My squad slowly sneakes into the village toward the capture point. We have already taken out the tank guarding the road. Thanks to the UAV in orbit around the village we are able to sneak up on the tank and plant a little C4 surprise for the driver and gunner without taking any casualties from the 12 ton behemoth. Sprinting across the street we take up position around the command point and wait for the flag to switch over to our team. We endure sporadic fire from some straggling MEC soldiers but it is quickly silenced by the squad. As soon as the flag is ours, we begin to heal each other and re-supply. In the distance, we hear the roar of distant thunder followed by a loud whistling noise. The squad leader can barely get out the words “INCOMING” before the artillery lands on our team. We try to sprint for cover but it’s too late. The opposing commander has placed the strike perfectly and wiped out our entire squad. “At least we captured the point and won’t have to walk all the way back” comes over the communications link. Fifteen seconds later the squad re-spawns at the point and we quickly make haste for the artillery guns that have so surreptitiously wiped us out.
Battlefield 1942 was a bit of a surprise hit a few years ago. It wasn’t the first game in the series but Swedish developer D.I.C.E. managed to develop a fantastic multiplayer online game that allowed you to do about everything you’d want to do in a war game. In addition to having six different infantry kits, you could fly fighter planes and bombers, drive tanks and jeeps, and man anti-aircraft guns and anti-ship batteries. It was far from perfect as the game was riddled with bugs (which were eventually ironed out after several patches). The single player mode was a complete joke and featured AI that seemed to have two settings, n00b and l33t with nothing in the middle.
About a year after the game was released, a mod called Desert Combat was released. Desert Combat updated the original game to include modern weapons and vehicles and it quickly became one of the more popular ways to play the game online. In what seemed like one of the feel good mod stories, the team behind the mod was hired by D.I.C.E. to work on an unnamed project. D.I.C.E then released Battlefield: Vietnam which was a solid title but also plagued by bugs and balance issues. It didn’t play as well as 1942 and, to be honest, I only logged about 10 to 15 hours of the game before shelving it for Unreal Tournament 2004.
I was anxious to get my hands on the game to see if the Trauma guys could really make Battlefield 2 as much fun as Desert Combat. After logging a ton of hours with the game, I’m happy to say that the play is exactly what I was looking for but, once again, the game is riddled with a host of bugs and small design issues.
The series has come a long way since I played my first round of Battlefield 1942 but, if you’ve played the previous games, you’ll still feel right at home. The object of the game is to reduce the others team’s tickets to zero. This is done by killing them or by controlling the majority of the control points on a map (which causes their tickets to slowly drain away). It’s a simple concept but what makes it interesting is the number of ways for you to play the game. Capturing a control point means standing next to the flag until the flag switches to your side. The more people you have around the flag the quicker it switches over. It’s a nice concept and helps to encourage some form of team work.Battlefield 2 builds on the game play mode established in the earlier iterations of the franchise but adds a few new twists to keep things interesting. The biggest addition is that of the Commander role/squads. At the beginning of every round, each side elects a Commander to manage the battle from a tactical standpoint. Commanders play a crucial role in the game as they can direct the objectives of each squad as well as directing supply boxes, UAV’s (which allow you to see all of the enemies within a certain area), and direct artillery fire at a target. Artillery is a bit tricky as there is some lag from when you fire the artillery to when it lands, forcing commanders to anticipate where enemy troops and vehicles are going to be and making sure that their own troops don’t get rained on from above.
Commanders play a vital part in the game because they are the only ones who have a full feel for where everyone is in the game. A good commander is not going to turn the tide of a battle if the teams are lopsided. They will make a difference if they are of about equal skill. DICE did a good job of designing the commander’s screen so that it’s d simple to pick up on how to do the job and relay information to your squad. This allows for the quick dispersal of the commanders strategy to everyone in the game.
Squads are also a new addition to the game and allow you to do formally what gamers in previous versions of the franchise did already…gang up in groups to attack targets. An added benefit of being in a squad is that you can re-spawn with your squad leader if he is alive and not in a vehicle that is full (you can’t fit four people in a three person jeep). Commanders and squads are interlinked as orders that are sent to the squad from the commander are automatically passed on to the squad members (if the squad leader so chooses). A nice touch is that the squad leader (the person who’s been in the squad the longest) can lock the squad so you can only have people you know and want in the it. The squad leader can also boot out members of the squad and, if the Commander wants, they can break up the squad as well. It’s a nice touch and allows you to control who you want to play with to some degree.
