The first Battlefield game (that’s BF:1942, for those of you keeping count at home) only reached its defining moment when a group of intrepid modders hacked modern weapons and vehicles to replace the WW2-era weapons the game shipped with. The mod was Desert Combat, and it was the first large-scale multiplayer combat game featuring modern weapons.
After a forgettable sophomore attempt (Battlefield: Vietnam), Dice has created another game that pushes the genre forward. Battlefield 2 manages to combine the fast pace and cohesive action of a small-squad game such as Counter-Strike with the grand scope and vehicular combat of the Battlefield titles. The secret is in the squad.
But before we can really talk about squad combat, you need to know the basics of the game. When you first join a Battlefield 2 server and pick your team, you must select a class. Different classes have different abilities and weapons.
You can carry anything from semi-automatic sniper rifles to chain-fed machine guns. There are also several classes that fulfill support roles—healing teammates, repairing vehicles, and replenishing ammo. There are dozens of vehicles sprinkled throughout most maps, including planes, tanks, boats, helicopters, and even automobiles. You’ll need the vehicles to succeed, so it’s crucial that you keep them repaired and stocked with munitions.
The object of the game is to capture and hold all of the spawn points on the map. If you take over all the enemy spawns, while defending your spawns, you win the round. Lose the spawns, and you lose the round. The maps are huge, but unlike BF:1942 maps, they’re chock-full of choke points, which focus the battle into small, super-concentrated areas. Close-combat urban skirmishes make for brilliant fun!
By focusing the battle in those key areas—mostly urban settings—the emphasis has moved away from squad-level battles spread across five or six square miles to squad-level battles spread across a three- or four-block area.
Facilitating communication between squad members and separate squads sets Battlefield 2 apart from its competition. Every time you connect to a Battlefield 2 server, you have the option to join a squad. When you join a squad, you automatically get voice communication with your squad mates, and they’ll show up as green blips on your radar. Most importantly, in addition to the normal spawns, you’ll also be able to spawn at your squad leader’s position. As long as your squad leader remains alive, you’ll be able to respawn wherever he is.
In large games with multiple squads, the ability to spawn next to your squad leader enhances the intense, squad-vs.-squad combat. Battlefield 2 makes it easy to issue orders to your squad, as well. Press T and a context- sensitive menu pops up with orders that are appropriate for the target. The menus are faster and easier to use than the old keyboard shortcuts, and they provide much more useful info than in other games.
Controlling all the separate squads on your team is one all-powerful Commander. The Commander controls strategic Battlefield resources—artillery, aerial drones, satellite scans, and supply drops—in addition to giving orders to individual squads. The Commander can also talk to the squad leaders, giving them instructions or a warning about incoming enemy concentrations.
A painfully slow server browser and the absence of a mechanism to get you playing with your buddies keep Battlefield 2 out of 10/KickAss territory. But Battlefield 2’s combination of small-scale combat and large-scale strategy is damn fun, warts and all.
The new BF2 expansion pack delivers on its promise of making an awesome game even awesomer. That is, if you can put up with the hassles typically associated with the launch of any Battlefield product—some stuff just ain’t right the first few weeks after release.
The expansion is all about Special Forces combat, so instead of it just being the USMC against the MEC, this time around you play as part of the Navy Seals, British SAS, Russian Spetnaz, and other elite units. The problem is that all the changes seem like window dressing, without any real substance. While everything looks new, the weapons and vehicles all feel exactly the same as regular BF2.
That said, there are a few new features that are very cool. Some classes have flashbang grenades or tear gas, which give you a huge edge in combat. There is also a grappling hook that can be used to scale buildings, and a zip line to descend from rooftops. These tools are rarely necessary, and using them leaves you open to attack, but a team that takes advantage of them can do serious damage. Gas masks and night-vision goggles are now standard equipment for all classes as well. The gas mask is mostly unnecessary, but some night maps require use of the night-vision goggles.
Which brings us to the really good part: The eight included maps are outstanding. Several are very Karkan-like, featuring up-close urban combat. The others include smaller maps that encourage close-quarters combat, and three new battles that occur at night, requiring the use of different tactics. Operating in darkness requires a lot of stealth and strategy, and is easily the most rewarding (and fun) new feature in the expansion pack.
Unfortunately, there are some weird installation issues. Installing the expansion pack rolls back BF2 to version 1.1, even if you have 1.12 installed, so you have to reinstall the patch. People have also reported some instability issues, which we experienced on one of our test machines, but not on another virtually identical PC.
The new maps alone justify the cost of the expansion, but unless you’re a hardcore Battlefield 2 player, you probably won’t miss anything if you pass on this pack.
Battlefield 2 won our 2005 Game Of The Year award for one simple reason: our entire game-playing staff was completely absorbed by the game for the second half of last year. After more than a year of regular play, however, Kubra Dam and Dalian Plant were getting a little tiring. That’s where the BF2 booster packs come in.
Unlike full-blown expansions, which offer new weapons and tons of new content, the booster packs simply add a few new maps and vehicles to the basic BF2 experience. Euro Forces, the first $10 booster pack to Battlefied 2, added a new European front in the form of three new maps, but they didn’t see regular play on many servers. Armored Fury adds three damn-near-perfect new maps that focus on a North American invasion by aggressor nations.
The beauty of these new maps is that they place you in familiar suburban and rural locations within the U.S., and they focus heavily on open-field armored combat. Operation Road Rage is the fight for a key cloverleaf on an eastern Interstate. Operation Harvest places you in the rolling fields of Amish country, and Midnight Sun forces you to defend an Alaskan port against an invading force.
