When DICE announced at its recent Battlefield/Medal of Honor event that its upcoming pack of DLC, Close Quarters, would focus on tight, indoor firefights, reactions were understandably divisive. "If you're going to focus on an indoor shooter, you might as well play Call of Duty," said one voice in the room. "This is great. The worst part about Battlefield 3 is that it took too long to find anybody because the maps were so goddamn large," said another. "A part of me died when I saw that Medal of Honor trailer," said another yet.
While there's no accounting for taste, DICE is doing its darnedest to try by releasing themed DLC packs catered to fans with divergent play styles. While Close Quarters will focus on cramped infantry-focused indoor affairs, the following DLC, Armored Kill, promises to have the largest terrain of any Battlefield to date with loads of vehicles and epic scale wars. There will be a third pack too, Endgame, but DICE remains cagey on the details there.
"We want to widen the spectrum of how we play these games. It comes back to the idea of having choice as a player," DICE general manager, Karl-Magnus Troedsson explained. It's a smart move, and a decidedly honest model that ensures players will only have to pay for the type of experience they want, without having to fork over extra dough to collect their favourite maps spread haphazardly across several nondescript map packs.
When asked if they expected fans of Battlefield's larger scale battles would embrace Close Quarters' shift to smaller interior environments, Troedsson responded, "There's going to be people who like it, and there's going to be people that don't like it. We know that. The Battlefield experience is so wide nowadays that we do something over here and those on the other side don't like it... There are always two sides to a story."
Understanding a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn't be a good fit for something as diverse as Battlefield, it seems. "The pack coming out after that, Armored Kill, is going to be for the other side of the spectrum, which is for people who love vehicles and big maps. We'd rather try to do something like that instead of trying to get everything into each pack, because we're going to fail if we do that."
I get to try my hand at one map (out of four in the final product) in the Close Quarters pack. This level takes place in a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque penthouse atop a hillside. Full of sterile white walls and chic red furniture it looks like something from DICE's previous Mirror's Edge, or where a coked-up Hollywood producer hosts key parties.
The beauty of this pristine locale is that it doesn't stay that way for long, as swarms of bullets and grenades leave their mark. By the end of a bout walls are charred and scarred with bullet holes, while shreds of furniture are strewn about. "When we do these things, we like to do them our way," says Troedsson. "The most specific feature that people will notice immediately is the destruction. We take the idea of destruction and bring it indoors as well. Walls will crumbles, there will be a lot of glass, etc... It really changes how you play the game."
The basic layout consists of a couple of courtyards -- one indoors, one outdoors -- lined with balconies and some smaller rooms and staircases around the periphery. After a couple of rounds it becomes apparent that there are no good camping spots for snipers, ensuring that everyone stays active the whole time. Players who gravitate towards shotguns, like yours truly, will be delighted that they actually serve a useful role this time around. More surprising is that I'm able to make good use out of Tom Bramwell's sage Counter-Strike advice; run with the knife. Several of my kills come from stalking those who run past my wallflower marine standing in the corner by a doorway, brandishing a blade.
After a couple of rounds playing Close Quarters I can't say it felt particularly original, but it did feel good. The micro scale makes each player feel more important in comparison, and the destructible environments add a more dynamic layer to this decidedly old-school approach. Close Quarters may not be for everyone, but more casual shooter fans will appreciate its accessibility and easy to learn maps, while those who find its not their jam can save their money for one of the other themed DLCs that should be to their liking. Battlefield 3 may be about war, but DICE's approach to consumers regarding its DLC is as peaceful as they come.