If you haven’t played Battlefield 3
on multiple platforms, you probably don’t realise that there are two very different versions of the game – PC and the rest. At face level they’re both identical, powered by the Carmack-crushing Frostbite 2.0 engine, which effortlessly serves up vast landscapes filled with a massive collection of toys of destruction. However, peer closely through a 4X ACOG scope and you’ll see there’s one difference that makes them worlds apart; today’s crusty consoles limit the maximum players to 24 for fear of their internals bursting into flames, while the PC version almost triples this to a whopping 64. The change in team sizes isn’t a big deal on smaller maps like those in the claustrophobic Close Quarters
expansion pack, but it couldn’t be more obvious in the latest DLC, Armored Kill
. That’s why we’re giving the PC version its very own dedicated review. With new maps that stretch for several kilometres in length (no exaggeration), the level of enjoyment of the new content is directly proportional to the number of grunts hiding in each sector.
For those who haven’t been crouching under cover, suppressed by an incoming barrage of Armored Kill PR and hype, a quick explanation of this DLC’s focus. Like the two that preceded it, this is more than a mere map pack, with six new vehicles and a shiny new game mode. DICE aims to give each of these mini-expansion packs a unique flavour of carnage, and the latest promises to rekindle the scope of past Battlefields, with the emphasis on vast playgrounds and more armour than a medieval museum.
Given the 24 player limit of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it’s not surprising that console players haven’t given the new content a rousing reception. Even though DICE trimmed the map size and flag count for these versions, most console players have complained that conquest feels like a giant game of weaponised “Ring-around-the-Rosie”, as players leapfrog from one flag to the next without ever seeing a single bad guy. Rush is also horrifically skewed towards the attacking side, as the 12 defenders just don’t have enough feet on the ground to adequately cope with the incoming barrage of mechanised destruction. The good news is that the PC version couldn’t be more different, with the higher player count meaning there’s always a meat target for your weapon of choice just seconds away. Let’s take a look at how each map plays out on the PC.
All of the maps in Armored Kill are big; Bandar Desert is ludicrously humungous. According to DICE it’s the biggest map in Battlefield’s history, covering five square kilometres. The huge flat expanse of sand dunes in the middle makes an excellent spot for long range armour duels, which will make this map a favourite with tankers, while the cluster of flags in a small suburb on the coast gives foot soldiers a chance to control half of the map’s flags without needing to call a taxi to get between them. Located about a kilometre away are two more flags positioned next to each other – while they don’t give up as many tickets, one of these is the spawn point for the mighty AC130 gunship, so going out of your way to capture this outpost is highly recommended. Given the size of this map, having a vehicle on standby isn’t a bad idea. If there’s one issue with this map, it’s that the terrifying lag beast will often rear its ugly head, most likely a result of the incredibly long sight lines.
At the centre of this map is a huge mountain, and getting to the top on foot can feel like climbing Mount Everest. Thankfully a couple of narrow mountain passes provide a faster route to the top if you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle, but they’re a hotspot for landmines and RPG ambushes. While most of the map centres on the soaring slopes, a large section of forest at its foot provides excellent cover from the circling vultures above. The seven flags on this map are relatively evenly spread out, making it hard to control a cluster for longer periods. It might not be the largest map, but the difficult-to-climb mountain makes it the hardest to navigate without a friendly chopper pilot on call. The open nature of the mountain section will give pilots plenty to smile about, as the ants below have nowhere to hide. This is the other Armored Kill map to suffer from slight warping; fingers crossed DICE squishes this bug the way it did when Tehran Highway exhibited the same problem. We’ve asked EA’s local community guy to find out if DICE has acknowledged the issue, and will update you when we hear anything.
Armored Kill’s token night map really isn’t dark at all thanks to the luminescent full moon, but it’s shady enough that spotting enemies wearing the black Spec Ops camo isn’t easy. This long, narrow map is covered in elevation changes, making it difficult to get off a long range shot, and you’ll often round a corner to find a triple-T90 surprise. The use of extensive cover makes this map a favourite for foot soldiers, while the limited roadways make these vehicle paths a magnet for mines. Once again the flags are evenly placed but this time in a long, narrow line, naturally lending itself to a huge firefight where the two sides of the map butt heads in the middle.
