Battlefield 3: Close Quarters – The Missing Part of the Equation.

Huge arenas full of tanks, infantry vehicles, jets and choppers. That is the description of a typical Battlefield 3 map. To go alongside the huge maps that incorporate extensive vehicular gameplay, Battlefield 3 also has a selection that are lessened in size and more infantry-based, whilst sometimes still retaining some semblance of vehicle combat, such as Seine Crossing and Grand Bazaar. However, what Dice’s epic multiplayer shooter has been missing are maps that are significantly smaller, condensed and more akin to a Call of Duty game than a Battlefield one. The latest DLC, titled Close Quarters, has rectified that by introducing four new maps that strip away what makes a typical Battlefield map and introduce something foreign in its place. And do you know what? It works. 

For those of you who are unaware, Close Quarters is currently available only to members of the Battlefield Premium service, at least on the Xbox 360 and at the time of writing this. I initially stated, during E3 week, that I was totally uninterested in what Premium had to offer and had no intentions of purchasing it. However, last week I changed my mind and became a member and there are multiple reasons that influenced my change of mind that I will discuss during this post. Premium is not an embodiment of evil like some people would have you believe, that I can tell you. 

Coming back to the contents of Close Quarters and it’s forgiveable to be sceptical of this new, albeit temporary, change in direction from Dice regarding the Battlefield tried-and-tested formula. Call of Duty has dominated the shooter genre for many years and continues to do so and as such, many other developers have attempted to replicate the success it has achieved. Battlefield has, for the most part, remained fairly adamant that the big, open-space battles are what it wants to continue with. That being said, Battlefield 3 already has a wide roster of enormous constructions to fulfil that side of the spectrum, such as the gigantic Caspian Border and Operation Firestorm. Although Battlefield will always remain a franchise famous for its startling size and scale, it doesn’t help to condense the combat into smaller pockets of action and until now, Battlefield 3 had no way of doing so. Close Quarters provides an opposite to the Caspian Borders and the Operation Firestorms and in doing so, it finally fulfils the third part of the equation it has been missing.

Close Quarters introduces four new maps for rabid Battlefield fans to absorb: Ziba Tower, Operation 925, Donya Fortress and Scrapmetal. Although some may compare these creations to those featured in Call of Duty, the size and verticality are vastly different to what you’d see there. These maps are smaller but only in Battlefield terms; they’re still somewhat large but don’t quite feel as such when you’re playing them. As large as they may seem, however, the player count is restricted to sixteen – down from the twenty four that console versions of Battlefield 3 typically enjoy. Rest be assured that it’s a good thing that those extra eight slots haven’t been filled because the reduced size and scale make for a frenetic, action-packed experience which will rarely leave you free from oncoming gunfire, and this is with sixteen players. With the full amount, there’s no telling how many ways you would get slaughtered from all directions and how many times you would spawn and trip over a grenade that’s landed at your feet.

Out of all four maps introduced with Close Quarters, none particularly stand out as being anything less than acceptable. Ziba Tower’s long corridors make for a claustrophobic combat experience.

Donya Fortress’ multiple layers and overlooking balconies promote a certain degree of caution among the fire and brimstone raining from all directions. Scrapmetal features two separate sections of an industrial factory that are connected by multiple bridges, forcing most of the action to be contained within these single-corridor confines. Operation 925 has an office environment that can be rapidly ripped to shreds with every bullet and explosive shrapnel that hits it, tearing the walls apart and transforming the area from pristine condition into a wasteland of paper, debris and death. 

Each of the new creations in Close Quarters share a single theme, in that they’re relatively small and condensed compared to regular Battlefield maps, but they each manage to retain something that feels unique to them. The end result is a collection of maps that contain variety and hours of enjoyment to be experienced, as well as different experiences to absorb within a familiar universe. Playing an epic match on Caspian Border and then switching to a match on one of the above maps is a huge change of play-style and it’s fantastic, and much welcomed in a game where you can sometimes spend more time running between objectives rather than actually shooting folk. 

Whilst the four new maps each bring something new to the table as far as gameplay experiences and map design go, they’re not without problems of their own. Luckily there aren’t many but they are still worth mentioning. One such example is the A objective on Ziba Tower, which is always so hotly contested that I once sat in a corner and watched as around ten grenades each went off around the flag in less than twenty seconds, not to mention the fact that it’s only accessible by two staircases and a long, single-file corridor that are all easily camped by enemy forces. Most matches I’ve played on Ziba Tower have featured excessive action around this objective and although it sometimes makes for an exhilarating experience, it’s frustrating just as much and occasionally results in the remainder of the map feeling unused and abandoned.

Another noticeable problem is Donya Fortress and the location of the C flag. The objective is situated on the centre of the lower level with a surrounding balcony encompassing it from above. One problem I have run into multiple times, and it may just be one I’ve been unfortunate to experience, is that an enemy will often neglect to go for the objective when he has the chance and instead choose to lay down at the top of the balcony and pick off anybody that attempts to go for it. He’ll also be heavily concealed by the fencing to disguise his position. It’s even more frustrating when an entire enemy team partakes in this behaviour. 

Before Close Quarters was released, Dice appeared to show us, via numerous gameplay trailers, that the environments of these new maps were so heavily destructible that you could create holes in walls that poked through to the other side and similar scenarios. Whilst this is possible in certain areas, it’s extremely easy to be massively underwhelmed at just how indestructible these maps are compared to the descriptions given prior to release. Only Operation 925 actually impresses with how much you can alter the surroundings with your bullets and explosions, whilst the others feel fairly rigid in comparison. 

