The lights are on
Battlefield 3 came out nearly a year and a half ago, and the popular military shooter's multiplayer community is still going strong thanks to its 2.7 million Premium subscribers. Before everyone turns their attention toward the next installment in the series, which EA plans to reveal next week, developer DICE has dropped one last multiplayer map pack: the appropriately titled End Game.
All of the previous map packs were built around specific themes. Back To Karkand took us down memory lane with a handful of classic Battlefield maps, Close Quarters unapologetically aped the tighter Call of Duty experience, Armored Kill introduced the biggest maps in series history and focused on vehicular battles, and Aftermath concentrated fights in urban spaces. With End Game, a theme isn't readily apparent. This is unadulterated, classic Battlefield.
All four maps offer a healthy mix of vehicular and infantry combat, and each is based around a particular season. My favorite map of the bunch, Kiasar Railroad, is set in a lakefront logging camp in the springtime. As its name suggests, a large railroad track runs down the middle of the map. The varied elevation offers some good sniping opportunities, but there is enough foliage for infantry to navigate open spaces without getting picked off every time. The map is light on AA, so skilled chopper pilots can take over the map unless engineers are constantly pelting them with stingers.
The fall map, Operation Riverside, is centered on a power plant, with a large ridge running along one side of the map. A stream runs along the middle of the map, and interspersed buildings offer plenty of cover for infantry. A large oil refinery sits in the middle of the winter map, Salaban Pipeline. Frost-covered trees limit sight lines between bases, and while it's hardly small, this seems to be the most compact map of the bunch. My least favorite map is Nebandan Flats. This arid desert location screams lazy game design, offering little elevation variety or foliage, which limits the available cover when moving between bases. If you're on foot, I suggest bringing 40mm smoke grenades to cover your movement or snipers will pick you off left and right.
Hoofing it between bases isn't a requirement, because DICE provides a healthy abundance of dirt bikes at every flag location. The physics of these high-speed, two-person bikes are sketchy, but they give you an opportunity to get across the map quickly. Showboats can perform pop wheelies, and jumps are located all over the maps. Their best use, however, is loading them up with C4 and jumping off the moving bike just in time to detonate the explosives as it slams into a tank or well-populated area. End Game also introduces an unmanned drop ship in conquest mode that allows the team controlling the middle base to parachute into battle and even drop an infantry fighting vehicle from the sky. Two small and nimble anti-aircraft trucks round out the new vehicle selection.
Continuing the tradition of introducing new game modes with each Battlefield 3 map pack, DICE resuscitates two new (old) game modes for End Game. Air Superiority, which we last saw in Battlefield 1943, returns with a few tweaks to keep players engaged in dogfights. Rather than starting on an aircraft carrier, you spawn directly into the cockpit of a jet. If you find yourself on the losing end of a jet battle, don't bother looking for an eject button – you're going down with your multi-million dollar machine. My piloting skills are on par with this guy, so I can't speak to the voracity of the dogfights, but this mode allows for top guns to establish bragging rights.
The second new mode, capture the flag, needs no introduction. CTF hasn't appeared in the series since Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, and for good reason. You can play it in almost any mulitplayer shooter on the market, and it's not nearly as engaging as Battlefield staples like rush and conquest. This mode plays as you would expect, except you can't capture a flag unless your team still has possession of its own flag. In my experience with CTF, stalemates were common, with the majority of players taking defensing positions around their base perimeter to thwart oncoming attacks. DICE also fails to use most of the map space in any meaningful way, with several building structures way too far from the action to be strategically valuable.
Taken as a whole, End Game is a mixed bag. While I always enjoy getting new battle arenas and I appreciate the addition of dirt bikes, Nebandan Flats may be the worst Battlefield 3 map to date, and I have no desire to spend time in the two new modes.
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