BFBC2 fans will immediately cast their minds back to happy afternoons spent killing in the sunshine of Harvest Day when they see this stunning rural battleground. Long fields are covered in conveniently placed mounds of Earth, making this the perfect map for launching the new Quad Bike soaring through the air. Several farms and clusters of buildings surround each flag, with a cluster of three towards the centre drawing in players like flies to a still warm corpse. The snaking river delivers a scenic water cruise, but its lack of cover makes wannabe sailors an easy target. The mixture of open areas and clusters of cover makes this the perfect map for any kind of Battlefield player.
Picking a favourite from the four is impossible, as they’re all equally brilliant. DICE has nailed the sensation of exploring real-world locations rather than traipsing through artificial corridors of killing, and finding every nook and cranny of these behemoths is going to take months.
Let’s start with the obvious one, the AC130 Gunship. Yes, it’s stuck on rails, but that doesn’t make manning its 105mm howitzer any less fun. There’s nothing quite like hearing the “PHOOMP” of this cannon firing, then watching the shell arc in towards a squad of enemy troops. Incredibly vulnerable to both air and ground attacks, don’t expect the Gunship to stay airborne for long if the other team remembers to shoot it down, and we think DICE would do well to buff the armour a little.
Next up are the two tank destroyers, and they handle like the bastard offspring of an APC and Tank. Speedy and nimble, they’re able to bring their powerful cannons to bear on unexpected flanks, but their thin armour makes them extremely easy to take out. Long range killers will love the new rocket artillery vehicles, and mastering them will take plenty of practice. A handy tip is to open your map while lobbing in rocket rounds, as the impact point shows up as small splash marks. In the hands of a skilled user, either rocket vehicle can absolutely decimate a flag point.
Last but not least is the quad bike, arguably the most enjoyable vehicle in the collection. This two-seat pocket rocket hoons through the battlefield like a speeder bike, often jumping 30 or 40 metres when lined up perfectly with a ramp. Just don’t drive into a boulder at high speed, as you and your passenger won’t make it out alive.
Tank Superiority and Rush
Just as Close Quarters added the quick-fix Gun Master mode, Armored Kill has also introduced a mode that is good for a quick bout of death and destruction when you’ve only got 20 minutes to kill. Tank Superiority sees both sides fighting over a single flag in the middle of the map, with the inclusion of more armour to get the party started. Surprisingly the flag doesn’t ever move, which seems a tragic oversight given that every other “King of the Hill” mode learnt long ago that moving the flag helps spice up the action. While it’s fun in short bursts, we can’t see Tank Superiority ever taking over from Conquest as the preferred way to play.
Console players have written off Armored Kill’s Rush mode as being hopelessly imbalanced in favour of the attackers, but having 32 rocket-wielding defenders has made a huge difference on the PC version. While attackers have a better chance than other Rush maps, we witnessed an even split in victory between the defending and attacking sides. Taking out the AC130 is absolutely crucial to the defence’s success, and an upcoming nerf to its spawn time will make digging in slightly easier.
Worth the cost of a six pack?
At an expected price of $23.95, those looking for a return to Battlefield’s wide open roots will find the purchase of Armored Kill an absolute no-brainer. The scale of each new map means they’ll take exponentially longer to learn than the shoeboxes of Close Quarters and, despite their infinitely larger size, DICE hasn’t scrimped on the attention to detail, with each square metre packing as much TLC as its smaller offerings. The issue of latency is a bit of a problem right now on certain servers, but knowing DICE it’ll hopefully get patched in the near future with a server update. Those who don’t like the vehicular action in Battlefield should probably go and play Call of Duty instead of even considering Armored Kill, but for the rest of us this expansion pack is as good as Battlefield 3 gets. But please, if you do end up buying the pack, for the love of all things holy, when you get in a vehicle, wait for your fricking team mates before you put your pedal to the metal...