Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 17, 2006
I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I first heard that Battlefield 2142 was being released, since Battlefield 2 is still in its prime and being updated with new maps, gameplay tweaks, and bug fixes. When Battlefield 2 was released a little over a year ago, it exhibited incredible improvements compared to its predecessors, Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield Vietnam, in virtually every conceivable respect. How could the next installment in the Battlefield series make such significant advances in graphics and gameplay again so soon? The short answer: It doesn't. Squelch any notion that a video game needs to have next-generation graphics to be considered great, because Battlefield 2142 delivers a first-class experience that should not be missed by any fan of the genre.
The year is 2142, and the world is suffering the effects of global warming. Snow and ice have encroached upon most of the land, drastically reducing the supply of habitable terrain. Two new superpowers evolve in the fight for survival: the European-led EU forces and the "Russo-Asian" PAC army. Got that? Now you can forget it, because the background story is completely irrelevant. You may be fighting in a new Ice Age, but I didn't notice any visual evidence of chilly temperatures, and I certainly didn't see any ice, but do you really care what the fight is about? Let's get to the game.
First and foremost, BF 2142 is a multiplayer title; you can engage in battle with up to 64 other living, breathing human beings sitting at their computers, just like you. Multiplayer sessions are typically more difficult than their single-player counterparts because enemy soldiers usually demonstrate far more environmental awareness and tactical prowess than your standard computer-generated bot. Sneaking up on an unsuspecting sniper with your combat knife drawn doesn't result in the same visceral thrill when the sniper isn't controlled by a real person who will feel real humiliation when he meets his demise at the hands of your primitive weapon.
For those so inclined, however, there is an option to play in single-player mode, which is essentially the same, except that every other player is a bot. Overall, the bots seem smarter and more versatile in Battlefield 2142 than in Battlefield 2. While they don't behave exactly like humans, they do act similarly in many respects. For example, I witnessed a bot taking off in a flying vehicle only to crash it into the ground seconds later.
The main advantages of playing with bots are that you can control the difficulty level, bots act civil and obey your commands, and they won't team-kill you in order to get a specific vehicle. Don't play single-player for the purpose of avoiding humiliation at the hands of the highly skilled; the bots understand the utility of the combat knife and will, when circumstances permit, forgo the rifle and slit your throat instead (so I've heard).
There are two basic multiplayer modes: the classic Conquest mode and the new Titan mode. In Conquest mode, each team starts with a certain number of "tickets," and the object is to reduce your opponent's tickets to zero. You do so by capturing and holding control points on the map, and you reduce their tickets by one for every enemy you kill. Control points are captured by whichever team has more of its team members within the control point's radius. As in past Battlefield offerings, holding a control point allows you to re-spawn there after you die.
Titan mode, a variation of Conquest mode, adds a new level of depth and purpose. You go around the battlefield fighting for control points, but this time, they're missile silos instead of flags. Rather than decrease the other side's tickets, ownership of a control point results in missiles being periodically launched toward the enemy's titan warship in the sky, gradually weakening its protective shield. The first team to destroy the other's titan is the victor.
The twist is the alternate means of destroying the enemy's titan. You can board it in a full-scale assault and blow its central reactor core to smithereens, which will definitely appeal to those who favor close-quarters combat over the vast expanses of the battlefield. This is much more difficult than taking over a control point in Conquest mode, as the titan is well fortified; defending soldiers can move about unhindered via one-way force fields through which attacking soldiers cannot pass.
The core squad-based gameplay introduced in Battlefield 2, in which players form squads and take orders from a Squad Leader upon whom they have the option to spawn, has not been changed. Two upgrades to the system, however, are particularly noteworthy. First, the Squad Leader can unlock a spawn beacon and place it at a strategically advantageous spot on the battlefield. It's also quite exhilarating to spawn on it, because doing so involves rocketing out of the sky in some kind of pod and smashing into the ground, safe and sound, at the site of the beacon. Second, in a brilliant effort to encourage squads to work together, the developers have chosen to reward actions that benefit a squad with temporary unlocks, called "field upgrades." A squad that sticks together, heals and resupplies itself, and follows orders will periodically receive these upgrades, which offer a temporary preview of permanent unlockable items or abilities.
Battlefield 2142 appeals to a broad audience by providing a remarkable balance of realism and fun. Weapons overheat and must be reloaded, but not to the extent that tending to your weapon becomes a chore. You can accidentally kill your teammates if you aren't careful, but your enemies are identified with little red icons over their heads to minimize the chances of this happening. Weapon handling and feel are very similar to Battlefield 2, which is mostly a good thing.
The learning curve for newcomers is fairly steep; virtually every key on the keyboard is tied to one or more actions, and it will take some time to memorize all the bindings. Veterans of Battlefield 2 will find the controls mostly unchanged, and the system for customizing your key bindings is much improved. For those who have been hoping to lean around corners or quickly switch to your last-held weapon, that functionality has not been added.
There are four soldier classes: Recon (combining "special forces" and sniper), Assault (combining assault and medic), Engineer (combining engineer and anti-tank), and Support (featuring new unlockable abilities, such a sentry gun, EMP grenades, and stealth detection). Each class has its own appeal and its own role in the battlefield; you get to select your class and equipment each time you re-spawn.
Another way in which the Battlefield franchise has distinguished itself from other first-person shooters is the inclusion of vehicles that can be commandeered and used in battle. Aside from the titan, which can only be maneuvered by the Commander, you can jump in and drive off in any vehicle you encounter. There are no jets in this iteration; instead, there are only "gunships," which are slow and steady but also much easier to fly than Battlefield 2's jets and helicopters. Ground-pounders will rejoice, but those who love to fly will likely be disappointed by the limited aircraft options in BF 2142.
