For the latest Battlefield 3 downloadable content pack, Close Quarters, DICE went for a more scaled-down take on the series' sprawling theaters of war. There's really no other way to put it: Close Quarters takes aim at the Call of Duty-loving sector of the online first-person shooter market, delivering a set of four new maps and two new game modes that embrace the idea of small-team engagements in tight, vehicle-free locations.
For the hardened Battlefield vets, the DLC pack will take some getting used to. In addition to learning the maps, you'll also need to fine-tune your strategies as you negotiate these pint-sized environments. The core rules of Battlefield 3 are still in place, with squad-based play and class loadouts consisting of more than just variations on different weapons packages, but you'll need to approach them in a different matter in order to find success in Close Quarters.
Let's first establish a few of the basic ideas that you should walk into any Close Quarters match with. For starters, the pack's four maps -- Donya Fortress, Operation 925, Scrapmetal, and Ziba Tower -- all support a maximum of just 16 players in all. Similarly, you'll only be able to play in small-team game types on these maps. Team Deathmatch and Squad Deathmatch are joined by the DLC's two new (and no doubt familiar) game modes: Conquest Domination and Gun Master.
Conquest Domination is basically a fancy name for the same sort of flag capture-based control point mode that so many other online shooters offer. Three flags, labeled A, B, and C, appear in static locations for either team to "capture" by having one or more players stand close by while a meter fills up. The more flags that you control, the more points you earn, with the first team to hit the point goal named the winner.
The other new mode is Gun Master, which amounts to a team-based variation on Counter-Strike's Gun Game. All players start out with a simple pistol and the goal of scoring two kills with the weapon in order to advance to the next round. Each new round puts a new weapon -- with unlimited ammo -- in your hands.
Gun Master diverges from Gun Game in grouping all players into two teams; there's still just one winner crowned, the first person to complete all of the rounds, but it all plays out in the context of a team battle. This leaves players with an unusual choice to make: do you fight as part of the team and risk having your kills stolen or do you go it alone instead, increasing your risk of being fragged. There's really no right answer, though sticking with fellow team members is certainly helpful for those who aren't confident in their twitch shooting reflexes.
Close Quarters also includes an assortment of new gear, though most of it must be unlocked by completing a variety of newly added Assignments. The easiest to snatch playing on just Close Quarters maps and modes is the AUG A3, which you get for performing 10 squad revives and scoring 30 assault rifle kills for the Shepard Assignment.
The only piece of gear that you get right off the bat is the 40mm LVG (Low-Velocity Grenade), an ammo type for your grenade launcher of choice that fires explosives using a timed three-second fuse. The Close Quarters maps are very noob tube-friendly given their small size and enhanced destructibility; fans of grenade launchers should definitely consider swapping in the new ammo type on these maps.
You should also be aware that the class-based play in Battlefield 3 is only marginally useful in Close Quarters match-ups. If you're playing on one of these small-team maps, the most useful class of the bunch is Assault, especially once you've got the ability to equip both the medkit and the defibrillator. The others have their place, but the Assault's combination of assault rifle and healing supplies is the most universally useful of the bunch.
Support is also handy for its LMG-toting loadouts and ammo packs. Sure, you'll usually die long before you need to ammo up again, but having the added suppressive fire of this class's heavy weapons is a great help. Recon is worth considering on certain maps for some of the equipment you gain access to, such as the motion detector or spawn beacon, but you'll usually want to swap the sniper rifle out for something that's a bit better at short ranges.
Then there's the Engineer class, which is essentially worthless on the Close Quarters maps. Sure, you'll see some players using them successfully, but the vehicle-oriented gear that this class uses really has no place on the Close Quarters battlefields. The ratio in a typical squad ought to be three Assault and one Support, with a Recon occasionally stepping in for a larger, more open map, like Scrapmetal.
The Maps: Donya Fortress
The setting for Donya Fortress is an old fort that's been converted into a modern palace. The split-level structure and its network of basement corridors offers fewer opportunities in the realm of tactical destruction than the other Close Quarters maps. Fear not though; there's still an elaborate series of courtyards, interior rooms, hallways, and awnings offering plenty of strategic possibilities.
