Hitting the dirt only makes the flak worse.
Players the world over have been trading lead — both vocally and physically — for nearly a week in the Parisian parks of Operation Metro, an attack/defense map in Battlefield 3's multiplayer beta. And while the locale's lush vegetation offers strategic avenues of concealment and cover, it also hosts throngs of supine, crawling bushmen. Commence the camper crusade.
When developer DICE removed the prone position from 2010's Battlefield: Bad Company 2, it aimed to encourage a level playing field and faster pace during firefights. It worked: Despite outcry over the absence of a supposedly pivotal feature of the franchise, DICE deftly circumvented the pernicious balancing problems associated with prone, delivering a Battlefield experience sans planked soldiers.
DICE's change of heart with Battlefield 3's restoration of prone took a different tack. The reason was simple: The fans wanted it. But it also brought back forgotten headaches as well. "The return of prone shows we definitely listened to the community," DICE General Manager Karl Magnus Troedsson told Games On Net in an interview back in March. "We'd known that there's a lot of hassle with something like prone, both visual-quality- and balancing-wise. Fixes come naturally, but just introducing prone brings these kinds of problems."
But here's the thing: Kissing the turf with your belly doesn't automatically sour the game's mechanics. It's something far more personal than that.
Everyone plays differently. Hardened pros work through an established routine like clockwork. Newbies explore the map with doe-eyed fascination. Campers choose their favorite roosts with cheeky grins behind their sniper scopes. How you play isn't inherent of your posture — it's a system of adaptability molded and crafted through trial and error. And that includes prone. Hell, the soil looked mighty inviting after the first time a jet's strafing run roared inches from my head at Mach 2.
Like all multiplayer shooters, teamwork and strategy earn wins. Pushing up Operation Metro's narrow subway corridors practically begs for a prone machine-gunner as an impromptu turret. Or you could flit between tracks and platforms for a potential flank. Or you could just swarm enough warm bodies at the objectives (you are completing the objectives, right?) until the deed is done. The choice falls to the individual sitting in front of the keyboard or grasping the controller — not his aptitude for taking a dive every time the opposition so much as bats an eyelid.
Whether prone stimulates shoddy gameplay is speculative at best. Skills have a fickle tendency of improving through repeated use, so I doubt an old FPS trope such as camping genuinely throws a wrench into choosing a style of play. In fact, DICE's diligence for balance tweaked prone into something far less daunting. For example, players can't fire their weapons during the roughly three-second transition from standing to prone, stopping troublesome "drop shots" in their tracks. Coupled with the significant movement penalty of crawling on the ground like a camouflaged worm, that's huge — seconds are jewels beyond price in combat.
Let's not discredit our flexibility by pointing fingers at prone. Instead, let's honor its original purpose: as one of the many tools at our disposal to send some high-caliber aspirin to the other team before they do.
If that's best accomplished through prone, then I don't ever want to get up.
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