: Digital Illusions, CE
: Great Satan
. Er, that is, Electronic Arts
: June 2005
, First Person Shooter
The Battlefield series simulate a large, outdoors environment in which two opposing teams attempt to eliminate the other's "points", or "tickets". The primary mode of play is the "Conquest" mode - this enhances classic deathmatch with bases placed upon the map, which can be captured and held by either team. The team which holds fewer bases at any given moment loses points at a steady rate, in addition to losing them for every player death the team sustains. Maps on which all bases are capturable can also be won by simply capturing all the bases. Players can use a wide variety of weapons, gear, and vehicles on land, in the water and in the air - all with appropriate countermeasures.
What makes the Battlefield games work is a rock-paper-scissors approach that sacrifices some realism to improve gameplay - some weapons will have a vastly greater effect in some situations than they would in real life, whereas others are greatly diminished, in order to balance each soldier's (player's) experience on the field of battle. This is the "arcade" portion of what is otherwise a realistic shooter (historic weapons rather than a M41A Pulse Rifle or a ZF1, etc. - even if there are historic inconsistencies, it's still no Unreal Tournament).
Battlefield 2 takes what made Battlefield 1942 successful and innovative, and enhances it, as sequels do. What was so innovative about BF42? How about:
- Unprecedented size of maps to play on. Simply huge.
- Likewise, the number of players able to play at the same time, in a shooter environment, on a ThisGeneration game.¹
- Brilliantly captured and superbly intuitive vehicle mechanics. You didn't have to learn how to drive a tank or a jeep, it behaved exactly as you expected from the start, down to inertia, acceleration and speed profile, and even the creak of suspension as your ride settled after cresting a hill.
- New conquest mode (Tribes did this before, but see next point).
- Nearly universal arcade appeal.
Taken alone, none of these features make the game. But when combined, Battlefield 1942 was somewhat greater than the sum of its parts. It had some issues, like iffy hit detection, occasional lack of sanity checks brought on by the faux realism (an anti-armor RPG to the face was not fatal, for example), and rampant lack of teamplay - but overall, it was still quite the accomplishment.
Well, Battlefield 2 has advanced the conflict into the modern times (or a bit ahead) and attempted to resolve some of the issues obvious from the first game. There's a ton and a half worth of improvements:
- Commander mode - an ability for a single player on each team to have access to tactical tools such as satellite scan, artillery barrage, supply drops (rearm/repair units near the supply crate) or even pinpointing an enemy presence one by one via uplink, or in an area via UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) drone. The commander also has access to a top-down view of the action in realtime, and can issue orders (not that they have to be followed) to the entire team, via its squad leaders.
- Squads - you can now form up into squads within the game. Squad members show up differently (green dots) from other team members (blue dots) on the map, they each have a leader who has a limited commanding ability (can set waypoints and make requests of the commander directly), can use voice communications within the squad, and can spawn with the commander, wherever s/he is.
- Enhanced classes - classes are no longer simply differences between weapon loadouts. The engineer can not only repair, but also has a repair field effect, if inside a vehicle. The medic heals units around him when his health pack is out, and can now revive fallen units, preventing the overall "lives" pool from decreasing. The support guy/SAW gunner provides ammo to all units around him, and can drop ammo packs which will contain correct ammo for any unit that picks it up.
- Teamwork scoring - no longer are simple kills the only reward. All of the classes mentioned above receive additional points for tasks fitting their role (healing, fixing, support). There are also medals you can obtain for accomplishing certain tasks - these go on your permanent Battlefield 2 account.
- Unit advancement - you are no longer an anonymous unit on the battlefield. Well, you are - but your playing statistics do get recorded to a central server. Your medals, weapon preferences, assists and teamwork actions are all saved - and as you keep playing, you go up in rank. As you go up on rank, not only do you get a spiffy new title to preface your name with (on all servers you play, thus showing the magnitude of your geekitude), but you also get access to advanced weaponry. You get to unlock one new weapon, usually an upgraded weapon of that class' weapon, for nearly every new rank you earn while in combat (but only on official servers).
- Built in voice communications - when someone speaks, his dot on the minimap flashes yellow, his name over his head flashes, and his name pops up briefly on the screen. You can also communicate within your squad only (if in a squad) for maximum teamwork. Again nothing new, but the fact that it's integrated with the game is nice.
- Streamlined tactical communications - the Q and the T buttons on the keyboard (conveniently close to the regular WASD setup) are now multifunctional, situational interfaces with the rest of your team. By holding down Q and clicking one of 10 or so choices from a command rose, you can issue very quick pre-recorded voice communications, request orders, communicate enemy activity, ask for help, and all the other actions necessary for full battle communications. Squad leaders can aim at a spot with their crosshairs, and request supply drops, artillery support or UAV (area radar) scans. Mapping all this functionality to 2 keys is a fantastic way to bring teamwork to the forefront of any battle.