Many of your most pitched battles at Donya Fortress will be fought in the two-story room that houses the C-flag in Squad Domination matches. The central area on the floor where the flag sits is surrounded by three ground-level entry points and two sets of stairs that lead up to a balcony ringing the room.
Your best bet on this map is to avoid walking into the central open courtyards, relying instead upon the awnings and balconies that surround them and the basement beneath the facility for easy access to different parts of the map. Always be sure to look up when you walk into a new area as well, since many players have embraced the tactic of holding down upper balconies to maintain control of the map.
The Maps: Operation 925
The Operation 925 map is set inside of a Tehran business center, with two stories of office cubicles and social areas sitting on top of a large, shadowy parking garage. Your access to the different floors is more limited on this map than it is on Donya Fortress, with only a handful of stairwells to be found in the building's hallways. As a result, you're worrying less here about dangers from above -- though balconies above the A- and C-flag position offers good high ground cover opportunities -- and more about what might be coming around the next corner.
The A and B flags in a Squad Domination match paint a good picture of the biggest battle hotspots in Operation 925. Move slowly through the garage and take advantage of the darkness by sticking to the walls, both to improve your chances of survival and to get the drop on any aggressors that pop up. For the A-flag area, take advantage of the balcony and the hallway below and around the corner from it, accessible via one of the parking garage's stairwells.
Be very careful as you move through the office halls above the garage, and stick with your squad whenever possible. A series of glass-walled offices separate two hallways, making ambushes a constant concern here. The cubicles and desk mazes don't offer a ton of cover, but it's easy to conceal yourself -- or miss a concealed enemy -- in these cluttered areas.
The Maps: Scrapmetal
Scrapmetal is probably the largest of the Close Quarters maps, and the one that offers the most opportunities for those who prefer to engage at a distance using a sniper rifle or other scoped weapon. The factory setting includes some large interior warehouse-like spaces and a pair of sprawling rooftop areas connected by ductwork and skybridges.
Prepare to fight very hard for the A-flag capture point, situated out in the open at one corner of the lower of the two rooftops. If you've got anyone with you using a Recon class, have them plant a spawn beacon nearby for easy access to this rooftop and the capture point there. The C-flag will change hands frequently, as it's situated right in the middle of one of the skybridges.
Teams with one or more crackshot snipers should endeavor to hang onto the B-flag location in Conquest Domination maps. Multiple sets of stairs in this area lead up to the map's primary sniping location, an open-air balcony that overlooks the A-flag's rooftop.
The Maps: Ziba Tower
At last, we come to Ziba Tower. Out of all of the Close Quarters maps, this one offers the most opportunities for environmental destruction. Set on the rooftop of a luxury hotel in Tehran, this two-story location basically amounts to a U-shaped set of interior locations wrapping around a central pool area and courtyard. The map's highest point is at the "bottom" of the U, a balcony overlooking the central area that is accessible via stairs on both sides.
Avoid the central courtyard whenever possible. If you need to pass through it, try to either dash quickly across the open end of the U or take cover in the small building housing the kitchen (also near the open end of the U). The balcony high point offers some decent sniper opportunities, but it's a difficult location to defend.
Your best bet is to stick to the interiors whenever possible. The A-flag location, situated at one of the U's end points, is easy to defend with its multiple access points, both from the two stairwells and from the hallway lined with adjacent rooms that leads into it. The C-flag location, an indoor pool, is another hotspot. Be particularly wary of attacks from above here, as it's easy to jump through the skylights above using a nearby balcony.
The B-flag location is probably where you'll see the heaviest firefights, however. It's very similar in a lot of ways to the C-flag location in Donya Fortress, only with less accessibility from the lower floor -- where the flag is -- to the upper floor. You might be tempted to go Recon because of Ziba's open central area, but your best bet for this map is to stick with the flexibility that Assault offers.