I was born to lead. The day I came out the shrink wrap DVD case and on to the dusty field, I just knew it. A good squad leader, especially of a full six man unit, has respect. I would lead a silent, on-foot point capture, spotting enemies and spurring on my men. We’d run into the opposition – my lethally accurate spec ops class G36 tearing down enemy players as my teammates scrambled for the flag. Once obtained, our engineer would grab the captured chopper, and my men, already boarded, would wait for me as I planned the logistics of our next move. Lift off.
Battlefield 2, like every other game, is based on a number of experiences the designers have planned the player to go through. Multiplayer makes the order and specific circumstances of these less predictable, but the principal is the same. It’s the surprisingly excellent design choices that makes BF2’s memories so alarmingly cinematic. The gap between events chartered by the previous Battlefield game’s intro FMVs, and the interactive version you were about to play, is now bridged seamlessly.
For those who’ve missed out on the highly popular FPS franchise from Dice studios, the difference with the BF games is it’s niche blend of diverse vehicular death, accessible controls, lots of class based players and a degree of semi-realism that works pretty well. The third work of the series follows a rather luke-warm receiving of Battlefield Vietnam, that was criticized for not moving the series forwards enough. Suffice to say that for an EA published game, and for most fans of BF, Two will easily provide a fresh enough experience to warrant the sequel moniker.
Everyone’s bored of multiplayer that feels like offline botmatch. Players run around, shoot at each other, never say please or thank you, team kill, and generally, outside of clan play, act like those kids who hang around the corner, near Budgens. A fundamental new feature of BF2 is the way teams are arranged. Individuals can join or form ‘squads’ of up to six friendlies who can then benefit from internal voice comms and the ability to spawn on the squad leader. A leader can issue commands that appear on members’ mini maps, and thanks to an excellent radial voice macro, members can instantly confirm or deny the order, as well as a host of other statements/requests, all of which are useful.
I won’t go into the low-level technicalities, you can read about them anywhere. What’s important is that the system is subtly, eloquently engineered to make team play easy. This is great, because team play is also fun. Inwardly embarrassing, perhaps, to be shouting ‘pull back, artillery coming in! GET DOWN!’ down the mike, as if we were back in the fifth grade playground, ha! Good thing we’re all confident sixth graders. But it’s that you might find it embarrassing that proves how good it is – you care about your situation, your teammates, where you wouldn’t have done in previous games.
This is due in no small part to the invention of persistent stats – a first in mainstream multiplayer FPS. On ranked servers (at time of writing mainly lag festive and full) your scores are recorded in great detail for your perusal on an account page of the main menu. Play long and well enough, and your rank will increase for all your envious teammates to see. Play even better, and class specific weapons can be unlocked for use in any ranked game. Your score gained per match is doubled if your team wins, making the stakes that much higher. Fail, and you are personally responsible for wasting other people’s time. It’s an innovation timely fitting to the genre, removing an element of stand-still pointlessness sometimes argued of multiplayer shooters.
As well as the (rugged, manly) intimacy you quickly come to share with your squad, the single position commander role is another that effects the emotion of every battle. He Who Reigns On High has a number of abilities, governed from an RTS style interface. Artillery barrages, radar scans and supply drops all can have significant bearings on battle, as can the authority to issue orders to squad leaders. It’s in this Godly power that the humanity becomes fierce: squad leaders can choose to reject commands, you can rebuke or commend your (real, human) underlings, they can ask for assets that you can then tactically deny, Machiavelli style. Then the logistics fade away in the overhead 3D view as you watch two six man teams decimated by an M1A1 tank you could have protected them from. Their hot keyed screams of ‘medic!’ and ‘we need reinforcements over here!’ biting at your digital conscience.
Back on the ground, more gushing praise can be sung for the graphical splendour of the game’s Eastern theatre. Enemy black hawks cast down ominous shadows, artillery sends up giant, devastating spews of opaque debris, specularity reflects the evening sun off the runway, and the environmental detail observed from a lonely dam-top watch tower takes the breath away. At maximum detail anyway. Weigh it up – graphics card vs non-essential internal organ.
A 50. cal hole in this review is where criticism should be. The support class is repairing as we speak – there are a couple of issues, most consistent with the failings of the previous games. The server browser is inexplicably rubbish and by all accounts, regardless of machine spec, quite unstable. There’s no ‘favorites’ function, refreshing is slow, and the menu takes three of four seconds to load from in-game. Bot matches are poor, in keeping with BF tradition. Dice say they’ve been improved, but they still obviously run across mapped paths, and will resort to the melee knife a little too readily. If you are on 56k, be advised – offline is not worth buying the game for. This review is written a couple of days after the EU release of Battlefield 2, and EA’s servers have been a bit worse for wear having faced a peak of 25,000 players. High speed European ranked games are few and far between, but this is expected to balance out as hosts rise to the demand.
Team play innovations, graphical supremacy and the thundering roar of enemy jets combined with persistent stats all work together to really put you There. There being any one of the varied, immaculately crafted maps, each available in 16, 32 and 64 player sizes. The generous choice of class, vehicle and squad dynamics allow for combinations and emergent tactical options that will keep you playing for weeks. Battlefield 2 is one of the best multiplayer first person shooters ever made, you should probably buy it.