Reviewed: August 15, 2005
Released: June 21, 2005
When it comes to military games, Iíve played most of them. When it comes to tactical multiplayer war games Iíve played them all. And while nothing has yet to come close to the simple eloquence of the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games Battlefield 2 comes pretty damn close, especially for those looking for the larger and more epic style battles.
While most of my military career, especially the latter portion, has been in Special Forces, even grunts on the front line will tell you that whether you are part of a team that is four or 400 strong, itís all about teamwork, and Battlefield 2 is a prime example of that philosophy. The game practically demands to be played online, and is one of the few examples of a game that gets better as more people join in.
First, letís dispense with the gratuitous reading of the features list which includes no less than a dozen massive and highly detailed battle maps, 30 land, sea, and air vehicles, three factions to fight for or against, more than six soldier classes, a new Command Mode that lets one elected person control the entire battle, new and advanced weapons system including material penetration, and persistent character development that rewards the skillful players.
Before you dive into Battlefield 2 you need to make sure you have a few things. First, donít even try to play this game seriously without a USB Headset. I recommend the one from Logitech, which I will be reviewing in a separate feature, but any will do in a pinch. Also, make sure your computer exceeds the minimum stats, and if at all possible, try to have a machine that is as good, if not better, than the recommended stats.
This game is CPU, memory, and video hungry, and any problems you have playing this game on your computer are only magnified when you go online. Also, prepare yourself for some unbearable load times, especially during the initial loading of a new map. It appears a lot of this time is spent on client verification, which is either making sure my copy is legal, un-altered (i.e. cheats installed), or both.
Battlefield 2 takes the franchise into a new realm of quasi-realism and engaging 3D gameplay where you actually become a soldier in a very realistic war with very realistic objectives. Rather than having just a bunch of screaming infantry running around trying to frag each other with their machine guns and grenades, there are numerous specialties (or professions) you can pick.
Admittedly, being a medic or a mechanic might not sound as glamorous as joining Special Forces or becoming a sniper, but healing the wounded or fixing a broken down APC is just as important in the grand scheme of things. And only in the world of Battlefield 2, can a medic turn a vehicle into an ambulance simply by getting inside.
Choosing your profession in Battlefield 2 is almost as important as choosing a major in college. Youíll want to make a decision that fits with your playing style then stick with it, because unlike other games, your character evolves the more you play. Youíll also want to pick a class that fits the needs of the group you are playing with.
There are several classes of soldier to choose from including the aforementioned medics, engineers, sniper, and Special Forces. You also have assault and support personnel, anti-tank, driver, and the coveted (and elected) position of commander. Each of these roles comes with their own ďkitĒ, which consists of tools and weapons specific to that class. Some are obvious, like the engineer being able to turn a vehicle into a mobile repair center, while others are a bit cleverer, like the Special Forces kit being able to add stealth capabilities to an aircraft.
Kits contain a variety of weapons including a default loadout as well as numerous weapons that are locked at first. These become available as you earn points and increase your ranking. Picking the right gear is not only essential to helping the team, itís often a matter of life and death.
Before we dive into the multiplayer aspects of Battlefield 2 we should briefly talk about the single-player game, which is really just offline training so you donít embarrass yourself when you do go online. You can basically play any of the maps, choosing your difficulty, your faction, and your soldier class and kit. Then you jump into a 16-player battle full of some surprisingly intelligent ďbotsĒ.
But, the more you play the more AI quirks start to slip through and youíll easily see enemies charge blindly down the muzzle of gun or stop to reload without taking cover. Again, you can tweak the AI by changing the difficulty, but nothing compares to human competition. Single player is definitely for practice only.
There are 12 excellent maps in Battlefield 2 that feature believable scenarios, architecture, and landscape. Most impressive however is the way the game scales these levels to suit the number of players. There is a huge difference between the way these levels play out in 16 and 32 player modes. I donít have access to a LAN or T1 line so I canít comment on the 64-player battles, but things get pretty crazy at 32 players so Iím guessing it canít get much crazier after that.
The maps range from large open spaces with small groups of structures to large urban settings like something you might see in Black Hawk Down. The skills required to fight in urban and open space are totally different and you probably donít want to be bouncing back and forth between levels. Personally, I prefer the close-quarters tactics of a map like Karkland, very reminiscent of my time in Bosnia.
But there is also a certain appeal to the larger levels like Kubra Dam that practically demand the use of vehicles to get from one end of the map to the other. If you donít like to drive or fly then you had better make sure you have a pilot or driver on your team for this level or you have a long and boring walk ahead of you.
While weíre on the subject of vehicles, now would be a good time to talk about controls. Battlefield 2 has an immensely complex control scheme; nearly every key on the keyboard does something in one of the six control modes. You have your global command set then you have your navigation, camera and map views. Movement and combat is broken down into infantry, land and sea, and air controls, and finally you have your battlefield commander controls.
Trying to master all of these commands is just another good reason why itís a good idea to pick a specialty class and stick with it. Of course you will want to at least have a basic ability to drive a jeep, even if you are a sniper by trade. There are more than 30 vehicles and sooner or later you will have to get behind the wheel or stick of one of them.