- Scaled maps - each of the 12 maps comes with a 16, 32 and 64-player variant. Technically, the same map is loaded irrespective of how many players are on it (this is defined by the server, it doesn't happen on the fly). But based on this predefined number, each map has a different combat area (the area you can play in - if you venture out, you will get a verbal and text warning, and start losing health if you stay outside it) and different objectives (usually on the order of 3-4 conquest points for 16 players, 5-7 for 32 players, and 8 or more for the 64 player variant). This makes servers extremely flexible.
So again, lots of stuff we've seen before, but put together in a fantastic package that allows lots of team-based shooter fun with an inconsequential learning curve.
The conflict is played out between the USMC (United States Marine Corps), MEC (a fictional Middle Eastern Coalition), and the People's Liberation Army of China. Each faction has the same classes, but they're loaded out with slight variations. Can you tell I like lists? I'll try to keep this short. Everyone gets a pistol and a knife, and almost everyone - except the engineer and the anti-tank - gets frag grenades.
Medic - a bare (no scope, no grenade launcher, no suppressor) assault rifle; a medkit which, when wielded, heals in an area around the medic (MMORPG AoE style!²); the medkit can also be tossed as an insta-heal medpack on the ground (3 instant uses, regenerates slowly). The defibrillator allows revives on fallen teammates, and is an instant kill weapon when used on foes - the ultimate shame kill. The medic upgrades to a Lee Enfield L85-A1: a more accurate, scoped bullpup assault rifle with a 4x zoom³.
Engineer - the almighty wrench is the engineer's primary tool. It has infinite charges, but has to recharge between extended uses (although a single use can heal multiple vehicles with ease). Another AoE generator, an engineer simply has to be in a vehicle to "heal" all other vehicles in his vicinity. The engineer can also mine roads (warning: mines do NOT have IFF!); these mines are anti-vehicle only, and are pretty deadly in their role. The engineer gets a shotgun and can be deadly at close range. His upgrade is the MK3A1 Jackhammer automatic shotgun.
Support - the wildly inaccurate Light Machine Gun is the province of this loadout. In addition, he gets an ammo pack item - use it to resupply units around him, or drop ammo packs for an instant refill. Again, the LMG is very, very inaccurate, offsetting the large ammunition reserves of this class. The upgrade is the fearsome PKM machine gun.
Special Ops - a submachine gun (SMG) with an aimpoint, and C4 charges. Can hold their own at short range, but blowing things up is really their primary raison d'etre. You can now stick the charges onto surfaces, like walls or vehicles (before you could only lay them on the ground), making traps very, very easy. This role is very important for disrupting the enemy Commander's tools (artillery, UAV drone, or satellite scan are all explodable). The upgrade here is a Heckler & Koch G-36C, a robust and respectable light carbine.
Sniper - Gee ... I wonder what he does? The neat thing is that the sniper now wears a ghillie suit, and is very hard to spot (actually disappears from view at distance, when prone on the ground - I haven't tested this empirically yet). He also gets a few anti-infantry Claymore mines - very useful for safeguarding a good sniping spot, but be sure to communicate with your squad about them. His upgrade is the stunning M95 Barrett - its special feature is the ability to shoot through armor, making helicopters a new and tantalizing target for this class.
Assault - Assault rifle with underslung grenade launcher and smoke grenades. Create confusion and destruction, and not have to aim much - a fun, if rather single-use class. The assault class upgrades to a G3 assault rifle - accurate and deadly, although I personally prefer having the underslung grenade launcher.
Anti-tank - just what it says, the anti-vehicle specialist carries a modern-day bazooka on his back with several charges. For defense, a light SMG gun, upgradable to the DAO-12 automatic shotgun, a frightening "streetsweeper" weapon.
Finally, any class type can drive any vehicle, for better or worse, and all come equipped with a multiple-use parachute. All competing armies get access to a main battle tank, a mobile anti-aircraft artillery, an amphibious APC, a buggy (or a beat-up truck, hah), a transport and an attack chopper, and an attack jet and a bomber jet. The USMC and the MEC get 2 types of buggies to drive, the Chinese only get their claptrap truck. Some sort of vehicular discrimination, I guess? Unlike BF42, there is no overlap - all vehicles and primary weapons are unique to the force that is using it (the unlockables are all the same though).
Whew, that's it. Let's move on to a brief mention of audiovisuals before I start the opining.
Audio / Visual
Battlefield 2 looks great. As before, the giant maps help create the sense of place (but not with realtime shadows, enhanced pixel shaders and bumpmapping) . The biggest difference between its predecessor are perhaps the structures. Where 1942 did wonders for the sense of scale and its outdoors were fantastic, its indoor decor, structure detail and consistency were lacking. BF2 remedies this with a lot of detail on a smaller number of decor pieces - although this leads to repetition on some maps. For example you might recognize a Chinese garage or bunker in a Middle Eastern map, and vice versa. There are still some buildings which aren't used for anything but convenient hiding places, but a few fully interactive construction sites (lots of nooks, incomplete staircases, scaffoldings, planks, ladders) would be a dream to play in as complete levels only a few years ago. BF2 is easily the best looking game out at this time. I even get a little shudder of joy whenever I'm in a jet viewing the detailed landscape below, and then jump out and can watch it all become life-sized as I parachute down, with no lag, no loss of resolution - all very clever, very slick stuff. Oh yes, and there are iron sights now.
