Look, Close Quarters was alarming. DICE took the framework of Battlefield 3 and dropped it into a set of maps built for small-team engagements. Tight confines, few open spaces, zero vehicles. It appealed to a certain type of shooter fan, no doubt, but it didn’t tap into what Battlefield excels at as a series: grand-scale warfare.
Enter Armored Kill. For its second DLC release in 2012, DICE gives the fans what they want. The maps are massive and they’re filled with all sorts of new vehicles. You’ve got tank-killers. Mobile artillery and anti-air. An AC-130 gunship. If it can cut a wide swath of destruction on a battlefield, it’s probably in this expansion pack. Premium subscribers get the new content for free — and they already have it, in fact — but the rest of the gaming world has the option of buying it a la carte on September 18 for PlayStation, or one week later on September 25 for Xbox 360 and PC.
The four new maps are as sprawling as you’d expect them to be for this vehicle-focused affair, with “Bandar Desert” being the largest of the bunch and, what’s more, the largest in the history of the series. That one and “Armored Shield,” set in a bombed out section of the Russian countryside, offer the most open spaces. If your idea of a perfect Battlefield match involves a three-wide line of tanks speeding up and down over rolling hills, you can certainly get it in those locations.
The other two new locations are “Death Valley” and “Alborz Mountains.” They’re both sprawling environments with lots of ground for players to explore, but they’re also more constrained in some ways due to the mountainous terrain. You’ll crunch through many forested areas in your heavy vehicles, and seek cover under those same trees when the gunshipsFifa starts raining hell down from above.
How about those vehicles? The AC-130 is a beast of a flying fortress, circling the maps repeatedly for whichever team controls a specific point (or simply for the attackers in Rush games). It’s very powerful, with fixed anti-vehicle and anti-infantry emplacements plus two anti-air defense turrets that anyone can jump into, but that power is balanced by minimal armor and the fact that it sticks to a set flight path.
The rest of the vehicles simply add more depth to the armored portion of the game, as everything that’s new is grounded in concepts that players of the core game are probably familiar with. The mobile artillery vehicles amount to giant mortars, though a newly upgraded leveling system eventually allows you to unlock close-quarters defenses for the otherwise unprotected trucks. Wheeled tank-killers offer increased movement and firepower for taking on the heaviest armor on the field, though at the cost of some protection. Quad bikes also make a return from Bad Company 2, offering ground infantry a quick way to zip into combat.
The maps all support Conquest and Rush, but the DLC pack brings a new mode as well: Tank Superiority. Essentially a King of the Hill match, the new mode puts one control point in the center of the map that two teams fight over. There’s no gunship in this mode, and so the focus is really on trading cannon shells and mortar fire back and forth.
Much like Close Quarters, Armored Kill is laser-focused on a particular niche style of Battlefield play. Where the previous DLC favored assault classes almost exclusively, Armored Kill matches are populated almost entirely by engineers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, though some would argue that the great strength of the Battlefield series is its ability to deliver a multi-faceted warzone where infantry fights alongside armor fights alongside air support. Close Quarters cut that out entirely by design; Armored Kill cuts it out more by necessity.
Console players get it the worst too due to the significantly smaller maximum player count in a given room as compared to the PC version of the game. You just don’t get the same sense of epic warfare with 24 players running around these sprawling maps as you do with the 64 on the PC side. Armored Kill also returns to the era of camping your team’s deployment point as you wait for vehicles to spawn.
Armored Kill is at its best when you’re playing with a large group that knows how to communicate. That’s really true for Battlefield in general, but it applies moreso now than ever due to the focus on heavy vehicles and long-distance engagements. It’s my favorite DLC pack released so far for Battlefield 3, but it’s also very easy to end up in a horribly unbalanced room where one team simply can’t get its act together. Overall, I’d say the new DLC offers more welcome improvements than Close Quarters did, but you should still prepare yourself for plenty of frustrating match-ups as well.
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by EA)