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Posted on Sep 20, 2012 in Electronic Games

Battlefield 3 Premium Edition – PC Game Review

By Peter Suciu

Battlefield 3 Premium Edition. PC Game Review. Publisher: Electronic Arts. Developer: DICE. $59.99 (includes Battlefield 3) or $49.99

Passed Inspection: More maps, more modes, truly expands on the Battlefield 3 action, and offers the promise of two more modes in 2013.

Failed Basic: With new maps the old ones are starting to feel like abandoned towns, suggesting longevity of some servers could be in question. Not exactly newbie friendly at this point.

Many games today have the promise of DLC (downloadable content) to extend the gameplay once the original mission or levels have been "played out," but Electronic Arts has truly gone above and beyond the call of duty with Battlefield 3 Premium, a service that offers special perks and items to the game’s 15 million+ players. Available now for $50 this premium content also positions BF3 as the dominant first-person military shooter and in many ways really goes beyond Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series in the process.

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For the record, Activision has launched its own Call of Duty Elite Service.

Both companies have long known that they need to release new maps, new content and even paid expansions to keep gamers coming back or re-enlisting, as is the case. With Battlefield 3 Premium this is much more than a mere expansion however.

Premium will actually deliver a total of five expansion packs to players, including the previously released "Back to Karkand," "Close Quarters," "Armored Kill," "End Game" and "Aftermath." The last two won’t arrive until next year, so part of the idea behind Premium is a pay now, play later option. And those who opted for the winter release of "Back to Karkand" won’t get a discount. It is also worth noting that each expansion will reportedly be available a la carte, but those who sign up for Premium get the games early and, even factoring in that this basically means paying for Karkand twice, there is a real savings when all is said and done.

Additionally, while the Karkand maps—which are updates of a handful of Battlefield 2 maps—are now part of Premium, the service really kicked off at this past summer’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) when the company announced the service and launched the second expansion, "Close Quarters," followed by this September’s release of "Armored Kill."

As the names of these expansions suggest, EA has been quite clever in providing different types of gameplay with them. June’s "Close Quarters," for example, is mostly indoor fighting in very tight spaces. The maps are still reasonably large, but the idea in "Close Quarters" is more room-to-room fighting in which the enemy is likely lurking around the next corner.

The action in "Close Quarters" is, in a word, intense. If this was a World War II–based shooter it would probably feature a Stalingrad type of setting. But set in the modern day with the U.S. military facing the Russians, it is set in luxury hotels, an office building and of course, a dilapidated factory (evoking that Stalingrad feel nonetheless). It also addresses what is likely the biggest shortcoming of the original BF3, too many large maps on which those not traveling by vehicles often spent much of the game walking to the action.

There is no shortage of quick action here. This expansion actually evokes some past military shooters such as Day of Defeat and even Counterstrike. The lack of vehicles isn’t really an issue because these aren’t vehicular settings, nor are they particularly open. There are places to hide of course, but even in games with fewer places this isn’t one for the sniper. And without vehicles it isn’t one for the engineers either—especially as some servers ban rocket launchers completely.

What is interesting is that in real-world situations the indoor and room-to-room settings would really be about slow moving, "creep and peep" type movement. Not so much with most gamers, who instead will opt to run and gun. It gives it the feel of indoor paintball or laser tag—which is back to the point that it is nothing if not intense.

The expansion offers four new maps, 10 new weapons, a bunch of assignments and two new game modes. It is the latter, the modes, that are the most interesting—if not the most engaging.

It is also easy to see that the developers at DICE likely spent some time playing Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series, not to mention Counterstrike Source. This is notable with the Gun Master, which has players advance through a series of superior weapons. Everyone starts with the same pistol, but enemy takedowns result in the player receiving an upgrade. This is truly a love it or hate it experience. It certainly gives an advantage to those who are quick on the draw, and it can leave the less skilled player feeling a tad inadequate (and that includes this reviewer, who isn’t afraid to admit it). The twist with this is that the frontrunner must make the final kill with only a knife. Actually being the winner is thus no small accomplishment in this game.

The Conquest Domination is a bit like classic Counterstrike where the two sides vie to capture three flags, taking more enemy spawns in the process. This twist on Domination is further complicated by placing some flags in the open—at least as open as a high-rise can be. But the point is that with little cover the flags can change hands quickly.

If there is a complaint about the "Close Quarters" expansion, it is that play is very chaotic. As it is unlikely that players will work together like an actual military unit, the result is endless running and gunning, no semblance of tactics and nothing remotely close to discipline. In other words, the game’s only tie to a "military simulation" is that the players are supposedly U.S. or Russian military! This one could just as easily be gangsters, cowboys or aliens—or paintball or laser tag as previously noted. The military connection ends at the load screen.

The varieties of weapons that have been added are interesting and include variations on some of the guns in the original BF3. Someone at DICE must have spent some times looking through Janes’ reports on current-issue military firearms of the world.

On the other end of the spectrum in the expansions is "Armored Kill." While BF3: Close Quarters is intense, this expansion could be dubbed "extreme." The maps are huge, the settings diverse and the new vehicles are everything that seemed to be missing from the original.

There is mobile artillery, anti-aircraft vehicles, and tank killers! This may be about armored warfare but that doesn’t mean armor gets to rule the day. With the new AC-130 gunship in the air players can unleash true hell on those below.

As with "Close Quarters" there are four new maps, which are designed to be big, open spaces, but the developers of the game have been clever. Whereas many of the Battlefield 2 tank maps, such as the free DLC Highway Tampa, were designed as true "tank country" these new maps are a mixed bag. They are big but not all are designed to be a tanker’s paradise. Bandar Desert—which is now the largest map in the history of the series—is large and open. Those players looking for nowhere to hide can make the most of it here and in Armored Shield. The other two maps, Death Valley and Aborz Mountains, are hilly, rugged terrain that might be better for those looking to take down some armor. The latter two feature winding mountain paths, forested areas and even a frozen lake—and with light snowfall and no limit of places to take cover it suggests that God loves the infantry.

These maps are playable as both Conquest and Rush, but there is the new Tank Superiority mode, that is in essence a King of the Hill match that puts up one control point in the center of the map. Unlike "Close Quarters," this makes some level of team play all the more necessary.

As expected, Armored Kill really requires a larger number of players and is best with full-on, 64-player games. With smaller numbers it turns into a race to chase flags, though the Tank Superiority mode does help partially to solve this. Teams that have solid combined arms with a good balance of armor, anti-tank, infantry and air support certainly have an advantage. Those teams that can’t get it together will fold like a second-rate power.

With some other games a good pilot can spoil the day; this is true in spades here. Good pilots can be devastating, but this is at least counterbalanced to some extent by the availability of anti-aircraft options.

The final reason to consider signing up for Premium is that those who do will get the early access to the aforementioned "End Game" and "Aftermath." There are rumors circulating that "End Game" could be "a fight for survival," basically an end-of-days-type World War III game in which civilization breaks down.

If this is true then "Aftermath" could be a Mad Max, post-apocalyptic type of game. But those concerns can be addressed for another day; as for now, this is far from the last battlefield!

Armchair General Rating: 90%

About the Author:
Peter Suciu has been collecting militaria and playing military simulations since he was a child. He’s been reviewing computer games for nearly 20 years, and when he’s not waging battle from his desktop he is a business reporter for several magazines and websites. His work has appeared on CNBC.com, Fortune.com and Forbes. He also collects military helmets and runs the MilitarySunHelmets.com website.

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