I’ve been a huge fan of the Battlefield series since I hooked on it playing the demo of Battlefield 1942 at a LAN party a few years back. I was instantly hooked by the excellent multiplayer action and the different levels of combat. Sure the game had bugs but the pull of the squad based combat and all the cool things you could do was irresistible. Plus, running over people in a Jeep at high speeds was pretty hysterical. Since then we’ve had the middling Battlefield: Vietnam and the very solid Battlefield 2.
There’s a plot in Battlefield 2142 about global warming and fighting over the Earth’s last resources but does it really matter? There are two different sides and they are hellbent on killing each other which is all you really need to know. The only real problem with the plot is that since the game takes place in the future and the sides are fairly (European forces vs. Pan Asian forces) it’s a little harder to get into the characters. I know this is probably just me but I found it a little easier to play the other games as it was a lot easier to get into the role of an American GI, Nazi soldier, and Chinese soldier. That said what the game lacks in plot it does make up for in gameplay tweaks.
Battlefield 2142 retains the conquest mode that's been its bread and butter since Battlefield 1942. The folks at DICE didn't really tweak this mode that too much as it was pretty close to perfect after getting the last major revision in Battlefield 2. You do get additional points for doing things where your squad leader tells you to, which helps with the team work aspects but there are no drastic overhauls to the system. The commander role returns as well with a few tweaks but for the most part BF2 veterans will feel right at home.
Battlefield 2142 does introduce the new Titan mode. Orbiting the battlefield are two giant floating airships (the Titans) that serve as one of the initial spawn points for each team. Instead of capturing mindless control points around the map you capture rocket launchers which then target the opponents Titan. The Titans are shielded so the rockets first take out the shields and then begin to destroy the hull of the ship. However, once the shields are down the Titans can be boarded and destroyed from within by destroying four control panels which then opens up the core of the ship which then must be destroyed.
The Titan mode adds a few more strategic elements as it adds a second stage to the game beyond the "capture all the control points mode". Once the shields on your team's Titan are down you now have to worry about defending the Titan. When the shields on the enemy's titan are down you have to decide if it's worth it to go for the quick kill of boarding and taking the Titan down or sticking with defending the rocket launchers. Either strategy works but it really adds an entire new level of strategy to the game. The Titan mode also fixes some of the bigger problems with the Battlfield franchise by adding some meaning to the capture points and by eliminating spawn camping. Since each team had a titan spawn point that's protected by shields you can't just camp a teams spawn point. The Titans also have a nice battery of weapons to defend itself so smart commanders can park their Titan over a control point and use the massive guns on the Titan to protect it.
The fact that the Titans can be moved presents a problem though. Battlefield 1942 vets will remember how much lag was generated when you moved the aircraft carrier and while moving the Titans in 2142 isn't nearly that bad, it is significant. It's never a good sign when you log into a server and get a message that the admins are kicking and banning people who move the Titans.
The unlock and promotion system has also been overhauled as well. First introduced in Battlefield 2, the game tracked how many points you had scored in a match and at certain point levels you got a promotion. Each promotion allowed you to unlock a weapon for one of the game's classes. Battlefield 2142 takes that to a new level as each class has eight unlocks plus four general unlocks and four squad leader unlocks.
The unlock system works pretty well as it provides strong motivation to keep playing the game. DICE also did a pretty good job with the levels of promotion this time around. Unlike Battlefield 2 which required a ton of hours to get even one unlock (something they fixed in a one of the first patches) you can quickly earn three to four unlocks after only a few hours of play. As you progress through the ranks the points for your next promotion go up so each promotion takes longer to acquire. DICE did a really good job with the promotion paths this time around as you can easily max out one class in the game in less than five hours of gameplay.
Another nice feature of the system is that as you play a game your squad can be granted a field upgrade which allows you to upgrade one of your areas for free. The field upgrades stay with you for as long as you are playing on a particular server so while they aren't permanent they are a good way to try out future upgrades before committing to them.
There are a few downsides to the system though. The first is that fragmentation grenades are not part of the initial classes at the start of the game. You do get EMP grenades (which are helpful in disabling vehicles and screwing with other players) but not having fragmentation grenades at the start of the game is troublesome as they are something that you really need during Titan missions to help clear out entrenched enemies. The second major problem with the system is that it's not new player friendly. Those who are just now purchasing are at something of a disadvantage to those who bought the game at launch as they don't have access to the same weapons and upgrades. This isn't that big of a deal as you can claim the equipment off someone you kill but it can be frustrating.
The new Battlefield has overhauled the class system from the previous game. DICE has distilled the six classes in Battlefield 2 down to four in Battlefield 2142 The medic and assault classes have been merged into one class as have the commando and sniper class with the support and engineer classes remaining pretty the same. Personally I think it's a good move as it helps simplify the class system a bit while still allowing for some variety. Using the unlock and promotion system you can still "build" a dedicated medic or assault class but it's nice to be able to have a soldier who can heal as well as fight.