Sound is likewise great. The assorted vehicular creakings and hums, as well as warning bells and alarms of damaged vehicles feel very genuine. Weapon soundwork is exemplar, and doppler/distance/echo effects dependent on where you are located are all present. Footstep sounds vary dependent on the surface, and you can often identify a running enemy around a corner just by the sound. The sound of a Havok or Cobra overhead is as paranoia-inducing as you'd expect. Finally, preset soldier reports and barks are recorded for each of the languages present in the game, adding to the atmosphere (although you can choose to hear all sounds in English, if you prefer).
Let the subjective portion commence!
Seems like I put a lot of stuff up there, but BF2 still feels and plays like Battlefield 1942 with updated graphics. There are also some ideas that feel as if they should have been in the original game in the first place.
Not that this is a bad thing. The game was refreshing when it first came out, and this one continues to innovate and expand the concept of online shooters. The addition of permanent stats, medals and tangible rewards for playing (unlockable weaponry) further blurs the line between persistent and instance-based gaming, which is a good thing.
I had here some badly formulated and vague thoughts (aka drivel) about how the rock-paper-scissors design of Battlefield (realism is sacrificed for gameplay in several ways, mainly making some weapons ineffective in some cases, and overly effective in others), combined with more tangible teamwork rewards and persistent player stats will all implode to invert the paradigm of online gaming, thus making us all re-learn gameplay (the predominant mode of gameplay is soloing) ... but I'll skip it. We're not quite there yet, although EA's monopolization of the servers where you can earn ranks is an MMORPG-like start (pay to play, or rather pay to have a persistent character) - you currently have to be playing on a official EA server, or rent one yourself in order to gain rank. Slick, huh?
There are still some bugs and imperfections. The in-game server browser is atrociously slow, the filters don't work at all, and the player information is often wrong - not to mention EA keeps blacklisting servers willy-nillly. On rare occasions, the game loses track of who is on which team. Appearance is no help, as you can pick up other players' kits and try on their clothes (woo!). There is no functional Anti-Aircraft in the game - the launchers dotting the landscape fire missiles that are SLOWER than jets, lose lock when the pilot sneezes, and do measly damage if they ever DO hit. All the pilot has to do is loop over his own airstrip again and he's as good as unharmed - the speed of the jets means they can do this very fast indeed. Helicopters are extremely strong as well - in actual playtests, a helicopter with an engineer inside constantly repairing could not be brought down by 3 direct tank rounds. Mind you, it's good they're not made of paper as well, but 3 tank rounds seems a bit excessive for what is essentially a tin bubble with a weedwhacker on top. Getting in and out of vehicles is instant, and easily abusable. It only takes a lovetap for a vehicle to do lethal damage to a soldier on-foot. You can drop to a prone position in an instant (to enhance accuracy), and get up likewise - firefights turn into "who can prone faster" matches. You can base-jump from a 3 story building. Et cetera, et cetera. These are balance issues however, and hopefully can be addressed in future patches.
Some other issues come up from human beings' natural tendency to be a jackass. You'll see a group of players kill each other repeatedly, and use the medic's kit to revive each other in order to get the medic medal, in some sort of freaky, virtual death/life masturbation. Alternately, you'll see people run in front of your bullets just so they can "Punish" you for teamkilling - this shows up on your overall record, and will probably show up on your Identity Card one day. One player reports that a group of jackasses ran into his artillery just to be able to "Punish" him multiple times. There's only so much you can do to thwart idiots, and even all the incentives for teamplay that BF2 offers aren't enough - whether more could be done is doubtful - pure mechanics are no match for human ingenuity, idiotic or not.
In summary and conclusion (Get on with it!), BF2 is a true sequel - it expands the original in about every way possible, while preserving all of the aspects that made the first game great - huge environments, approachable and useful combined arms and variable and viable infantry roles.
¹ You can pack 64 players in just about any game these days, but again, the universal appeal of Battlefield combined with its very fresh graphics and the fact that it's DESIGNED for 64 from the start meant that it was in the forefront of lagfree network play, and still is.
² AoE - Area of Effect is a common Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game term, usually meaning that a player is capable of affecting more than one unit at a time (be it healing or damage-dealing). While FPSs have had splash damage (rockets, for example, are a damaging AoE) - this is quite possibly the first time a healing and repairing AoE are present in this type of game. Heck, the whole concept of character classes is very MMORPG-like, and this only furthers the trend. Where's my +1 Wrench of Patching?
³ Please note that my descriptions of these weapons represent the game's stats - they are not necessarily fully accurate with respect to their physical counterparts.
Playing the game and browsing the internal manual