The focus on vehicular combat is immediately apparent. Between the flags you must capture and hold to win, there are wide-open fields. However, chokepoints abound, making it possible for infantry grunts to defend flags, while the heavy armor pushes forward on offense. These maps are well balanced and fun, and have earned spots alongside Sharqi Peninsula and Strike at Karkand as our favorites.
It’s not all about the ground-pounders, though. The new scout choppers pack an infantry-killing punch, but are better used for their additional tricks. With seats for two passengers and the pilot—as well as a radar scan similar to the UAV drone—the small choppers let you move your men anywhere on the map in a hurry. The ground-attack planes, including the classic A-10 Warthog, are capable of shattering an armored column, but are vulnerable to the anti-air stations spread liberally throughout all three environments. On average, there’s one AA placement per flag to give foot soldiers a better chance against air assets.
For anyone still playing Battlefield 2, these three maps are well worth your $10.
Battlefield 2’s multiplayer action is so good it practically blew our heads off. Few other games in the history of the medium have so effectively captured the visceral feeling of modern military combat in an urban environment*, where your life rests in the hands of your squad and theirs in yours. There is far more to this fight for control of critical map points than a random flailing of bullets and explosives.
Without forcing it, Battlefields 2’s game mechanics promote teamwork on multiple levels. Loners can do their part as spec-ops commandos or snipers; however, there’s only so much one man can handle by themselves. But a cohesive squad composed of assault, anti-tank, support and medic classes working together and supported by engineers driving tanks and flying attack choppers overhead? A team like that can overcome any obstacle, especially when a great leader emerges to direct his men.
A good commander in Battlefield 2 is a surgeon, and the soldiers are his scalpel. Surveying the battlefield from a strategic view, he points his squads leaders to where they’re needed most, provides intelligence with satellite scans, drops supplies to troops in battle zones, and bombards entrenched enemy positions with deadly artillery barrages.
Try sampling more than a few of the game’s classes and you’ll find at least one that’s suited to your individual talents – that’s how diverse Battlefield 2’s gameplay is. And because each supporting role is practically indispensable to an effective fighting force, you will always feel that you’ve made an important contribution to your team’s victories. There’s no better feeling in the gaming.
That said, the game is unquestionably flawed: the load times are interminable, the server is an absolute disaster area, and some annoying bugs have still not been quashed after several rounds of patching. But the fact that the gameplay remains so incredibly fun, drawing us back in again and again even despite these handicaps, is all the proof we need to declare Battlefield 2 our 2005 Game of the Year.
More Battlefield is never a bad thing. But new content alone doesn’t guarantee a captivating package – especially if frustrating bugs and other development faults in the original game are left unfixed. So while I’m completely enamored with the eight new maps included in the Special Forces add-on, problematic flaws keep this game from unfettered praise.
Two maps stand out as highlights in the rotation. “Night Flight” is a mission that prominently showcases the new night-vision feature. Both sides try to take control of an airfield, with flag points not only in radar towers and warehouses, but also on a stationary cargo plane. As my squad traversed between the points, it was essential to remain under the cover of darkness - partly to stay hidden, and partly because night-vision goggles are blindingly ineffective in well-lit areas.
I love that the map design forces you to adjust your goggle usage frequently as you make your way through buildings – keeping them on all the time leaves you vulnerable to shocking flashbangs and sudden changes in room illuminosity. The pitch black environments really work – you can’t just boost the gamma or brightness on your monitor to gain an advantage.
My second favorite map is the “Iron Gator” operation, where MEC forces are required to capture an entire aircraft carrier. The incredibly detailed layout of the carrier lends itself to cramped and intense firefights - perfect for lobbing dizzying gas grenades and flashbangs. From the hanger decks to the mess hall, every room and hallway becomes a valuable foothold for each team as they slowly try to take over the vessel. One of my most heart-pumping experiences came from sprinting across the main deck to capture a flag, narrowly dodging rocket fire from a circling attack copter, and then leaping into the water to engage jet-skiing marauders. How cool is that?
Other maps like “Mass Destruction” and “Leviathan” show off the new grappling hook and zipline. Using these tools, you can bypass fences and other obstacles to create new routes between points. They’re also great for reaching rooftops to build yourself a sniper’s nest, especially in the night missions.
New weapons and factions add some diversity to the experience, but don’t unbalance the game. My new gun of choice is the British F2000 assault rifle, which I can use against other players even on the stock Battlefield 2 servers.
Regrettably, all the features come at a cost, as the game runs even more sluggish now than before. Long load times for maps remain a true test of patience, and you’ll need more than 1 GB of RAM to run the game smoothly. I even suffered complete game crashes a half dozen times - something that never happened to me in Battlefield 2. The multiplayer game browser still drags, but the developers did add a new server-bookmarking feature.
I understand that the DICE team that worked on Special Forces isn’t the same one that crafted the core game, but that’s no excuse to not address issues that fans have complained about for months. This expansion delivers the goods in terms of content, but is a slap in the face to devotees hoping for bug fixes. For the next Battlefield campaign, developers had better re-evaluate their recruitment strategy.
HIGHS: Excellent new maps; night missions; gas grenades and flashbangs.
LOWS: Very buggy and choppy; slow multiplayer browser; limited single-player mode.
BOTTOM LINE: Unacceptable bugs and slowdowns detract from an otherwise great expansion pack.Return to the top of this page