Of all the benefits attributed to DICE's Frostbite 2 engine, perhaps the most significant for future game development is the destructible environment functionality.
New engines come and go, boasting a range of improvements designed to amplify the visual splendour of whatever maps and locations developers wish to render, but most are designed to boost texture quality, and not necessarily improve the actual physical state of the environment.
Launched in 2008 with Battlefield: Bad Company, the first version of Frostbite included some fairly meagre wall destruction, alarming bricklayers but generally underwhelming everyone else. 2009's Battlefield 1943 saw additional features included with Frostbite 1.5 allowing complete structures to collapse, yet still Red Faction devotees chortled derisively at the series. Indeed, it wasn't really until Battlefield 3's release last year that the engine came on song in its full DirectX 11 glory, showcasing just what a bunch of mad Swedes and a hefty bankroll can accomplish.
Perhaps developers DICE are worried gamers haven't noticed. Perhaps the physics development team assigned to Frostbite 2 are feeling under appreciated, because the next expansion to Battlefield 3 is designed as little more than an homage to destruction. Players, walls, stairs, entire buildings, it doesn't matter; if EA Sports' can bestow upon themselves the rallying cry "It's in the game", EA DICE are surely entitled to "It's in the way".
Close Quarters is exactly as the title suggests. Gone are the vast, sweeping maps, replaced instead by tight, corridor shooting and tiny courtyards, epitomised in the demonstration map Ziba Tower at EA's London showcase last week. It's more Counter-strike, more old-school Quake than the FPS genre has seen in a long time. Even the somewhat narrowed, linear maps in recent Call of Duty titles have nothing on the claustrophobic, wolf-pack attitude projected by this latest expansion.
To that end, it's best to hunt with others. Stepping away from teammates is merely inviting a bullet in the back, as there's very few places to sit unnoticed. Particularly as the so-called "HD Destruction" allows virtually any hiding spot to be blown apart in short order. No longer will the corner of a stairwell shield an ascending player; the slightest hint of movement invites the wail of bullets and a trip back to the spawn menu. Predictably, too, anyone remotely skilled in the use of a knife will have a field day sneaking from position to position furiously stabbing at players too preoccupied with sending hundreds of rounds down well traversed corridors.
New too are 10 weapons that can be earned and carried back to the base game, such as the AUG & SCAR Assault Rifles, JNG-90 & M417 Sniper variants, ACW-R & MTAR-21 Carbines and a couple of new Machine Guns in the form of the LSAT and L86LSW.
Along with the four new maps and additional weapons, DICE will introduce a new game mode come the June release. Entitled Conquest Domination, it's been crafted specifically to suit smaller maps, and features the same spawn mechanism as Team Deathmatch, coupled with the Conquest flag system.
In application, Conquest Domination allows swift, co-ordinated spawning with teammates, and a heavy emphasis on flag defence. Combine these, and well-disciplined squads will find themselves storming the many vertical locations, desperate to pick off enemy combatants steadfastly refusing to move away from their recently acquired flag.
A solid understanding of the map is key here, as many of the defensive positions around flags can be shot to pieces to reveal other players, rather than waiting for them to reveal themselves.
Close Quarters is clearly unable to service the machinations of dedicated snipers and vehicle aficionados. There's no epic dogfights, no strafing and very little camping. It's fast, unforgiving and – due to the increased destruction only made possible by the exclusion of said vehicles – dashingly pretty to boot.
Battlefield 3's boxed and Karkand experiences may have perfected the long drive, but Close Quarters seeks to improve the FPS short game. Those unwilling to dirty their hands in such personal conflicts can wait until later this year when the Armored Kill pack promises to add vehicular combat on an epic scale, but come June, it's all about shooting the hell out of everything that moves, and a lot of things that don't.