The lights are on
For the Battlefield faithful, size matters. When developer DICE released the last Battlefield 3 map pack, Close Quarters, some old-school fans (including myself) decried its Call of Duty style battles that diminished class differentiation and abandoned vehicular warfare. Perhaps sensing this discontent in advance, DICE had reinforcements in the wings in the form of Armored Kill. Featuring expansive environments and scores of vehicles, this map pack is a love letter to the era before consoles and rush mode took over.
Each of the four gorgeous maps – Alborz Mountains, Death Valley, Armored Shield, and Bandar Desert (the largest Battlefield map ever created) – is tailor made for large-scale warfare. The bigger scope allowed DICE to experiment with some new vehicles, including the powerful new AC-130. This two-man gunship is as intimidating as it is versatile; one person can target vehicles with the auto cannon, while the other cleans up infantry with a large-caliber gun. Both players have access to anti-air guns and IR flares as well. With proper coordination, the IR flares can help keep the heat off the plane as it circles the map on a fixed route of death and destruction.
Conquest – the mode that put Battlefield on the map – is the best way to experience the expansion. In this mode, the team that caps a designated control point is granted use of the AC-130. The rest of the hot zone is populated with jets, helicopters, new five-man tank destroyers, mobile artillery, AMTRACs, and speedy quad bikes that come in handy for covering long distances in a short amount of time.
Armored Kill supports five other game modes as well – rush, squad rush, squad deathmatch, team deathmatch, and a new mode called Tank Superiority. Like Battlefield 1943’s Air Superiority mode, two teams vie for one control point in a king of the hill style confrontation. Unlike that mode, however, not every player is given the keys to a vehicle. Several tanks are available for each team, but some people have to ride shotgun or journey into the open with rocket launchers. The quality of these explosive battles depends largely on the smarts of your fellow teammates. Kamikaze tank drivers racing fearlessly (and stupidly) into the fray dominated some matches I played, but when teams coordinate the push toward the flag with some tanks while shelling the enemy from afar with others, the skirmishes can be enjoyable. That said, I still expect conquest and rush mode to dominate most server play lists.
With native 64-player battles and no graphical constraints, I imagine these maps look fantastic and feel size-appropriate on PC. Unfortunately, each of the modes and maps suffers considerably in the translation to consoles (for the sake of these impressions I played on the Xbox 360). The graphical fidelity takes a hit for the sake of creating larger maps, and the 24-player cap results in an uneven experience. Sometimes conquest battles feel like classic Battlefield. Other times, you’re capping flags without running into any enemy resistance because the control points are spaced so far apart and there aren't enough bodies to keep the hot zone hot.
Rush mode suffers the worst, as the attacking team is granted sole custody of the deadly AC-130. Because the attackers have this game changer (plus tanks and AMTRACs to boot), the 12-person defending team is overwhelmed. Death from above is the rule, not the exception; it’s not uncommon to see the two people in the AC-130 cockpit sit atop the leaderboards with upwards of 30 kills a round. Skilled pilots and coordinated stinger strikes can take down the gunship effectively, but it respawns so quickly that defenders always have to be concerned. When several of the 12 people on the defending team are either dying instantly thanks to unseen shots from above or scrambling to target the AC-130 throughout the match, it’s easy for the attacking team to detonate the M-Com stations in short order.
Whether or not I recommend Armored Kill depends largely on the platform. Though I haven't played these maps on PC yet, I imagine the larger team sizes would mitigate many of the issues I encountered. The experience is so uneven on the console right now that I have a feeling that some of the community may start ignoring these maps unless DICE takes some measures to re-balance rush mode.
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