hectic and utterly mad romp through the twisted imagination of DICE, look no further.