You might have noticed that there appears to be a bit of a raincloud over EA as a company recently. I say raincloud; it’s more like the Earth beneath their feet has been torn asunder, Satan and all his minions have risen up and are currently pushing over all their pot plants and urinating in the water coolers. Whilst those who have purchased Sim City enjoy that image for a while, I’m going to do something a bit unfashionable and say something nice about EA. I will happily admit that Battlefield 3 has been one of my favourite games in a long while; I pre-ordered the special edition when it was first released, upgraded to premium as soon as I could and I still play it at least 3 nights a week. Considering that it was released in 2011, I think the graphics are still more than a match for most games that have been released since (it wasn’t until Hitman Absolution that another game I bought had graphics that made me go ‘ooh pretty’), and the environment destructibility provided courtesy of the Frostbite 2 engine means that if I’m driving my tank, hiding inside that building isn’t going to do you any favours.
The DLC however has been a bit of a mixed bag. Here Battlefield 3 is a bit of a victim of its own diversity; there are so many types of gamers to please. There are those who specialise in driving the tanks and jeeps, those who fly the jets and helicopters, those who like the Rambo style of just running in all guns blazing and; the worst of all, those who specialise with the knife. For those who haven’t played before; when you are stabbed by someone in Battlefield 3, you get a lovely little animation where you are spun round, stabbed in the chest, and your attacker rips off your dogtags. He then runs off as you fall to the floor, desperately reaching out after him so that your wife may know that you fell doing your duty.
The way EA has tackled this with their DLC is to make them specific to suit different styles; Back to Karkand, as well as a big wave to those who have stayed loyal to the series with remakes of old maps, is all about the vehicles. Close Quarters featured small and tight maps for those who wanted the action a little more in your face, and Armoured Kill was for those who love the tanks. Whilst there was the odd new game mode thrown in along the way, in my opinion Aftermath was the first item of DLC which actually brought something new to the table with Scavenger mode (you all start with a pistol, and you run round trying to find the better weapons scattered around the map). Whilst I have enjoyed all of them (except Armoured Kill – I was really underwhelmed by that), I don’t think any of them really capture what the original maps have. But then I suppose that’s the point of downloadable content; doing something new with something that’s familiar. Those who say that DLC is just milking the cash cow until the developers can come up with something new also have a valid point. And this finally leads me on to End Game; Battlefield 3’s swansong. This is the last piece of downloadable content for the game before full attention is turned to Battlefield 4; already being planned for 2014.
So which way have they gone? It has the feel that the developers were called into an office and a conversation took place along the lines of this:
Bosses – “Hi guys! Come in, sit down and help yourselves to some fruit and pastries! Just one Barry we’re not made of money. Now then; you’ve been doing a wonderful job for the past two years, you would not BELIEVE how much money we’ve milked out of the public! So much that Brian’s just bought himself a moon! Whilst we’re afraid that none of it is going to filter down into your annual bonus, we thought a compromise would be to let you decide what to do with the last bit of content we release. Do whatever you want – go nuts! You deserve it”
Developer 1 – “Well, capture the flag is always fun. We haven’t tried that yet”
Bosses – “Come on don’t make me fire you for having no imagination. Think outside the box!”
Developer 2 – “Ok, what about capture the flag…….but……on…….dirt bikes?”
Bosses – “Love it. What else?”
Developer 3 – “I want a map with a million jets all flying around playing domination!”
Bosses – “Wonderful ideas all of you. Go back to your ghastly bedsits and sort it out, we’re all off to snort caviar off the back of the unicorns we had genetically modified with the money that you’ve made for us. Well done guys, well done”
And do you know what? That’s exactly what they’ve done. They’ve gone mad and thrown something completely different into the mix and it works wonderfully. There are four new maps; some have train tracks, there’s one with some snow, but to be honest you wont notice. You wont notice that these are actually the best looking maps that Battlefield have released either. You’ll start a game of Capture the Flag and all you’re going to notice is ‘CHECK OUT THIS JUMP! I AM EVIL KNIEVEL’. I’m being serious here; I’ve now played 4 hours of this and I actually had to force myself to get off the dirt bikes and explore a bit as otherwise all I would have had to write would be ‘dirt bikes are awesome, goodnight’. When I did explore I found a couple of other new vehicles thrown in, but what I found interesting is that the maps were all quite easily manageable on foot. I had expected that on maps built for thrashing bikes around everything would be too spread out to manage without one (as is the case on other maps), however there is lots of cover and I found on one occasion I was able to get the flag back to base by running from cover to cover and not using any of the vehicles scattered around the maps.
Then I tried Air Superiority. I should say first; I have, from the very beginning, been rubbish in the jets. This is a trend that continued when the only option was to join 15 other people and try to capture bases (which are cunningly marked with barrage balloons) in jets. The screenshot at the bottom shows that in my first game that my KDR was shocking. I was a one man genocide. But do you know what? It didn’t matter that I got shot down thirty times and didn’t hit a single enemy, I loved it. And, what the more observant amongst you might have spotted, is that I came second on my team, behind someone else who also didn’t kill anyone else because we were capturing the bases instead. This is the great leveller of Battlefield 3; you don’t need to be a sharp shooter or a top gun to succeed, you work as a team to achieve your objectives. Capture the flag is the perfect example of this. When you have a squad working together you’re very difficult to beat and you get a real sense of achievement when you do well.
There are of course problems. Every now and then you’ll end up in a game with find someone who knows what they’re doing with a helicopter, and they will sit above their base shooting anyone who gets near. And because they’re good with the helicopters they have all the unlockables so it’s virtually impossible to shoot them down, rendering the game a waste of time. This is endemic in any of the base capturing maps and could easily be solved with a no fly zone to keep things interesting. Secondly, whilst you’ve seen the images of people shooting from the back of the bikes, don’t bother trying. You’re not going to hit anyone. It’s easier to run them over than shoot them frankly. And don’t get me started on Air Superiority. As I said I loved playing it even though I got hammered, but no self respecting adult likes being whooped by someone you know is a 13 year old American who’s busy eating with one hand and shouting at his sister without muting his mike. And, presumably for the sake of realism, when looking/flying in the direction where the sun happens to be, they have added glare in which is the equivalent of staring into the actual sun. This is pointless and irritating as I was inevitably killed by the person standing right in front of me that I couldn’t see. I don’t need any help being killed thanks I’m pretty good at that without your involvement.
So this is the end of the line for Battlefield 3. It’s been a wonderful journey and has left me waiting eagerly for Battlefield 4, and praying that EA learns from the big Sim City sized hole in its popularity and doesn’t keep mucking around too much with the boundaries of what they can get away with in terms of DRM. I’m pleased to say though that End Game allows the game that has taken so much of the past 18 months of my life to go out with a bang. If you’re new to the game and only choose one piece of DLC, pick this one and you wont be disappointed. It’s out tomorrow on the PS3 and next week on the 360, and it’s definitely worth your time and one last bit of your money.