Review: Battlefield 3: Armored Kill

The latest in the seemingly endless supply of add-on packs for Battlefield 3 is Armored Kill. The title is apt. There’re lots of tanks, airplanes, helicopters, airborne gunships, and massive, massive maps.

I wasn’t planning on covering yet another BF3 add-on, but the original game is one of my favorites of recent years and AK just isn’t. . . fun.

I’ll give EA credit, each add-on pack of maps has a clear focus. The first, Back to Karkand, gave us beautifully re-built maps from Battlefield 2. It was great fun, and worth the money.

I skipped Close Quarters, as to me BF3 is about big maps, not claustrophobic CQB.

Armored Kill seems like it would be great: Huge open maps with lots of vehicles. There’s new tanks, ATVs, mobile artillery, and even an AC-130 gunship.

The maps themselves are definitely massive, if not particularly interesting. There’s a mountain map, which is far more vertical than any other Battlefield map; a desert/beach map similar to “Gulf of Oman;” a grassy map similar to “Caspian Border;” and a nighttime map called “Death Valley” that’s a confusing mess. There are no standouts here. None have the flow and choke points that make so many of the original and BtK maps so spectacular. Instead, it’s often a case of chasing the enemy around the map, or in a few cases, pinning them down to one spawn point. When this latter happens, it’s flat out un-fun for the opposing team. True, it’s never been fun, but now with multiple helicopters, planes, gunships, and mobile artillery, if your team gets pinned down, the next ten minutes are spawn-die-spawn-die-spawn-die. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to escape. Boring.

Even the gunship feels like a missed opportunity. If you’re lucky enough to be in the spawn queue when the gunship pops into existence, you and one teammate man the guns on the AC-130 as it circles the battlefield. One seat has a big honkin’ cannon, the other a still-serious 25mm cannon. As an alternate seat, you each get access to an AA machine gun on the roof, which are pretty much useless.

Unless the other team’s air force is completely inept, or yours is especially good, you don’t last long in the AC-130. It’s not hard to take down from either the air or the ground (lighting off a fiery waterfall of defensive AA flares is one of AK’s visual highlights, though). You can’t repair the gunship, but this is a symptom of the real problem.

The real problem is that the AC-130 isn’t a plane. You don’t fly the gunship, it’s on rails, slowly circling at a set speed on a set course. There’s no “on-board,” just a different screen with crosshairs. It’s like a game-within-a-game, where you press a button at the orange triangles on the screen (indicating enemies). It’s amusing, to a point, but it’s also rather boring. Why can’t I repair the gunship like I can while I’m in a helicopter? Why can’t I spawn inside the gunship, and run around doing something? You can spawn “from” the gunship, but you spawn already in freefall. The interior of the plane would have made this much more interesting. How cool would it have been to spawn in the interior, repair it a bit, then run out the rear cargo hatch like something out of Living Daylights.

Worse still, all the core issues with vehicle play in Battlefield 3 are still here, enhanced thanks to there being so many more vehicles. It’s still nearly impossible to take down enemy aircraft as infantry. If a tank (or, now, the mobile artillery) has you zeroed in at a distance, it’s nearly impossible to take them out with an RPG or Javelin. Basically, if you’re on foot, you’re fodder. If you haven’t unlocked a bunch of unlocks for each vehicle, you’re a sitting duck. The balance of power in AK swings way too far towards skilled pilots and those players who seem to have little else to do than play BF3. If you’re a casual player, you’re toast.

I guess the issue is that since it tries so hard to specialize in vehicles, the overall balance of the add-on feels off. It loses some of its magic, and ends up feeling empty as a result. It’s less fun.

If the vehicles were your favorite part of BF3, you’ll probably love Armored Kill. If you’re like me, though, and enjoyed vehicles as part of the game, the focus is too much on that part, at the expense of everything else.