It often astonishes me how little many gamers know about Battlefield 1942. Scores of people seem to have never heard of it, yet it was one of last year’s best PC games, blowing apart the online arena. Up to 64 players could participate in matches where they could drive tanks, fly planes, pilot ships and subs. Oh, and you could walk if you were desperate. It was and still is like a giant game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ with AA guns bringing down planes, ships bombarding coastlines and tanks hammering into enemy lines. The sheer amount of mods available has seen its popularity grown and its community develop into a wealth of websites, forums and chat rooms. Even a year after its release, there are around 7000 players online at peak times, with nearly 1300 servers out there. After two expansion packs and a set of downloadable content, EA are moving the series out to the Far East to carry on the fight with Battlefield Vietnam.
The original game was undoubtedly beautiful, but moving into Vietnam presents a new challenge for the developers – foliage. The sheer amount of vegetation in the jungle environments has meant that Battlefield 1942‘s graphics engine has had to be thrown away and a new one produced. This allows the developers to place thousands of ferns, trees and so on across the levels. It’s also more efficient than the last engine and can render far more at high frame rates. Hopefully the game’s graphical options will not allow the removal of foliage, but just reduce the detail, as this would stop the sort of bug exploiting we’ve seen in Planetside (where removing vegetation reveals mines). Players will also be able to alter their soldier’s appearance in-game, reducing the carbon-copied look of armies that we saw in Battlefield 1942. From the screenshots and videos we’ve seen so far, Battlefield Vietnam is looking visually accomplished and with a bit of polish, should end up being one of the best looking PC games around on release.
Battlefield 1942‘s audio engine had its fair share of problems, so the developers are going back to the drawing board with a whole new engine. The new system gives greater sound quality and far better ambient audio, which should stop it becoming as quiet as Battlefield 1942 in some places. One of the coolest new features is the addition of a soundtrack which can be played in-game. Any vehicle can play a selection of period music, with fellow troops and the enemy able to hear it. It’s by no means stealthy, but who can resist charging in with Huey to the sound of Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revivial?
And that brings me on to vehicles, one of the core gameplay components of the Battlefield series. The Vietnam War was a far more mobile affair than WWII, with helicopters and lighter tanks. A new physics model is being developed to handle the helis, which can also lift tanks and Jeeps using a winch. Modifications of the original game have incorporated helicopters, but some have been too fiddly and expert-orientated (Desert Combat). The developers have said that the helicopters Battlefield Vietnam will be as easy to work as a tank, although they should be careful not to make it too simplistic. Something along the lines of GTA: Vice City‘s physics would go down fine.
It’s not all about flying though. Tanks, jeeps and mobile artillery will all return, as will ships and possibly submarines. Of course, much of the action takes place on foot, and the class system has been changed for Battlefield Vietnam. Each class will be able to choose between two primary weapons, allowing you to choose the most effective weapon for each situation. The North Vietnamese Army also gets a special sixth class, the Vietcong. N.V.A. engineers have the ability to relocate spawn points on the map through digging and creating tunnels, while the US can deploy mobile landing zone with the Huey helicopter. Certain soldier classes also have the ability to set booby traps to slow down the enemy advance.
Although information is scarce on the subject, it looks like Battlefield 1942‘s game modes will return in the sequel. Apart from the obligatory Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag, the original contained a mode call Conquest. A series of flags on the map have to be taken and held to decrease the enemy’s tickets (a number from 100 to 1000), with the winner being the team with the most tickets at the end. The flag capture system has been adjusted for Battlefield Vietnam by being dependant on the amount of people near the flag. The more team members around the flag, the quicker it will change. This should encourage team work and less one-man armies.
Well that’s about as much as we have on Battlefield Vietnam at the moment and it’s shaping up to be a worthy sequel. Its mix of fast-paced gameplay, refined audio, accomplished visuals and potentially massive lifespan should make it one of next year’s surefire hits. Game of the Year 2004? I think Half-Life 2 just got some competition.