Another new feature in the game is the new “rose” communication button. By pressing down the Q button, it brings up a quick communication menu. You then highlight which command you want to select by moving the mouse in the direction of the communication item you want. It kind of remindes me of BMW’s new i-drive system, except that it’s useful and doesn’t cost $50,000. The system allows you to quickly relay enemy sightings, request help or supplies as well as a few other items. The great thing about it is that it’s context sensitive so that if you mouse over an enemy tank and use the enemy sighted button it will relay the correct information on to the rest of the team. Pressing the T button brings up the communications selections for commanders and squad leaders.
The game also ships with Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) support so you can actually talk to people instead of having to take the time to type things out. It takes a little bit of setup and there’s a some additional bandwidth overhead to use it but it’s there if you want it. Thankfully, you can turn it off and avoid having to listen to your fellow gamers (I’ve spent too many hours on Xbox Live to think that VOIP is the god-send people say it is…too many 12 year olds who relish the anonymity of the internet).Graphically the game is head and shoulders above every game in the franchise and most other games on the market. The level of detail in the vehicles and player models is excellent. Everything has a nice gritty, real world feel to it and there are lots of little touches throughout the game. One example is how the fanny pack on medics actually flaps up and down as they run while another is the nice bobbing of the antennas on the land based vehicles. There’s enough detail and cool little tweaks that you’ll be constantly noticing something new.
Like the graphics, the sound is also rock solid. The thuds from the artillery and machine gun fire are all spot on. Everything sounds like you would expect it to and there aren’t any weak sounds in the game. The music is decent (which is good since you have to listen to it over the load screens) but not something to write home about.
The maps and terrains are likewise breathtaking and some of the levels simply have to be played to be believed. The game provides a nice mix of environments as you get everything from urban construction zones to bamboo forests. The environments play critical roles as they limit both vehicle and infantry movement. Water also plays a tactile role as only APC’s and boats can cross some of the major waterways on some of the levels.
While I’m talking about the maps, there are only 12 maps in the game. That doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider that each map has three sizes. The maps are all the same but the playable area and command points are unlocked based on which version of the map you are playing (16,32, or 64). The maps are well balanced for the most part but in some cases the balance can be shifted by the vehicles, especially the jets. This is evident on the “Clean Sweep” map where the US forces have to cross a large body of water in order to attack the MEC forces on one island. It’s very easy for a skilled pilot to patrol that body of water and pick off APC’s and boats as the Anti-Air on that part of the map is fairly week. This can be frustrating and will hopefully be adjusted in a later patch of the game.
It’s hard to find a good 64 server that isn’t a total lag fest. After the initial rush of servers, it settled out a bit but it’s still hard to find servers that can handle the kind of load that size of a map requires. When you do find one, it’s a real treat as there’s just a ton of different things going on. For the most part I found that the 32 player servers offer the best bang for the buck, in terms of size of the teams and performance. It’s honestly hard to play the 16 player maps as they feel a little cramped and you miss out on a lot of the vehicles but that’s just a personal preference, your mileage may vary.
The final major addition to the game is that of online accounts which track your stats while you play. As you gain points, you will progress in rank which allows you to unlock more powerful weapons for each class. The only problem with this is that the promotions happen at 500, 1,000: 10,0000: 20,0000: etc. Given that the average player is only to get around 30-40 pts a round at best, you’re going to be putting in a lot of time to unlock all the weapons. In addition to the ranks, you can also earn ribbons and awards. These include badges for healing other users, earning X number of supply points, number of pistol kills within a round, etc. It’s a nice system but you will occasionally see the idiot wandering around trying to kill people with a knife because he’s trying to earn a badge. I really like both systems as they add a new element to the game play but I just wish the bar for promotion was a little lower because it becomes difficult for average gamers to earn all of the extra weapons. I can usually put in about an hour or so a night which translates to around 100 points or so. This means I’ve got almost three months of game play before I can unlock the next set of weapons which is a off-putting for those of us who can’t dedicate more time to playing. The level of detail isn’t as good as what Halo 2 offers but it comes pretty close.