While Battlefield 2142 features a host of "new" vehicles, those who've been playing the series since the start will experience a strong sense of Deja vu for most of the vehicles in the game. The jeep/humvee model is back again with almost no major changes since Battlefield 2. The tanks are back but have a few twists. The major change is that tank drivers no longer have an anti-personnel machine gun at their disposal which means that they are more susceptible to fire from troops on foot. This is to encourage tank drivers to pick up a second person to man the machine gun on top of the tank and not just ride around solo.
The APC's have also been upgraded a bit as well as they are now much larger and much stronger offensively. The APC’s are also one of the two ways you can board an enemy Titan as they offer launch pods which can rocket you up on to the Titan. The pods can also be used to launch from the APC when it’s about to be destroyed or used to reach high sniping spots. Controlling the pods is a blast and the game is worth buying to just fiddle around with the pods.
The aircraft in the game have received a major and welcome overhaul. Instead of having the four (or more if you purchased the booster packs) flying vehicles of Battlefield 2 you now only have two flying vehicles that are basically faster versions of the helicopters from Battlefield 2. They are also a bit fragile and so far I haven’t seen anyone dominate a game from the air which is a nice switch from the fighter pilots of Battlefield 2. DICE has also added in stronger anti-air weapons and one of the available unlocks for the support class is an anti-air missile. This was one of my major gripes about Battlefield 2 so it’s nice to see it address although I’m sure this probably pissed a lot of the hardcore base of the game.
Another switch to the air vehicles is that they’ve made the flying vehicles a little easier to control. For the life of me I could never pilot a helicopter in BF2 and now I can kind of almost make it look like I know what I’m doing with the transport helicopter. It’s still a challenge but it’s nice to see the developers making it a little easier for everyone else.
The audio in BF2142 is actually pretty damn good. There isn't much music in the game so we can skip on that (they do a good job of working the traditional Battlefield themes into the opening credit sequence though). Most of the guns have a nice meaty sound to them and you'll soon learn which weapons are which by the distinctive sound they make. You'll also quickly learn to love (or hate) the sound of the sentry gun as it winds up and opens fire. While the weapon sounds are fun teh best sound by far is the mechanized stomping of the walkers in the game.
Graphically the game is a small step up from Battlefield 2 which makes sense as the game is using an enhanced version of that game’s engine. The engine still holds up but it is starting to show a little age. Art direction is solid and most everything is somewhat believable which is important given DICE has created a game that isn’t based on any modern equipment.
The server browser has also been updated a bit and DICE has finally provided gamers with a buddy list so that they can quickly find their friends online without having to resort to third party software like Xfire. It’s not a great solution and it’s certainly not as versatile but it is a step in the right direction.
Performance seems to have been optimized a little bit with the new version as well. Map load times do seem to be a bit quicker than their Battlefield 2 counterparts which mean that you’re only going to be able to read about two pages in a novel instead of three. As with the last game the more RAM you have the better off you are going to be. With 3GB of RAM, a GeForce 6700 Pro, and a 3 gHz dual core processor I was able to play with most options turned up and still have a decent framerate. The game still does not support wide screen monitors natively which is also something of a major disappointment from me. There are ways around it but it’s time for the game to support them natively so I don’t have to edit command line switches and hack the config files of the game.
Any discussion of the Battlefield has to talk about the software defects i.e. undocumented features that ship with the game. It’s never a good thing when one of the promised features of a game is that it will be less buggy than previous games. I’d like to say that they’ve succeeded in creating a more bug free game but that doesn’t seem to be the truth. While I’ve only had a few major crashes a lot of the same bugs that I had in Battlefield 2 are still present in 2142. My biggest nit is that occasionally the spawn selection screen doesn’t seem to take that I’ve picked a spawn point. It some times takes two to three times for it to figure out where I want to re-spawn at. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it’s frustrating as hell to try and spawn on a squad leader and not be able to and then he dies or trying to spawn on a contested spawn and not be able to do so before it’s taken over by an enemy.
The other final issue to deal with Battlefield 2142 is the whole spyware/advertising issue. Personally I haven’t seen any of the ads in the game yet but I see all of the billboards in the game where they should be. While I certainly understand the cost of developing a game has gone up by leaps and bounds over the years this kind of thing needs to cut both ways. If you’re going to show me ads in a game and gather some personal information (even if it’s in aggregate form) I need to see a cost reduction. It doesn’t have to be a lot but it has to be something. Compound this with digital distribution and you have to wonder why EA isn’t passing a little bit of that back to the consumer (OK, I know why they aren’t but a man can dream can’t he).
With all of that said I know that Battlefield 2142 is going to be the game that I’m going to be playing on and off for the next year or so (or whenever the next one in the series is coming out). DICE will eventually patch the game to the version it should have been released at first. I still love the new gameplay modes and I still love playing with friends and finding that odd group of good players who make it worth it. I just wish that the game had been bug tested a little more before release and I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.