Battlefield 3: Close Quarters Preview (PC)

I can understand what hardcore Battlefield fans are worried about. In a series that’s always been about scope, placing equal importance on vehicles and artillery and long-range snipes as it does close-range infantry, the idea of a close-quarters map pack which does away with the latter is frightening.

It’s chiefly frightening, I suppose, because it sounds more than a little like the Modern Warfare titles, which have run-and-gun gameplay and encourage using guns like Sniper Rifles in ways that wouldn’t be all that useful or physically possible in real life. Battlefield has always been about a blend of reality and fantasy, where most would agree Call of Duty is entirely the latter.

Sitting down with Close Quarters at an EA event last week, I didn’t really know what to expect. Checking out a map called Donya Fortress, I jumped in and found my feet as a fairly standard-spec assault class soldier – and quickly found myself pleasantly pleased by both the similarities and the differences.

The main headline here to report is that it’s still Battlefield 3. DICE have resisted the temptation to edit things like walk speed and animation speed to make a larger map traversable quickly, instead building out what feels like a very carefully and intricately designed maze of corridors, balconies and courtyards that feed into each other quickly whilst still retaining the ‘feel’ of Battlefield 3.

At its core this is still definitely the same game, but the new, more claustrophobic maps do change the game in some interesting ways.

The new maps boast what DICE is calling ‘HD Destruction’, essentially a levelled-up, more intense version of the destruction from the core game. Because a large chunk of the Close Quarters maps take place within buildings there’s plenty to be destroyed, and DICE has made sure it looks particularly good whilst doing it.

At one point, a close-range fire fight across Donya Fortress’ main corridor sees me on the lower level firing up at an enemy on the large upper balcony. The balcony wall is being blown to shreds by my haphazard assault rifle fire, while a well-placed grenade of his blows half of the doorway I’m half hiding behind to pieces.

These are moments that happened frequently in Battlefield 3, and they still happen on these maps – though much more frequently. It’ll be hard to say exactly how much of an effect the maps will have until we see how they’re used in the hands of the hardcore elite who are frankly ridiculous at the game, but in my 4 or 5 matches played it didn’t feel like it encouraged ‘running and gunning’ as much – the same careful pace and ‘clearing’ corners properly is rewarded just as it was in Battlefield 3.

Put simply, sprinting head-first into an encounter and seeing who can hammer L to look down the sights first doesn’t feel like a realistic option here. These maps are close-up, in your face and intense as a result, but you still want to take your time with them.

One of the big headlines of the Close Quarters expansion comes in the addition of an all new mode for Battlefield. This one is pretty similar to Call of Duty, easiest compared to ‘Domination’ from those games. It’s even titled ‘Conquest Domination’, a mash-up of that title with a traditional Battlefield mode.

Conquest Domination has no home bases for players to spawn back at – just three flags out on the map which remain static throughout the match. You can’t spawn on the flag either – it’s just a race to capture and hold as many flags as possible in order for your team to rack up points.

As you’d expect the flags are all in the few wider-open areas in the map, and after a few minutes of typical Battlefield destruction they’ll be even more open, the surrounding area flattened somewhat. A rethink to strategies is vital here, as when the other team bum-rush you, simply lying in prone near the flag won’t cut it.

Close Quarters also adds 10 new weapons that transfer back to regular BF3, 10 new Assignments, 5 new dog tags and new audio in relation to some of the Close Quarters specific game modes.

If the idea of Close Quarters Battlefield content that – yes, does bear a slight resemblance to Call of Duty – bothers you, you might be pleased to know that the next expansion pack, Armored Kill, will deliver huge new maps tahat are almost entirely based around vehicular gameplay.

The final expansion, End Game, is said to offer a big surprise – but DICE are keeping quiet for now.

As someone who always sucked at driving helicopters and jets but finds the run-and-gun nature of COD online a little tiring, Close Quarters felt right up my alley. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the maps, sharpening my knife skills and developing new strategies for how to avoid getting completely embarrassed online.

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