For the most part, buggies, jeeps, and even tanks drive reasonably as you might expect. Planes and helicopters take a bit more getting used to, and this is where I find having somebody who really enjoys flying, and knows how to do it, a valuable team asset.
Vehicles are a lot of fun in Battlefield 2, both in their variety and they way they add to the overall mayhem. There is nothing more frightening that having two or three guys huddled around a flagpole waiting for the colors to change and a massive tank rumbles around the corner and the barrel slowly rotates toward you. Conversely, there is nothing more exciting than driving a buggy with a gunner in the rear mowing down enemy soldiers too slow to get out of your way.
Cooperation and communication is paramount to any wartime effort. In all fairness to the designers, there is a pretty good text-based command system in place for issuing basic orders with single key presses. It works well enough but is in no way an equal for real voice chat, so make sure you have a headset and know the commands necessary to talk to your team and your squad (assuming one has been formed).
Squads can be formed at any time and you can invite others to join you or join somebody elseís. Also new to Battlefield 2 is the strategic position of Commander. This is one of those jobs for the more analytical gamer, the guy who thinks better than he plays, the guy who can look at a map, assimilate massive amounts of intel, and prepare a plan of attack in moments, then communicate those order down the chain of command.
Those wishing to undertake this daunting task must first apply for the position then be voted in by the rest of the team. Once the commander is in place they will have access to special commands and a special screen where they can order artillery strikes and satellite sweeps of the area. These sweeps are useful in that you can get an instant look at the enemy position then order your own forces accordingly.
Of course, knowing where your own men are is also useful, especially before you call in an artillery strike Ė there is no such thing as ďfriendly fireĒ Ė it all kills you. All of these advanced tools also bleed over into the action elements of the game. You can order your men to make a hit on the enemy radar installation and if successful, effectively removing their ability to call in similar sweeps.
Battlefield 2 is just about as close to the actual experience of war as you can get without actually enlisting. Admittedly, the game is only as good as the players who are playing it. Iím sure youíll come across servers full of gamers who are playing this game like it was Quake or UT2004. In those instances, the game wonít work. This is one of those rare games that takes a unified effort to blend the skills and abilities of both gamer and soldier alike.
I used to think I had a fairly impressive computer until I tried to run this game at 1600x1200. The game actually ran and it ran smoothly but about every 20-25 seconds the framerate would hiccup. I updated my video drivers and ultimately the game itself with the most recent patch but I was forced to back the game down to 1280x1024 for the most reliable performance.
Visually, Battlefield 2 is impressive as hell. The environments are ultra-realistic, both in landscape, architecture, and even the textures. Character models are highly detailed with various weapons and assorted gear and their animation is natural and realistic for the most part, although some of their actions are technically unsound.
The vehicles are amazing, especially the tanks which actually inspire a bit of fear at close range. Climbing into the cockpit of a chopper or fighter plane gives you a whole new look at the world and a surprisingly detailed cockpit and HUD. Each vehicle can be driven from cockpit or chase view.
There are a good variety of special effects including dynamic lighting, shadows, and plenty of smoke and fire. Explosions are powerful and there is nothing more satisfying than guiding that missile into the open canopy of a circling chopper and watching it erupt into a shower of flame and debris.
The menus and overall interface including the HUD is laid out nicely with just enough information to keep you informed without dominating the screen space. A quick glance can get you medical status, sprint power, weapons status, and the mini-map insert will keep you updated on your own team as well as the status of the domination points.
There is a fantastic opening score that accompanies the intro movie but after that Battlefield 2 relies on its realistic sampling of all the real-life military weapons and vehicles to immerse you in the sounds of war. Using multi-channel THX surround sound, this game sounds every bit as good as the DTS version of Saving Private Ryan.
There is plenty of com chatter in the single-player games, orders being issued and confirmed, etc, but a lot of these will hopefully get replaced with real voices and real com chatter in multiplayer games. Having a good headset that not only allows you to talk, but still appreciate the amazing 3D nature of the sound presentation is of utmost importance.
There are plenty of subtle environment sounds that you can pick up on during those rare quiet moments. One of the most haunting for me is the flapping of the flag and the ting of the rope as it bangs against the pole as I am hunkered down waiting for the flag to change. There is also some really good character movement sounds with all of the gear and weapons rattling around, plus heavy breathing and heartbeat sounds when you sprint or take damage.
Truly, one of the few games that can be played forever, there is no end in sight for Battlefield 2. I supposed you will eventually master all of the maps but by then there will be new ones. But it can take weeks to master a soldier class and rank up to unlock all those weapons. And when you have mastered one there are plenty more to learn. And everyone should take at least one crack at being the commander.
Much like the real military, Battlefield 2 is not just a game, itís a way of life. There is no doubt that thousands of gamers are going to immerse themselves in this game to all new extremes and it will literally become their career. Youíre going to have that one guy who wants to be the best commander of all time and another who aspires to be a medic or pilot.
The ranking and reward system encourages dedicated and extended gameplay, not only with new weapons, but with global scoreboards on special ranked servers, so you can find out who the best of the best is. But when it comes to multiplayer military games, Battlefield 2 is going to hold the top honors for a long time to come.