Teambased shooters with large maps and vehicles/aircrafts really started to interest me starting from PlanetSide. Tribes came before my online gaming career, I stopped playing Operation Flashpoint and Tribes 2 (perhaps too) soon and Battlefield 1942 was a no go on a non-T&L chipset at the time. The past year the online fps genre really had an abundance of titles; Söldner: Secret Wars and Breed were big disapointments but Joint Operations, Tribes: Vengeance, Battlefield: Vietnam and Unreal Tournament 2004 (with its Onslaught mode) were quite decent titles and (with the exception of Vengeance) every time a success in sales. And this year we have Battlefield 2 (BF2). The game was released when there was no direct competition and with such a blatantly big mediacampaign it had to be something worth to look at, isn’t it? The demo had its share of problems but it still convinced me to purchase a retail copy. Did I throw my PC out of the window or did I fell in love again with the game? Read further to find out.
Every time you enter a session of BF2 you’ll immediately notice the most important novelties for the series, namely the commander mode and the squads. Dice clearly wanted a big(ger) focus on teamwork. Creating and managing a team of maximum six players has never been so accessible before. By marking the map or through visual indications in first-person view you can easily set targets, give move orders or ask for support. On top of that the squad leader serves as a mobile spawn point, which can come in quite handy if he is smart enough to stay low profile during an attack. The commander has a more stressful task to accomplish. He is able to order squads around, bomb some places with an artillery strike, drop supplies and scout the area for enemies with UAV and regular satellite scan. That’s pretty much to handle so he won’t have much time left to be on the front. The stress will only increase when some punks don’t want to take orders or keep asking for those supply drops when they got a squad full of engineer, medic or support classes. It’s one out of many examples of this game that nicely shows the universal dilemma of playing online teambased games proving that there are still enough folks able to screw up the whole experience for others. Of course, we can’t blame the devs for that.
The different classes in BF2 offer enough variation. The Spec Ops is a popular choice, he has got decent firepower and highly lethal, sticky C4 charges which make him the perfect guy for taking out artillery, radar stations and unsuspecting tanks. A Sniper is much like a counterpart to the Spec Ops by always hitting and spotting opponents from a distance. It’s pretty hard to get high scores with these lads since the one-shot, one-kill isn’t exactly easy to execute with the standard sniper rifle. The fact that a watchful commander of the opposite side will notice you anyway obliges you to keep moving. For hitting hostile armour from a distance there is the Anti-Tank specialist. Some get disappointed quickly by this class because tanks can take multiple rocket hits. But in the end it’s just a matter of hitting those monsters on wheels from the right side. Firing a rocket in a tanks ass has a lote more effect than an impact on the front side. Slow manoeuvring helicopters are also a nice target for the Anti-Tank weapon and then there is the effect of such a rocket on infantry, with a bit of luck it hits them straight in the smacker (and kills them instantly). But a slow reload time and a limited amount of rockets make sure that AT’s must use their small machineguns too.
The Support class is the ammunition supplier for everyone on the battlefield. He carries a heavy machinegun (which can provide that ‘Come get some!’ feeling when firing). Engineers are necessary to repair vechicles, bridges and artillery/radars. Their shotgun is limited in range but still devastating enough. Anti-vehicle mines can be effective but not when someone of your own team decides to ignore the clear markings on them. Dying isn’t that much of a problem when Medics are around since they can revive you with their shockpads. Finally there is the Rambo/ultimate grunt aka the Assault class.
His rifle is suited for infantry targets, a secondary fire mode allows him to shoot grenades (which can be seen as a white bow in the air, so everyone knows from where an Assault class is stacking up the kills). Support, Engineer and Medic can all do their jobs when driving(/sitting in) a vehicle. It sounds weird but they create some sort of invisible aura then which supplies friendly troops around them with respectively ammo, repairs and healing.
Vehicles range from fast buggies to APC’s and heavy tanks. The sky isn’t safe either with jets dropping their deadly load and choppers which are an absolute terror for ground troops with their rocket salvo’s. Every map (size) has its different variations of (the placement of) vehicles but the balance is usually right. Tanks are still the fastest way to get more kills but they also form one of the easiest targets. Too bad Dice didn’t provide more means to fight on water, a static cruiser, a fast speedboat, amphibious APC’s and that’s it.
You can’t even dive to hide or such. Of course, that won’t break this game because the overall gameplay is already varied and, it has to be said, superb. It doesn’t matter if you’re heading to an enemy base in a fully manned Black Hawk helicopter or if you’re driving through narrow streets with several tanks, this really is a streamlined and beautiful Battlefield-experience. Maps like Strike at Karkand or Mashtuur City put the emphasis on infantry and even then the memorable moments keep on coming. Man-to-man combat has been greatly improved over past Battlefield titles, it’s just a whole lot more intense. There are some remarkable things in the gameplay that really keep on bothering though. I was once heading out with a speedboat when I decided I saw a right spot to get on shore. I bailed out but the boat went back a little and… crushed me? Come on, this ‘killing collision’ is way out of control. The high damage you receive when you jump from one meter high, or the ridiculously damaging vehicles don’t help either. It may sound nuts but ending a round without teamkills doesn’t happen as often as you want to because of this. Another thing that seriously affects the number of unintended teamkills is the fact that friendly names don’t pop up soon enough, even when your allies are standing closeby. If you hesitate to take action it might mean your death too of course. The so-called 100% viewing distance you have determined in the Options menu has some issues too. It happened to me more than once that on big, flat areas I got shelled by an invisible tank from the other side.
