Battlefield 2 hits the shelves in the UK today, and we've been working overtime to bring you our impressions of the game.
Actually, scratch that. We've been planning tactical advances, mastering bombing runs, learning player classes and gawping at dynamic shadows, to bring you our impression of the game.
As per our new style of Gaming review, firstly we'll tell you if the game itself is any good, before breaking down the game engine (anti-aliasing, texture filtering... all the stuff you're going to need to get the game tweaked how you want it) as well as benchmarks on mid-range and high-end graphics cards and some words straight from the mouth of DICE, the developer.
I love the smell of 64-player in the morning
So war... what is it good for? Well, 64-player carnage in Battlefield 2, that's what. If you haven't played the original, chances are you're a) stuck in the dark ages or b) stuck on 56k (aren't those the same, unfortunate thing? - Ed
). Battlefield 1942 was a wartime multiplayer game, with players fighting across maps on foot, in jeeps or tanks, or flying planes. The twist? It's truly team-based, with co-operation needed to take crucial strategic map points - even on public servers.
Battlefield 2 takes the concept and locks it, loads it, and fires it into the 21st Century, leaving us recoiling in awe at the gameplay. It's effectively more of the same, but with some significant tweaks.
There are 12 individual maps, fought across by three different factions - the US, China and the Middle East. Whilst 12 maps doesn't sound like a lot, each has 3 variations - one each for 16-, 32- and 64-player. The size of each map grows accordingly, and the change in size brings in new gameplay - a 64-player version of a map might include lots of river crossings encouraging a flanking strategy, whilst the 16-player might be shrunk to include just one of the crossings, creating a natural bottleneck. Each variation requires careful study to work out the best plan of attack, and clans will spend many evenings perfecting strategies, we're sure.
One of the great features of BF2 is the destructible terrain. Certain features of the map, like bridges, can be blown up - adding a considerably cool new dimension to tactics. If a bridge is a natural chokepoint, blowing it can force the enemy to use aircraft or boats to travel. Likewise, the likelihood of a bridge going skywards can lead to diversionary tactics. For fans of Kelly's Heroes
, it provides some fantastic "The bridge is up!" "No it ain't..."
Saving Private Ryan's Spawnpoint
BF2 has clearly been geared towards more tactical, co-operative play, and the introduction of squads is testament to this. Any player can hook up with 5 others to form a 6-man strike team, which can operate as a unit and be given orders by the player acting as Commander. With several strike teams at his fingers, a Commander can reliably co-ordinate efforts, and give out new orders to teams as they are completed. With a good Commander, a team can conquer a map more effectively and efficiently than ever before.
There are more player classes than before, with roles for engineers, medics and assault types as you might expect. However, one of the crucial new game dynamics is the scoring system. Rather than simply rewarding kills, the system rewards the amount you heal your teammates, vehicles repaired, assists for kills, base defends... the list goes on. This means that those who prefer to take a more supporting role can still come top of games if they are the best
player on the map, rather than just the most trigger-happy.
This scoring system also encourages a wider range of characters, avoiding everyone spawing as soliders and rushing the aircraft - a common problem in BF1942.
Along with the new scoring system, there's a points-tracker-leaderboard-thingy, clearly inspired by the Halo 2 every-stat-in-the-galaxy approach to bragging rights. As you play online, each point you get counts towards medals, ribbons and ranks that can be won. Whilst there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of benefit to having a high-level character, it is a big kudos-earner.
It's all fun and games until someone loses a limb
All of which spooging doesn't mean that BF2 is perfect. It isn't, by a long way. For starters, the sniper class is way underpowered. Whilst this might have the admirable effect of discouraging campers, it nevertheless is annoying.
Some of the default key configurations are rather strange. For example, the key to deploy a parachute - often needed in a tragic falling accident - is '9', all the way over the other side of the keyboard from the WASD movement keys, making you far more likely to die than deploy, unless you've reflexes quicker than Spiderman.
The maps, whilst varied, could do with being a little more diverse. It's painful to spot re-used textures, and too many maps look like generic 'grassy industrial area with concrete patios and dirt roads' jobs. We would have welcomed a far more distinct desert level and snow level, to add some variation.
Which isn't even to start
on the appalling single player. Frankly, forget it. You can only play 16 player, and the bots are absolutely more stupid than a stupid guy eating stupid pills. In 4 practice games, I was run over by a tank 3 times by my own teammates. That's not cool. The AI isn't especially tactical, and relies on you for direction - but unless you're alongside them on the ground, they won't really be too effective, either.
Don't play with yourself
But find a good 64-player server with a fast ping, and you're laughing. The game handles the large number of players surprisingly well, and the voice comms (built in) can be a hoot.
The game goes out of its way to encourage tactical co-ordination and consideration, rather than just team deathmatching - and this shows, even on public servers. Players genuinely appear to get a kick out of helping each other out, and it's far more fun than any other team-based game out there.
Clans, in particular, will go bonkers for this. It's the perfect opportunity for players of all FPS persuasions to come and work together. The number of strategies for each map will make for some incredibly exciting games, and we wouldn't be surprised to see this show up on the pro-gamer tournament circuit fairly soon. It's really the perfect battle of reflexes and tactics.
OK, so the gameplay is clearly there - let's have a peek under the hood and see what make Battlefield 2 tick, shall we?