This June legions of Battlefield fans, quite frankly, won't be surprised in the least with the release of Battlefield 3: Close Quarters. The DLC title says it all. And the trailer released several weeks ago reveals everything you need to know.
But a lack of surprise doesn't mean you won't love it. (And, hey, we've got a new trailer to look at.)
Ditching the large-scale, vehicle-trodden landscapes filled with tanks and jeeps and jet planes and helicopters thrashing about dusty roads and sunny skies, developer DICE has decided to make everything, shall we say, intimate. In Close Quarters — due in June for PC and Xbox 360 for $US14.99, with PS3 players it one week earlier — they'll experience a popcorn festival of tightly-knit maps designed for face stabs, shotguns blasts to the chest, and obliterating missile strikes in narrow corridors.
In short, it's a powder keg of claustrophobic fun.
During EA's event held in San Francisco last week (where Crysis 3 was also demoed), I sat down and played several dozen games on the PlayStation 3 and experienced a different kind of Battlefield; one that made me shout, talk crap to my opponents, and laugh. (Normally, I just shout and talk crap.)
The laughter was due to the power of the first unlockable weapon, the shotgun. Once I held it in my virtual hands, I ran screaming across the map, blasting the heck out of everything that moved. The result was hilarious and rewarding. Inside the myriad hallways, the shotgun blew opponents backward, decisively, to their death; the sound was powerful and ear-splitting. The physical impact was very satisfying. I admit, the first few folks playing weren't very good, but after weeks of going online and finding just how talented ordinary players are, the pleasure was all mine.
EA revealed the first Close Quarters map in March, a skyscraper level called Zeba Towers. That map focuses on a mixture of outdoor skyscraper environments, with close knit hallways and lobbies. I played the second revealed map, Donya Fortress. And for this map, EA revealed the new gameplay mode, Conquest Domination, which is essentially a micro-scale, accelerated version of Conquest. The goal is for one team to hold three key points for the longest time. Because the maps are smaller, the time it takes to secure a flag and the play period are both shorter, condensing the experience. It's worth noting that the flag points are always in the same places.
There are immediate similarities between the Zeba Towers and Donya Fortress, including the fact that they literally contain close quarters. Both levels feature vertical design and the dozens of interlocking rooms play a part in the experience. Apart, these elements don't seem terribly exciting, but together they create a densely-packed, highly-concentrated feel.
The differences are slight but discernible. Donya Fortress is a Southern-style military establishment. Large water fountains key the centrepieces of the white, stone courtyards. Third-story balconies offer a small amount of protection from opposing second-story walkways, and both look down on additional ground-level courts and gardens. The open nature here forces players not only to be aware of activity from the front and sides but also from above. And for some unknown reason that doesn't really matter, blown-out tunnels run underground, providing additional paths through which to move.
But, really, the first thing you'll find yourself doing is literally running — everywhere. The game's close-knit nature immediately makes you feel like Han Solo sprinting through the Death Star chasing a bunch of Storm Troopers while screaming at the top of your lungs. You'll hear your boots clomping through the environment, but you'll also hear the reverberation of everyone else's, too. Everyone else in the game — that's 15 others — is also sprinting.
The audio effects are an interesting element all their own. The sounds of aeroplanes and helicopters flying by comprise a kind of occasional white noise, but what really intensifies the game is the constant, heavy sounds of shelling. While there are 10 new weapons offered in this DLC, from the MTAR, SPAZ 12, and LSAT to name a few, it's the C4 and missile launchers that create the unrelenting cacophony of blasts.
The "Destruction HD" feature — EA's marketing term for the already-available destructible environment — means that everyone can tear the place to pieces. This map sounded like a war was going on in someone's living room.
When the level was full of players, the walls were exploding left and right, and sizeable chunks of plaster bits and glass would fly across my face. The wall structures — the heavy beams and framework — remained in place, but everything else turns to powder. In the same way that Infinity Ward upped the level of audio production and quality in the Call of Duty series, DICE has ramped up the sound production here, but compounds the intensity by being indoors.
And so, when one gets into a killing spree, an uninterrupted rhythm of successful kills, the otherwise distracting chaos of echoing footsteps and death screams and exploding walls feels strangely serene, even soothing. Wow, taken out of context, I guess that sounds pretty messed up. But in context all of the game's elements — the pace, sound, and intensity — it can come together just short of genius.
Douglass C Perry, former EIC at IGN, is a freelance writer and journalist. You can tweet him @douginsano.