A nice extra are the statistics. There are all kinds of parameters describing your success (or failure) with f.e. certain weapons and classes. More global points give you a higher ranking and titles like Lance Corporal. Only ranked servers are sending through the statistics. These are servers under the ‘approval’ of EA which means they should stick to certain rules. But still, there are enough means to abuse the whole system and get a higher ranking than other, fair players. Eventually you’ll get to unlock more weapons (one extra weapon per class is available) which aren’t always more powerful but they offer more variety. The ranking is nice step to a more persistent, rpg feeling but I wonder if those few unlockables and titles/medals will keep the game that much different or refreshing.
Hmm, something called ‘singleplayer’ is present too. The artificial intelligence doesn’t act stupid and some fun moments can be had here but it doesn’t give the same satisfaction when killing ‘real’ adversaries. And with a limited mapsize of 16 players it only becomes an option to try out little things offline and definitely not a worthy alternative to the online battles. Just don’t buy this game for the singleplayer.
The available 12 maps each have three different sizes (16, 32 and 64 players) and offer enough different settings without getting bored (I only missed a snow landscape). Conquest is the only(!) gamemode but, as with the whole Battlefield-series, the main attraction of course. Controlling flags spread out on the map remains a simple, completely unoriginal but very addictive concept. More modes wouldn’t have hurt though. I haven’t said anything about the sound or the graphics yet but rest assured that the game gets high points for these aspects too. Sound effects are realistic (although weapons could have benefited from heavier sound), the music is limited to a couple of tracks you can hear in the menu or during loadtimes in order to give that ‘chill’ feeling. The 3D engine is decent, even on Low settings it delivers reasonable visuals except for a few errors (mountains which are flowing into each other).
BF2 has strong moments but also such clear mistakes that you may wonder why these still made it into the final version. One of them is the undeniably slow and inaccurate in-game server browser. The serverlist keeps ‘hanging’ multiple times and fully populated servers are still shown while the filter settings tell you otherwise. Even a standard feature like the possibility to keep track of favourite servers is missing. A crippled browser like this one is unbelievable for what has been presented as the most important online shooter of the year. EA should really think about building up their own technology in this area, it’s clear that Gamespy can only handle it when a bunch of lucky bastards from the press and some beta testers are trying out the game a week before release.
Also irritating is the availability of the ranked servers. As said before, you need to play on these servers if you feel the need to improve your statistics but right now there are simply not enough ranked servers (with reasonable ping) to play on. In my beloved little country (Belgium) for example there are *zip* ranked servers. It’ll probably be a partial consequence of the fact that ranked Linux-servers are going wacko right before a mapchange by kicking all players off the server. People who want to make mods will have to wait a little longer since the tools aren’t yet available although it was promised that they would have been made public at release. But then again, the atrocious server browser from the demo was gonna get a whole lot better in the retail version too… not!
The high system specs might spoil things for some people. The ‘minimum requirements’ cause long loading times (something I can live with) but more importantly; it’s not a good thing to see that it’s just not enough if you want to play on the servers with larger maps (for 32, 64 players). With a ping below 50 and all the graphic settings on Low there is still a huge slowdown right after the loadscreen and several ‘aftershocks’ during the rest of the match (test system: PIV2.6 Ghz, 512 MB DDRam and 9600 Pro). Certain actions often seem to trigger it like the moment right after firing an anti-tank rocket in secondary fire mode (so you can guide the rocket). Good luck with trying to get the projectile back on track after the freezed image. In other words, there are enough things that point out that EA couldn’t wait to release a finished/polished product. By now the hotfix (1.02) for the first patch has been released and even then not all problems are solved (even the server browser still has bugs). The exclusion of certain videocards because they aren’t supporting 1.4 shaders might come as a shock to some people, especially since there are plenty of other, less powerful cards (without the shader support) which let you play BF2. It makes things even more ununderstandable than the T&L card requirement for Battefield 1942. Although creating a good game, EA/Dice certainly have another view on the scalability of the graphics engine than most fps developers have. I haven’t thrown my PC out of the window though and frankly, I am in love with the full version of BF2 but it definitely wasn’t love at first sight.
Battlefield 2 isn’t the most complete nor the most innovating multiplayer shooter ever but surely one of the most enjoyable ones. Dice neglected the ‘more people on one server is better’-craze (started by WWII Online, PlanetSide and Joint Operations) and decided instead to make the new squad- and commanderoptions very accessible. With this they succeeded in making the Conquest-formula still look refreshing in a present setting. The game just radiates fun and the enjoyment you get when you are playing in a good team is nearly unmatched. Therefore it’s a pity that the final version is propped with beginners’ errors and that the performance is sluggish at times. So, while this may not be a classic, it definitely is a recommended buy for all those who want the latest treat in the world of online shooters.