“Get your fangs out, Hawkins. We’re hunting big game today.” — The pilot in the beginning of the mission.
Hawkins meets up with her pilot below deck on the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier, and is briefed on the mission ahead. The mission the pair had to complete was to conduct air strikes against military targets and neutralize Al-Bashir in Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, but the pilot noted that Iranian jets were already in the air. The pair make their way onto the flight deck where their F/A-18F Super Hornet is waiting. After completing the pre-flight checks, Shark 4-6 and their wingman, 4-2, take off from the carrier and climb up into the cloud layer, experiencing some minor turbulence, but break through above the cloud cover. However, 4-2 notices a radar contact, several miles out, without an IFF tone signalling they were friendly. Suddenly, two Iranian Su-35S fly past, firing cannon rounds towards the US jets. 4-2 and 4-6 break formation, with 4-6 going for one of the Iranian jets that had broken right, whereas 4-2 went for the one on the left. However, the Sukhoi that 4-6 was hunting down pulled off a Pugachev’s Cobra, managing to get behind 4-6 and starting its pursuit.
Hawkins now began to launch counter-measures to avoid the Iranian missiles. The pilot of 4-6 then bleeds the jet’s speed, bringing round the F-18 so that Hawkins can engage the Flanker with cannon and Sidewinder missiles. Engaging the Iranian jet, Hawkins destroys it, but not before the Iranian jet deploys flares to throw the aim off of some of the missiles that Hawkins fired. However, eventually the jet is destroyed, and 4-6 flies towards the dogfight between 4-2 and the remaining Su-35. Pulling up behind the Flanker, Hawkins engages and destroys the jet while 4-2 breaks away, before linking up again with 4-6. However, as the F-18s link up again, 4-2 is locked onto and destroyed by another pair of Su-35s, who lock onto 4-6 as well. Hawkins again deploys counter-measures, before engaging and destroying one of the Sukhois who had flown towards the port side of her jet. The second jet is also caught out and destroyed, and Shark 4-6 joins with the strike formation heading towards Mehrabad Airport. After taking out the jets, Hawkins flies towards Mehrabad Airport, tasked with clearing the airspace of ground threats so that the A-10s can launch their attack runs. Bulldog 3-2, however, is struck by AA fire, and is destroyed, prompting Hawkins to engage the SAMs with AGM-88 HARM missiles. Switching to the F-18’s targeting pod, Hawkins locks onto and fires three HARM missiles, destroying three SAM positions through heavy cloud cover.
Next, after seeing fuel tankers heading onto the main runway, Hawkins is told to lase Iranian jets for bombing runs by a flight of F-16s. Four parked Su-35s are targeted and destroyed, alongside three moving jets that were already fuelled and ready for take-off. With the airspace cleared, Reaper 1, the overall controller for the mission, spies three vehicles moving onto the runway, as well as a helicopter. As the helicopter lands, Reaper 1 identifies the occupants of the vehicles as including Al-Bashir, and tasks Shark 4-6 to engage and destroy the helicopter before it takes off. Lasing the area with the targeting pod, Hawkins calls in an A-10, Bulldog 3-3, to destroy the helicopter with cannon fire, which it does. Hawkins also directs Bulldog 3-3 onto the survivors of the airstrike, who were running for cover. Again, the cannon fire of the A-10 eliminates the runners. Reaper 1 calls a halt to the airstrikes, as friendly troops were moving into the area, and 4-6 is directed back to the USS George H.W. Bush, landing on the carrier without mishap after dark.
- Battlefield 3 sets the player in the roles of several individuals: Hawkins is a weapons officer that only makes one appearance and has no speaking roles in Battlefield 3, and in Battlefield 4, she has the callsign Firebird 2-1, sent to extract Tombstone from Baku.
- That lighting is really something else: The dreary greys and whites are offset by the vivid reds and yellows of the signals and jackets worn by flight deck staff. For those curious, the link points to an anime I watched last year, called Vividred Operation, a successor of sorts to Strike Witches that featured the equivalent of magical girls. The series ended up being pure entertainment despite lacking a purposeful story, although in retrospect, I think I preferred the setup in Strike Witches a little more than that in Vividred Operation.
- Every time I get into the driver’s seat of any vehicle, I have the habit of doing a sort of pre-drive check that I learnt to do so while taking driving lessons. Hawkins is tasked with checking the aircraft flaps and stablisers, then warming up the weapons and countermeasures. I adjust my seat, check all of the mirrors, disengage the handbrake, shift into the correct gear, signal and shoulder check before pulling out. When Battlefield 3 was released, my license was only five months old, and I was still very much a novice when it came to driving.
- The takeoff sequence is very cinematic and is set to the Battlefield Main theme. It’s easily one of the best moments in the game and sets the mood for “Going Hunting”. On the soundtrack, there’s also a song called “Hunter’s Point” for the dogfight sequences. Setting this song on infinite loop provides an incredible mood for getting some serious work done.
- PLR fast air are already up and running by the time Shark 4-6 and Shark 4-2 are up in the air. After being engaged by a squadron of Su-35 aircraft, one of the fighters executes a Pugachev’s Cobra and downs 4-2. In a harrowing few moments, Hawkins is ordered to dump flares to shake off enemy missile locks. The Su-35 is armed with a GSh-301 30mm autocannon, which is highly accurate and can shred enemy aircraft with as few as three rounds. Given that flares disrupt its missiles, I surmise that the SU-27s in Battlefield 3 are equipped with R-73 heat-seeking missiles.
- Once the targeting HUD comes up, it’s time to give the enemy aircraft a taste of their own medicine. The F/A-18 is equipped with a M61 Vulcan and AIM-9 Sidewinder. Compared to the Su-35, the cannon on the F/A-18 fires smaller rounds at a higher rate, giving it a higher damage potential over time. As for the missiles, I’ve heard that the R-73 has the longer range and superior warhead, while the AIM-9 has better tracking and maneuverability.
- In terms of gameplay, however, the missiles will definitely get the job done, and it is quite enjoyable to splash the enemy fighters. Once the fighters are down, Shark 4-6 is joined by some A-10 Thunderbolts, and Hawkins is asked to designate targets on the ground.
- Before any of the A-10s can engage, the anti-air SAMs must be taken out: this is done using anti-radiation missiles. Once these installations are destroyed, taxiing fighters need to be taken out. The A-10s will take over, and all the player needs to do is mark the targets.
- The trick to beating this part is to keep the reticle steady over the intended targets until it is clear that the A-10s have strafed their targets, and the red indicators disappear. It is curious to note that even if there are targets outside the path of the gunfire, they will all disappear for no reason after one strafing run. This “bug” is likely a time-saving measure.
I can’t quite recall where I said this, but once, I noted that I love rail shooters: while someone else is driving, all I’m concerned with are the weapons systems. After some players interpreted “jet gameplay” to include the campaign, there was much disappointment when the only jet mission was a rail shooter, being abstracted to being the weapons officer of an F/A-18 Super Hornet. For me, however, it represented a chance to let someone else do the driving, and make full use of the F/A-18 Super Hornet’s weapons and countermeasure suite. After a harrowing dogfight with enemy fighters, the targeting pods are used to designate ground targets. “Going Hunting” is one of the easiest missions in Battlefield 3, and feels like an interactive movie. The mood, atmospherics and immersion meant that I was feeling like a weapons officer; the turns and rolls gave me a sinking feeling in the stomach (any time I jump from a height in a game, I get that). Paired with the gorgeous graphics, “Going Hunting” was a mission I enjoyed thoroughly. The next mission returns the player into Blackburn’s shoes, but before I go there, I’ll make a quick detour about the release of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion movie.