Battlefield didn't bother to hide its debt to Modern Warfare when the shooter titans' Part 3s clashed last autumn. In came a single-player campaign full of bombastic set-pieces and a suite of half-baked co-op challenges, sitting awkwardly alongside the epic combat scenarios that long-serving fans expected.
Modern Warfare won that initial skirmish fairly conclusively in terms of sales, so now the battle has shifted. It's no longer about grabbing territory but holding the middle - winning over those free-floating mercenary players who have yet to commit to either side. In its efforts to woo this fickle crowd, Battlefield developer DICE has gone even further than before in cribbing from the Call of Duty playbook.
Call of Duty has Elite, offering pre-payment for all downloadable content plus a raft of bonus stuff - and now Battlefield has Premium, which does exactly the same albeit without the same depth of community features. Call of Duty has tight maps and fast-paced, headshot-fuelled gameplay - and now so does Battlefield, with the selection of four claustrophobic interior maps, 10 close-range weapons and a sprinkling of new game modes in this Close Quarters add-on.
Call of Duty has Gun Game, in which players start with a pistol and work their way up through the arsenal, earning a new weapon with each kill. Battlefield now has Gun Master, which does exactly the same. Call of Duty has Domination, in which teams fight for control of three command points. Battlefield has, well, Conquest Domination, a carbon copy so brazen they didn't even bother changing the name.
It's actually quite embarrassing to see how flagrantly DICE has copied Infinity Ward's homework, especially as every design decision was clearly taken for business reasons rather than gameplay ones. It's a win-win for Battlefield, after all. As long as it can offer a decent facsimile of the COD experience, there's less incentive for fairweather players to take that Modern Warfare 3 disc out of the case. And it's not like Modern Warfare can retaliate by suddenly including jets and square miles of destructible real estate.
Of course, a decent facsimile is exactly what you get. DICE can do this stuff in its sleep, and in the broad strokes they've come up with a download that should scratch the trigger-happy itch for a lot of players.
The maps lack the circular patterns that typify Infinity Ward's work, usually opting for more a more lateral criss-cross flow that finds rival forces clashing in the centre, but they're all good and occasionally even great. Pick of the bunch is Operation 925, an office-based map with command points at either end and a third in the car park beneath. It's got a real Die Hard vibe, and matches rattle around very nicely with long corridors flanked by enclosed cubicle spaces. The potential for exploding cars in that underground garage makes for some fiery confrontations, too.
Donya Fortress is similar, a multi-tiered Middle Eastern mansion with a very exposed command point in an open hallway, one up high on a balcony and another in an underground tunnel. Scrapmetal, meanwhile, has two cluttered warehouses joined by perilous bridges. Both feature several sneaky pathways to command points and reward frequent play.
Only the minimalist apartments of Ziba Tower fail to make the grade. The layout is piecemeal, while the horseshoe shape leads to a stiff back-and-forth with too many easy choke-points. It's the one map that I never got a feel for.
"It's actually quite embarrassing to see how flagrantly DICE has copied Infinity Ward's homework, especially as every design decision was clearly taken for business reasons rather than gameplay ones."
Domination tweaks the Battlefield ruleset to accommodate the faster mode of play. Capturing points is far quicker and the action becomes less about holding them than taking them and moving on, the two teams looping around each other in a constant tit-for-tat war of retaliation. Health, too, feels like it's been lowered. One-hit kills are more common, whether because of the closer range or because stats have been tweaked.
There's none of the demolition that makes the main game so thrillingly dynamic, since these maps are so tight that they'd be flattened by the end of the match if walls could tumble down. Instead we get HD Destruction, a fancy and meaningless name for the sort of less impressive destruction we've seen in other shooters - partition walls with holes in, doors that splinter and so on. This has its own downsides, as it's easier to get snagged in these constricted spaces - and I've already seen a few cheeky campers taking advantage of glitching scenery to snipe from inside walls. Hmm.
Despite these wobbles, Close Quarters is generic shooter fun, and also unmistakably Not Battlefield. The game's heavier, more methodical movement is sometimes a hindrance while almost all of the game's more specialised accessory options are either irrelevant or poorly balanced for this new style of play.
The controversial blinding effect of flashlights and laser sights is a real issue, as the close proximity means that even your own team mates can leave you blinking through blurred virtual eyes. Claymore mines and C4 are also problematic in these confined spaces, and many clans already flash up messages at the start of matches warning of instant kicks for anyone who plants charges at capture points for easy kills.
What seems to be keeping these maps in rotation is that they're an absolute bonanza of XP points. The fast pace coupled with the capture-recapture cycle means that it's easy to walk away from a match with tens of thousands of XP. It's not unusual to rank up at least once, even twice, in a single round. With a Double XP weekend coming up, it's likely that a large chunk of the Battlefield community is about to leapfrog up the ranks, for better or worse.
Trouble is, you can't just slap some slow-motion explosions into Gran Turismo and pretend it's Burnout any more than injecting a lump of COD into Battlefield's more tactical, class-based game makes it a replacement for Modern Warfare. The new maps are good enough, for what they are, and there's certainly not much you can complain about in technical terms. And there's always the next DLC pack - Armored Kill - which will focus on vehicles as well as offering the biggest map in Battlefield history, an offering as obviously designed to placate the Battlefield hardcore as this pack is to seduce the Modern Warfare fanbase.
Close Quarters does what it set out to do, then, but does so at further cost to Battlefield's own identity. It's a DLC pack driven by market share and other corporate talk, and as such it can't help but feel cynical. The maps aren't short on quality, but XP boosts aside, I can't see them replacing the true Battlefield experience any time soon. After spending several days exclusively on Close Quarters matches, I dipped into a Rush match on Kharg Island and in the first five minutes shot down a helicopter with a rocket launcher, crashing it into an enemy jet for a spectacular double kill. That is why I play Battlefield.
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