The lights are on
More than a year into the downloadable content run for Battlefield 3, the expansion packs have been a mixed bag. I loved the updated Battlefield 2 maps in the Back To Karkand pack, but couldn’t tolerate DICE’s blatant mimicking of Call of Duty with the high chaos Close Quarters pack. Though I approved of the large-scale approach in Armored Kill, the maps were too big for the 24-player limitation on consoles, and giving the attacking team the AC-130 ruined rush mode. The latest pack, Aftermath, adheres more closely to the traditional Battlefield 3 experience.
As the title suggests, the Aftermath maps are centered on urban regions devastated by war and the earthquake that tore through Iran in the single-player campaign. Fans of urban combat will love these maps, as each features dense winding streets and varied elevation, yet still provide enough surface area to keep vehicles in the mix. Though the maps share the same drab color palette, each has a defining characteristic.
My favorite map of the expansion, Azadi Palace, features a series of burnt-out buildings leading up to the shelled-out two-story Iranian palace. The map is wide enough to provide great flanking routes, and works equally well for conquest and rush. Epicenter is also a strong map, which takes place in the region most devastated by the quake and features tall piles of rubble, chasms formed out of ripped pavement, and underground passageways accessible by blowing up strategically placed propane canisters. The largest map, Markaz Monolith, features high rises and a bombed-out shopping complex. This is the only map that features choppers. Talah Market is the smallest map of the bunch and the only to support the conquest assault mode, but still offers long avenues and rooftops that give snipers room to operate. Overall, this is the strongest collection of maps DICE has released since Return To Karkand.
Aftermath introduces three new vehicles to the fray. Two of them – a heavily modified HUMVEE and a Vodnik – are armed with both a .50 Cal and grenade launcher. These light vehicles are great for the narrow streets, but questionably only fit three passengers. I guess your fourth squad member will have to hitch a ride with someone else. The third new vehicle is a four-passenger civilian van retrofitted with a remote-controlled machine gun. While the driver mans the HMG, the three passengers can engage enemies out of the wide-open side and rear windows.
Typically these expansions also include several new weapons, but Aftermath’s only addition to the arsenal is a crossbow. The crossbow has different types of bolts that can mark targets within 10 meters of impact, explode to cause area damage, or take out long-range targets more effectively. The novelty of shooting bolts at enemies may appeal to snipers, but the long reload times make carrying this weapon a gamble if you’re charging flags and crates.
Each of the maps supports the rush, squad rush, conquest, team deathmatch, squad deathmatch, and gun master modes. Given the relatively small size of these maps, rush plays a little differently than normal. Instead of running a relatively straightforward gauntlet as you take down M-Com stations, the objectives zigzag back and forth from one corner of the map to the other. This can be disorienting to defenders at first, but it isn’t a problem once you get used to it.
Aftermath also introduces a new mode called Scavenger. Taking a page out of classic shooters like Unreal Tournament, this mode starts you off with a sidearm, grenade, and knife. More desirable ordnance is strategically placed around the conquest map, so upon spawning your first order of business is retrieving a better weapon. You still choose a class in Scavenger, but you receive none of the class-specific abilities outsides of a specialization.
Since you won’t be using the weapons you have unlocked, you don’t earn experience to unlock new weapon attachments in Scavenger mode. As someone who prefers hardcore modes that remove the minimap and use the class structure to promote teamwork, I’m not going to spend any time in these arcadey matches. But if you’re looking for a change of pace or way to quickly increase your ranking, Scavenger is a good option.
Taken as a whole, the Aftermath expansion is a mixed bag. Scavenger mode’s arcade feel turns me off, and I would have preferred some new firearms instead of the crossbow, which has limited use. But at the end of the day maps define every expansion, and this is the best collection of new environments DICE has released for Battlefield 3 to date.
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