Battlefield 2: Modern Combat
For a game which was clearly developed around delivering excellent console online multiplayer, Modern Combat proves to be a surprisingly solid and competent all-round package.
Critically, it was on the receiving end of some fairly harsh comparisons upon release, and its main failing appears to be that it is not quite as accomplished online as it’s PC brethren (which, given the state of online console gaming vs. online PC gaming, is a little unfair). Since I’ve not played the PC versions I’m not in the position to make these comparisons, and I’ll try to judge Modern Combat by its own merits.
As you may know, the Battlefield series on PC pretty much dragged multiplayer first-person-and-vehicular combat into the massively mainstream, so it’s no surprise to see it’s the order of the day here too. Hop into any online match and you will find a batch of well-designed, expansive arenas which cater for up to 24 players and have lots of room for all manner of vehicular chaos.
Firstly, the controls are excellent all around. Your soldiers handle well, you can jump, crouch or crawl, and the aiming is pretty satisfying, with a slight amount of auto-aiming to help you out. The vehicles are varied and handle suitably well - from the lightweight agility of the buggies, to the cumbersome but surprisingly fast nature of the tanks, to the tricky to handle but incredibly satisfying helicopters. A lot of effort has obviously gone into making the vehicles feel authentic and different to one another, and it really shows.
I’ve played about a half dozen online games with my PS2, and can confidently report that this is the most impressive game I’ve tried. There are about a dozen online warzones where you can join games or create your own. I found some of the match options a little restrictive, such as you can’t alter the vehicles that appear on the maps nor their spawn points, and you can’t pick up additional weapons or swap those you have, but I appreciate that this is all predetermined to keep the games balanced.
The online matches are of the fast-paced school of thought. You get all the old staples, such as Capture the Flag, Deathmatches and Assault, and while it doesn’t really take the genre in new directions or have any significant standout features, that doesn’t stop it being an impressive technical feat, and probably the most chaotic, most fun online game you can get on the PS2.
Where this does differ significantly from its PC counterpart is in that it caters for the friendless among us. The single player campaign, while enjoyable enough, does feel a little by-the-numbers for the most part. Some of the missions are quite inspired though - one where you are at the spearhead of a multiple helicopter assault (“I love the smell of Napalm in the morning…”), and another early sniping mission are two that really stick out. By far the most unique and interesting addition to the campaign mode is Hotswapping. Basically, by Hotswapping you can jump into the shoes of any ally who is in your direct line-of-sight. This is useful as it should theoretically curb your lone wolf tendencies, and it also means you can leap to specific soldiers or manned vehicles to deal with a given situation. Is that a tank causing you problems? Swap to one of your RPG-equipped allies on a rooftop and bring it down. Enemy snipers dropping your men? Jump to one of your own snipers and take them down from a quarter mile away. It does add a minor but notable layer of strategy to the proceedings, and is an interesting addition to the genre as a whole.
One of the additions to the offline game is in achieving supplementary objectives to advance your rank. There are conditions which you can meet each mission, and doing so will earn you a number of stars. These range from completing a mission within a set time limit, to a number of kills with a single weapon, to doing a certain number of Hotswaps. These stars you earn go towards your profile, and will slowly raise your rank, starting at a lowly Private, all the way to General after some 269 stars. Interestingly, this is also tied to your arsenal online, as the more stars you earn the more equipment and weapons you unlock. So, you might be a fearsome Engineer, running around Deathmatches with your huge RPG racking up the frags, but earn a few extra stars and you’ll earn a Blowtorch which can repair damaged vehicles. The possibilities this brings are interesting, and if you work well with a proper team online it can be a huge benefit.
There are also a collection of training missions you can partake in. These are usually unlocked after you first use a new weapon or vehicle in the main campaign, and give you the opportunity to get in some much-appreciated practice with the given weapon or vehicle. These are usually along the lines of circuit racing against the clock with the (very Hummer-esque) jeep or shooting increasing numbers of escaping enemy troops whilst you’re up on a rooftop, to pick a couple of examples. Again, these give you opportunity to earn more stars, and the short, playable nature makes them enjoyable and compulsive for repeat plays.
Graphically, this is a sterling effort for the PS2, with an excellent horizon distance (you will really notice this when flying high in a chopper) and lots happening on screen. The only real fly in the ointment is that everything seems ever so slightly out-of-focus at a short distance, and the detail isn’t that good from up close. I am nitpicking though, as given the size and scope of the game it is very impressive, and pretty unmatched by anything else I’ve seen on the PS2. The sound & score are uniformly excellent - the soundtrack is an action-packed, rousing score which sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place in a Bruckheimer movie. Voiceovers are pretty decent, although I found the stereotypical Chinese voices rather cringeworthy. Mission briefings are given by the typical no-nonsense commander at the start of a mission, and the radio chatter is pretty prevalent throughout, with people updating you on objectives and enemy locations.
Technically Modern Combat is no slouch. As mentioned, the levels tend to be pretty large, although there are times when you’re confined to smaller mission-critical zones. Loading isn’t especially fast, but you get the mission briefing voiceover at the same time as the loading screen, so it does disguise it a little. Still, you’re looking at around 30 seconds, so you will probably pick up on it, and it is more noticeable online, as there is no voiceover to distract your attention. The frame rate is usually very sturdy, although it does jam up a little when there’s lots of enemies on screen or lots of explosions, etc, taking place. If there is any significant enemy AI, I can’t say I noticed. It’s fine really; they’re little more than cannon fodder in the same way as 80% of the FPS out there, so I’m not going to penalise Modern Combat for this. Thanks to the implementation of RenderWare, it also has some good physics, replete with the ever-satisfying ragdoll effects.
What you get with this game does not take the genre in any new directions, and it’s likely PC owners will be cynical because they’ve been playing games as good as this for what feels like decades, but for first-time online console gamers Modern Combat represents an excellent purchase and introduction to the online world. Overall it’s a very well-developed package with decent offline play and a great overall purchase, and is well worth a buy at the current cheap prices you can pick it up for.
Eight out of ten