I'm lost. It's not something I'm proud of, but I have no idea where I need to be going. I'm on the attacking force in a Squad Rush multiplayer game of Battlefield 3 and I'm running around like a headless chicken, trying to work out where those target markers are pointing.
Things started so well, too. We advanced efficiently along a mountain pass, dealt with some sneaky snipers who'd taken cover in the long grass at the top of a rise, and we'd driven the defending team back from the first two objective markers with ruthless efficiency. We were unbeatable. We were badasses.
But now I'm scampering about like a drunken puppy, trying to find some tunnel or doorway that will allow me into the guts of this enemy base. The objective markers are below me, so unless the game is horribly glitched, there must be a way in. One of my brothers in arms sprints past me and hurls himself off the helipad, clearly driven to suicide in the hopes that a respawn would put him back on track and make the way forward clear.
That's when, after an embarrassingly long time, the penny drops. I dash to the side of the helipad and peer cautiously over the edge. There, half a kilometre straight down, is the next objective. Halfway there already, my fellow soldier's parachute flutters into life. I take a deep breath and jump.
Welcome to Damavand Peak.
It's a moment of relief, not only because I'm back in the game and pretending I knew to do this all along, but because it means that DICE hasn't lost its knack. After the suspiciously COD-like Metro map in the beta, I was genuinely concerned that the masters of multiplayer map design had lost their touch, the unique flavour of old subsumed by the need to win over rival fans.
Damavand Peak, it turns out, is a quintessential Battlefield map. It's vast. It's varied. You can approach its objectives from dozens of directions, and join the battle in countless ways. Whatever class you favour, whatever loadout you've picked, it feels like the map was designed just for you. And yet for all its flexibility, it keeps moving forwards, relentlessly. Apart from, you know, when feckless journalists don't pay attention and somehow miss that their entire squad has performed a 500m base jump.
It's that jump that will get all the attention of course, but it's more than just a gimmicky stunt. Once you realise that this is the part where you hurl yourself into the abyss, there's a natural elation as you freefall down, seeing the tiny toytown buildings thundering up to meet you, as you dare yourself to wait one more second before deploying your chute. In live play, this is where lots of giddy noobs will meet their end. Just as newcomers hung around helicopter spawn points, only to be picked off by shrewd snipers, so ruthless sharpshooters will earn healthy XP from the fact that a veritable shower of fresh meat will be flinging itself into their sights from the same point.
Over time, it becomes clear that simply spawning and dashing to the jump is a fool's game. We wait for someone to grab a chopper. Then, after he spirals and clatters his way to a messy demise, we wait for someone who can actually control the thing to grab a chopper. Then, as they strafe the landing site, the rest of us make the jump, some aiming for rooftops to provide more covering fire, others bound for the objectives.
As we glide in, the flutter of the chute roaring in our ears, I spot an enemy taking aim below. Somehow, brilliantly, I manage to take them out with a mid-air headshot, swooping in for a landing next to his defeated corpse. It's a pure fluke, of course, but undoubtedly my first "you'll never believe this" Battlefield 3 war story.
It's a breathless action-movie map, but one that never loses sight of the freedom that defines the Battlefield experience. What it demands is that you adapt to the terrain as you go, adjusting tactics according to the situation. After the tight funnelling and close quarters combat of the first push, you land at the second pair of objectives in the middle of a large industrial mining facility.
There are large warehouses and processing plants. Intricate pipework provides elevated walkways and sneaky rat runs. Push the defenders back from there, and they retreat into the mine itself, a cavernous space with gantries and rock formations where attackers must either find a secret path inside or else risk an all-out frontal assault on an enemy with plenty of opportunity to dig in.
It works, and it works exceptionally well with the Rush modes. Some fans have complained that Rush is taking precedence over Conquest, which is seen as the "true" Battlefield mode. Maps like Damavand Peak, which is clearly designed to favour the push-and-fall-back rhythms of Rush, give some credence to that, but that's not such a bad thing.
For one, Battlefield 3 also boasts maps like Operation Firestorm, an absolutely enormous open plan theatre of war where vehicles are essential and anyone planning on going lone wolf can expect to spend a lot of time jogging aimlessly along with only the crunch of their combat boots in the sand for company.
But Rush is also, arguably, a more refined take on military engagements than the free-for-all sandbox of a Conquest map. Rush imprints structure on the battle, giving both teams a clear through line to follow, and that results in better, more organic teamwork and a greater sense of drama, either the elation of the attackers as they take another objective or the backed-into-a-corner resolve of defenders with nowhere else to retreat to.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding Battlefield 3, not least concerning its single player campaign and the introduction of standalone co-op maps, but it seems that when it comes to players finding exciting new ways to shoot each other's faces off, the standard will be as high as ever.
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