It’s an odd piece of DLC for the Battlefield games; one that rips out everything that sets Battlefield apart from other first-person shooters – the huge maps, the vehicles, the vast draw distances, and instead concentrates on mid-to-short range combat, using the full gamut of Battlefield’s armory.
It is, essentially, a riff on Call of Duty. Except, ya know. Better.
Here’s what’s interesting: we don’t often talk about how good the mechanics of Battlefield’s shooting actually are; how well balanced and interesting the guns feel, how they have real heft and violence. In Close Quarters, the gun mechanics are essentially all there is to keep you playing, there’s no spectacle, or stunts, or that typical Battlefield stupidity. Turns out, that’s just fine.
We kind of already knew that; the preponderance of 64 players 24/7 Operation Metro servers – where two teams will simply stand and shoot at each-other in a kind of endless stalemate -suggests gamers are really happy with the gunplay, but that there wasn’t a great outlet for them just to concentrate on those mechanics. Metro clearly wasn’t designed for the kind of play it now gets: it’s one vast and broken bottleneck.
Here, we get four maps; all of them with choke-points, but also many side and flanking routes. There’s also a two new game-modes, one of which, Gun Master,is going to spread through the Battlefield community like Ebola. More on that in a bit.
Let’s go through the maps, starting from okay, to great.
Operation 925 is probably my least favourite of the maps released. It’s a three level high-end office/apartment building, half of which is unfinished, letting players transition between gorgeous white walls and ceilings to unpainted concrete. Underneath the building is a parking garage, and there’s an atrium at one end. The problem I have is that it feels a little bit too big – there are too many floors for you to get lost in. The parking garage, too, is a place where campers can just hang out in the shadows and leap at you with a shotgun.
Donya Fortress is superb – it’s a palatial Middle Eastern home set over two levels, with a central courtyard that’s partly shielded by a grove of palm trees.
Ziba Tower is tiny, a small bit of locked off space on the top of a skyscraper. There are long shooting paths along the edge of the tower on the balconies and roof, but inside it’s a warren of small offices. At times, it feels like war broke out in a Mirror’s Edge level. It plays very, very, very fast.
Scrap Metal is my favourite so far – it’s a three or four storey factory split over two buildings, joined by covered walkways and industrial pipes. There are about three or four open-ish areas where team-fights develop.
All of these maps play very differently to standard Battlefield and take cues from deathmatch and TDM maps. All loop back in and around themselves – and there are very few, if any, places where you can’t flank an opponent.
What’s interesting though, is that the density of players already creates interesting new behaviours: in one game, I formed a very brief partnership where I would cover the stairs and bait the enemy up, while my new friend would hang slightly back and shoot them in the back with a shotgun. That’s not something I’ve seen occur before – it happened almost instantly on Scrap Metal.
Two new game modes are included. Conquest Domination is King of the Hill, three flags are dotted about, and you’ve got to capture and hold them. Battlefield’s twist comes from the weapons – as a recon, the first thing I did after capturing the flag was to drop C4. Because, well, you would, wouldn’t you?
Gun Master is a surprise; it’s Battlefield’s equivalent of GunGame. All players start with a simple pistol, but progress upwards through a chain of better weapons by making two kills with the weapon they’re holding. The game ends when a player makes two kills with the final rifle. It’s exceptionally fun with a brilliant escalation curve: the first moments are fairly tense and slow, but as everyone stocks up, first on shotguns, then on assault rifles, ending on snipers, the server is overtaken by a sense of mania. It’s also well signposted; a new interface bar at the base of the screen lets you check what players have reached which stage.
Again, it also creates great situations that you’ll remember – earlier today I bumslid over a series of pipes ducked, dodged and weaved so that I could close the gap between myself (wielding a magnum), and an opponent (with a scoped assault rifle).
I’m hugely impressed with Close Quarters – I had relatively low expectations. This is above and beyond…