In order to accumulate these points you have to play on one of EA’s ranked servers. Unlike the normal free servers, people who want a hosted server have to shell out over $300 per month. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, the fact that they are charging that much to host a server or that so many people are ponying up the money to actually host them. There’s not much incentive to play on a non-ranked server if you are working your way up the ladder. It’s good for practice but why would you want to waste your time playing when it doesn’t count towards your next rank?All in all, Battlefield 2 is one of the best games I’ve played and this review has taken so long to write because every time I get in to double check something for the review I end up getting sucked into the game for an hour or so and then it’s time for bed. Like every other release in the series, the game shipped with a ton of annoying bugs which kill the experience almost every time for me. There were a few easily repeatable crash to desktop bugs (try exiting to the main menu at the end of a round) along with server browser glitches (the browser hangs for a bit when connecting to some servers) as well as a few in-game issues.
Speaking of the server browser the one included in the game is barely useful. I know I’ve been spoiled by the excellent server browser in CounterStrike: Source but the one in Battlefield 2 continues the tradition of mediocrity. Between barely working filters, a lack of server favorites or server history it really leaves a lot to be desired. Why the main mechanism to get players into the game has received so little design consideration baffles me.
The ranking system in the game is tied to what ever name you come up with when you first login. Since these names have to be unique there’s no way to change them after your initial sign-in. This means two things: 1- All of the good names have been taken, so people are now forced to come up with creative ways to get names that remotely make any sense and 2- If you are in a clan or if you get removed from a clan you are going to have to start over as you can’t change the name. It would have been nice to have separate login names and display names as that would have provided a lot of flexibility for gamers. Heck, just giving people the ability to specify a prefix for their title would have been enough.
Team killing is a problem in the game as well. It makes sense that it’s in the game but it’s entirely too easy to do so without meaning to. If you brush somebody while driving a vehicle you have a nearly 90% chance of killing them. This is exceedingly frustrating, especially when people jump out of a vehicle you’re driving and you just barely nudge them. There’s also a bug where the display names will occasionally the wrong color which is also frustrating.
The lack of widescreen monitor support isn’t really a big deal but I was kind of expecting to see it in the game. It’s frustrating to have to hack the game just fully utilize the full capabilities of my monitor but it’s not something that most gamers are going to have to deal with.
As with the first two games, loading times are obnoxiously long. Not only do you have to load the levels, then the system goes through and verifies all the files. This takes at least two to three minutes so you’ll want to have good book next to the computer so you have something to read while the game loads. I was able to get a small Lego project put together in the time it took to load four levels. If you change your screen resolution or any other graphical details, the game has to re-optimize the brushes or something which adds another minute or two to the load time. After doing some online reading, it looks like if you have 2 gigabytes of RAM, the verification process takes a lot less time but how many people have that much RAM in their systems. There are no load times during the game so once you’re in you’re fine.
I really like this game and it more than makes up for the disappointment I had with Battlefield:Vietnam. It’s one of the few games where I’ve had a ton of fun even when I m losing a match. I’ve had many cool experiences playing it and a lot of “did I just see that” moments but all of that is crapped on by the bugs and quirks in the game. The battles are waged on so many different levels depending on how you play I really don’t think that I would ever get bored with it.
I hope that the bugs will eventually be worked out in a patch or five but it would be nice for EA and DICE to do another final round or two of QA before shipping out semi-beta code to the public for testing. I know software development is hard and that you’ll never catch all of the bugs in a release but there’s just no excuse for this kind of code to be foisted on the public.
A worthy addition to the Battlefield series but a host of bugs and a crummy server browser prevent the title from reaching its full potential. Once you get in the game, youâ€™re in for one of the best experiences in the market but it takes so long and you have to work through a lot of little quirks just to get to that point. You really have to wonder what the QA department is really doing as each installment of the series has shipped with numerous bugs and glitches.
Rating: 8.7 Very Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.