Unsurprisingly, Battlefield 3: Armored Kill is the absolute business. Close Quarters was a very enjoyable pit stop – and different enough to warrant constant revisiting – but there’s nothing truly experimental about Armored Kill; it’s just classic, down-the-line Battlefield. There are new vehicles, a brand new gameplay mode and four stunning new maps, but as always, success demands that you employ all of the Battlefield staples; teamwork, foresight and communication. The devastating new AC-130 gunship, which comes into play during both Conquest and Rush matches, forces these traits upon you like never before. You need to be constantly prepared to briskly dispatch that gunship as soon as it appears on the skyline, but if you’re all waiting for it, who’s going to destroy the tank that will inevitably roll into view a few seconds later?

Two of the four new maps call a couple of golden oldies to mind. There are shades of White Pass and Port Valdez in the sprawling Alborz Mountains, and Armored Shield is reminiscent of Bad Company 2’s Heavy Metal; no bad thing. What’s most impressive about these new environments is that they all – even more so than the original Battlefield 3 maps – work just as well on Rush as they do on Conquest. Bandar Desert was clearly built for Conquest and Death Valley is a Rush map par excellence, but neither one is damaged by the transition to the other mode. Death Valley broadens out and sprawls like the best of them, and the Rush pathways through Bandar were chosen very shrewdly indeed. By comparison, Caspian Border is a fantastic Conquest map but a rather ho-hum Rush one; here, you’re paying for four maps, but are essentially being given eight. In addition, Death Valley makes for a pretty peerless Death Match slayground.

Quad bikes make a welcome return – they’re utterly vital during Conquest – along with a duo of new tank destroyers and two rocket artillery vehicles. The artillery vehicles are very easy to use, but are almost as difficult to master as jets or attack helicopters. They allow you to lay missile fire down across vast distances, but while the explosions that those missiles create are almost cataclysmic, gauging range and scope involves a lot of trial and error. The slightest tap of a thumbstick is enough to send you way off target, but the process of learning the ropes is compelling; get your first kill, and you’ll be hooked. The game’s new gameplay mode is Tank Superiority, and it’s a novel diversion that, like Close Quarters’ Gun Master, will become a welcome one-off on many a veteran’s playlist. It’s a chaotic mode to be sure, but each map is so large that victory is all about flanking and savvy team coordination.

The only real issue with Armored Kill at present is that the AC-130 is somewhat unbalanced during Rush games. It spawns too quickly and constantly demands the attention of an entire defending team, which poses something of a problem when you’re also supposed to be keeping a pair of objectives locked down. This will inevitably be patched at some point soon, but the problem doesn’t exist during Conquest, where control of the gunship is dependent on capturing a specific objective, and your team aren’t endlessly spawning in one place. The only other quibble is that you’re in trouble if you’re against the idea of playing as an engineer, but then Armored Kill is a themed expansion, not a rewrite. The maps are huge and the vehicles are plentiful, and for many people, that’s what Battlefield is all about. This is yet another deeply classy piece of work from those Swedish maestros at DICE, and basically essential.

Battlefield 3: Armored Kill is available now for Battlefield Premium subscribers on all platforms. Battlefield 3: Premium Edition is currently due for release on PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on Friday, September 14th 2012.

Watch the official launch trailer for Battlefield 3: Armored Kill below:

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