When you playing Gun Master in Battlefield 3 and you use the knife, you’re doing it for an entirely selfless reason; to demote the other player. It’s the ultimate middle finger, a kind of “hey, I’m this much of a better player than you and don’t you forget it” move that means your level stays the same while the other person goes down a level.
For the uninitiated, Gun Master is a game mode in Battlefield 3 that’s like the “gun game” you might have played in Counter-Strike back in the day, also known as Arms Race in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Regardless of which game you’re playing, the premise behind Gun Master/Arms Race/Gun Game is the same: it’s a deathmatch-style game mode where you don’t buy guns, instead, there’s a specific order of guns that you need to progress through in order to win the game. You’re given the first gun in the list and need to get a certain number of kills with it in order to progress to the next gun in the list. The objective is simple: get the required number of kills with whatever weapon you currently have and keep doing so until you finish the list of guns — being the first to do so means you win the match.
Using the knife in any version of this weapon progression game mode is a risky manoeuvre, which might be why a knife kill is the last one on the list, the kill that ends the match. If you’re at the top of the ladder, on the last weapon, you have a knife, and that usually means you’re going to have a bad time. Everyone else has guns, and here you are, with a knife; getting kills is hard — difficult, even — but not impossible. But if you’re using guns, in the ranks, you can still use the knife to get a kill. Again, it’s hard, but not altogether impossible.
Only there’s one major difference between Gun Game and the Arms Race/Gun Master versions of the game work with regards to the knife. In the older Gun Game version of the game, successfully using the knife to kill another player means you immediately level up, advancing to the next weapon in the list, and also demoting the other player to the previous weapon in the list. You’re effectively “stealing” a level from the other player in Gun Game. For this reason, the Gun Game knife kill is beneficial not only to yourself, but humiliating for the other player. Hate a weapon? Get a knife kill to advance to the next weapon. Don’t want to bother getting however-many-kills your current weapon requires to level up? Get a knife kill to immediately go to the next level. Just want to show someone who’s boss? Get a knife kill.
But in Battlefield’s Gun Master and in Counter-Strike’s Arms Race, the knife operates on a slightly different mechanic. If the Gun Game knife is a tool used for purely selfish reasons (to advance to the next level by stealing a level from another player), the Battlefield version is used for purely selfless reasons. Successfully killing another player in Gun Master or Arms Race doesn’t raise your own rank, nor does it add a kill for your current weapon. All you’re doing when you knife someone in Gun Master is sending them back a level, “demoting” them to the previous weapon in the list.
This opens up a whole set of tactical opportunities. Because you can see the ladder in Gun Master and see who’s in the lead, it means you can specifically target someone to knife. Maybe the leader is too far ahead of the pack, so if you knife him, the he’ll be taken down a notch. But doing so is usually at your own expense; you could knife every single player on the other team and you would still be on whatever weapon you started with. Which is why I’m saying using the knife in Gun Master and Arms Race is a purely selfless act, a kind of middle finger to whomever is unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of your ACB-90.
It’s for that reason that using the knife in Gun Master is more of a challenge than it is in Counter Strike. You’re not doing yourself any favours when you use it, so what’s the point? But used correctly, the knife can be a tool for showing off your own skills, humiliating the other player, and demoting them in the process.
Seems like a fair trade-off to me, which is probably why I find myself reaching for the knife button whenever I’m stalking another player.