Regardless of a few problems that are mostly to do with a design flaw or behaviour of a player, which we’re unfortunate in that we can’t patch them out, the four maps on offer do provide a different experience than one expects from a Battlefield game. People shouldn’t worry about the franchise going smaller and more close quarters-like in the future because as good as these creations are, they’re not typical Battlefield and you can feel that when you’re playing them. As a one-off expansion pack, however, they provide a different side to Battlefield that we’ve been unable to see so far and they function perfectly well in that role. 

Not content with just offering new maps in their expansion pack, Dice has also introduced a host of new weapons to use, along with their own attachments and the like to unlock. Such examples would be the Aug A3 assault rifle, the Spas-12 shotgun, M5K sub-machine gun and a selection of new sniper rifles and light-machine guns. There are no particular duds in the selection, although I have to say that it’s slightly disappointing that most of them have gun sounds that are barely any different to existing weapons, which doesn’t make them as unique as they could have been. For example, the Aug A3 sounds just like any other assault rifle in the game and it’s noticeable as well. Surely it wouldn’t have been too much trouble to introduce different sounds to go along with them? We all know that guns go pew pew pew but they don’t have to sound the same. 

Close Quarters, not content with introducing new maps and weapons, also brings in new game-modes to play them on and although they’re not anything different to what we’ve seen in other games, they work as well as can be expected. Unfortunately, you cannot play rush mode on these new maps (something I was looking forward to doing but I suppose they’re easily camped on so it’s wise that you can’t) but the new conquest-domination utilises the fast-paced action of the maps to great enjoyment. The name of it says it all really: there are three flags located on the map which you must capture just like in conquest mode. The difference is that they’re faster to capture compared to regular conquest, increasing the pace and action significantly. Also, on maps like Operation 925 that have multiple levels, the positioning of the objectives is such that you’re forced to explore these different layers if you want to succeed. It’s an extremely fun and out-of-breath experience that works brilliantly on the reduced map sizes. 

The most noticeable new inclusion, however, would be ‘Gun Master’. The premise is that you must get two kills with a weapon before progressing to the next weapon. The objective is to progress to the end of the weapon calendar before anybody else and consequently win the match. I can already hear you saying ‘it sounds like Gun Game from Call of Duty’ and it’s clear that inspiration has been taken from there, but there is something about Gun Master that feels wholly different. It’s possible that the two kills required for each weapon, as opposed to one on CoD, makes it this way or perhaps it’s the fact that Battlefield plays different to its competitor. Either way, Gun Master sounds, plays and ends like a match of Gun Game and works just as well. The only problem is joining a match that’s been in progress for several minutes and finding that you’re twelve guns away from the leading player and after all, who likes playing a game they know they have zero chance of winning at?

When you look over what Close Quarters offers, it’s enough to warrant the title of ‘expansion pack’. They’ve introduced a big roster of new weapons and maps that take place in a familiar universe but offer widely different experiences within, allowing for a change in pace that’s so significant from the regular Battlefield 3 maps that it has the potential to overwhelm or underwhelm. The next expansion pack, titled ‘Armoured Kill’, is released in September and from the gameplay footage that has been shown at E3, the reduced map sizes of Close Quarters are a thing of the past. We’re being promised the ‘biggest map in Battlefield history’, as well as new vehicles and an AC130 that looks very interesting. Close Quarters was a terrific, temporary change in direction and we’ll be back to normality come September.

Now, as I mentioned earlier in this post, the only way to currently get your hands on Close Quarters, before 26th June anyway, is to be a member of Battlefield Premium, which has been on sale for a few weeks now. It’s priced at 4000 Microsoft points so it’s not a purchase to be taken lightly but whether or not it offers anything of interest to you depends on whether you’re interested in playing any of the expansion packs. If you’re not, it won’t be worth bothering with. 

During E3 week, when Premium was officially confirmed, I was adamant that it offered nothing for me, but that was a premature reaction to something that seemed massively expensive for what it was. However, I have always had every intention on purchasing any and all downloadable content for Battlefield 3 and as such, pre-purchasing all of it for a price that’s less than what I’d pay to buy them separately was a worthwhile deal. The other features are merely added benefits. Premium is, at heart, a DLC season pass and many games have employed a use of this harmless feature in the past. 

I’ve seen many people saying that Premium divides the community in two, with one side having unfair advantages over the other based on how much money they can part with, and I disagree entirely. If anything, the weapon packs that were released a while ago that you can purchase, that allow you to unlock all weapons and equipment without even playing, have a bigger ability to give people an advantage because they’re willing to spend more. Premium really doesn’t provide its members with a significant advantage over the other folk. Priority server access is irrelevant as you can choose to find another server if you wish, and this weekend’s Premium-only double-XP weekend has proceeded a free-for-all weekend that took place last week, meaning we’re only getting two days extra. The weapon skins offer no advantage and neither does anything else. The only way it can divide the community is by one person having a ‘Premium member’ insignia under his name and another player not having that. That is it, and that’s nothing to get concerned about. If being a Premium member gave you a pair of wings that allowed you to fly over your enemies and drop missiles on them, then you would have a right to be worried. 

With the release of Premium and expansion packs that will lead into March 2013, it’s clear that Battlefield 3 still has a very long life ahead of it. It appears as though these expansion packs are planning on introducing new experiences into the Battlefield universe and Close Quarters had the task of bringing that action down in scale and in size. It succeeded with great ease and has finally provided the game with the missing part of the equation that it’s been looking for. Come 26th June, if Close Quarters isn’t sitting in your download queue, you will be seriously missing out. 

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