The new icon of this installment in the Battlefield series is the futuristic Battle Walker, which looks like something straight out of "Robocop" or "Star Wars." The havoc wreaked by these bipedal beasts comes courtesy of a missile launcher and a pair of independently rotating cannons. It's like a land-based attack chopper; although it can't fly, its giant legs allow it to stomp just about anywhere it pleases, including deep water that would swallow and destroy lesser vehicles. Battle Walkers are awesome to behold, but the thrill of controlling one wears off quickly. Using the cockpit view, it can be difficult to shoot and walk at the same time; since walking is such a bumpy affair, holding a steady aim is difficult, as is avoiding obstacles.
Armored Personnel Carriers function in roughly the same way as in Battlefield 2, with one important addition: assault pods that catapult the occupant high into the air. The pods are designed to enable you to board the enemy's titan, but the possible applications are tantalizing.
Battlefield 2142 features a persistence system that tracks the progress of your player and keeps track of every imaginable statistic. You earn awards as you distinguish yourself in battle, and although they don't provide any tangible in-game benefit, the awards can be a source of pride and bragging rights. Unlocks are categorized as those tied to a particular kit, those which can only be used by a Squad Leader, and those any player can use regardless of class. Notable unlocks include the aforementioned spawn beacon, a sentry turret, invisibility, and "Networked Battlefield," which allows each squad member to see what other members see. The Commander has also been reprised from Battlefield 2, and his role and powers are virtually unchanged. He can call in orbital strikes, EMP strikes, drop supplies, summon UAV surveillance drones, and issue orders to the squads.
You’re not going to be blown away by the graphics in Battlefield 2142, but they're still as good as just about everything else out there. Visually, I prefer 2142 to Battlefield 2, but I'm not sure whether that's the result of BF 2142's fascinating landscapes or its improved graphics engine. It's all very pleasing to the eye, especially in the higher resolutions, although the game doesn't support widescreen formats.
Player movement and control can be jerky, which was my complaint with Battlefield 2, and it remains true with its successor. Even with mouse sensitivity turned way down, you can become disoriented as your view jumps around awkwardly, particularly when on foot. Death animations can be similarly choppy. Occasionally, the camera wobbles a little when you die, and you notice you're unable to move. There are times when you don't even realize you have died until you read the text notifying you of the event.
The flip side is that it's often hard to tell whether you have killed someone. The absence of gore means you won't have the benefit of blood stains to tell that you've scored a hit. Often your victim will just wiggle a little bit, and you'll need to read the console message to learn whether you killed someone. For a game about war, Battlefield 2142 is decidedly non-violent.
Another area in which the game trails behind Source-based shooters is in the interactivity of the environment, or lack thereof. Shooting your surroundings will result in bullet holes, but you can't knock down boxes or manipulate other objects, and most doors are just for show and cannot be opened. Similarly, shooting a glass building with a tank will leave a mark but won't break the glass.
Generally speaking, the maps are excellent. Unlike the pre-release demo, which did not adequately represent the visual splendor this title has to offer, the environments are beautiful and look appropriately futuristic. Instead of just tacking some curvaceous metal scraps onto otherwise ordinary buildings, the maps feature a cohesive vision of the not-too-distant future.
In terms of audio presentation, Battlefield 2142 generates the most awesome assemblage of sound waves that have ever graced my ears. The sound effects are, in a word, breathtaking. The rumbling of the tanks, the hum of the gunships, and the electronic pounding of the orbital strikes are all delivered to your ears with stunning clarity and power. To experience the benefits of the game's "ultra high" audio-quality option, which makes use of EAX Advanced HD environmental audio, you will need a Sound Blaster X-Fi sound card. You can still enjoy the game without one, but just know that you won't be hearing all there is to hear. The musical score is wonderful, totally new yet buttressed by just enough of the classic Battlefield theme to remind listeners of the game's heritage. Each map has its own loading music, and each piece sounds like it would be right at home in a major motion picture.
As good as Battlefield 2142 is, I hesitate to describe it as the next "must-have" title, especially for anyone who already owns Battlefield 2. Despite 2142's futuristic setting and new Titan mode, the overall gaming experience does not feel entirely new because BF2 already has many of the features that make Battlefield 2142 so great.
Still, there are some key differences. In Battlefield 2142, you customize your soldier with your accumulated unlocks, and you can adjust your equipment in the field to meet the changing circumstances. Knife kills are now rewarded with your victim's dog tag, giving you a little added incentive to use your knife. Maps load more quickly, and an "away bonus" helps infrequent players rank up and stay competitive. Field upgrades encourage squad-based teamwork, and overpowered aircrafts have been eliminated. "Spotted" enemies get a little red icon on them that can be seen through buildings, so you aren't forced to rely solely on your mini-map.
As good as Battlefield 2142 is capable of being, surprisingly few people take advantage of what it has to offer. As in Battlefield 2, squads rarely follow orders, or they will verbally accept their orders but refuse to carry them out. Even with the new field upgrades available to those who work as a team, many people still refuse to join squads, and many who do fail to stay with their squads and act as a unit. Serving as the Commander can be an awesome power and responsibility, but you'll find that most Squad Leaders merely want you to give them supplies, not orders.
Sadly, 2142 suffers from the many of the same glitches that continue to plague Battlefield 2. You can sometimes see (and shoot) your enemy's legs through a wall when he goes prone next to it. On several occasions, I encountered the dreaded, "There is a problem with your connection," or worse, "Your connection to the server has been lost." Occasionally, you will recover without getting disconnected from the server, but when that happens, expect to be gazing posthumously at the sky.
As has been widely reported, real-world advertising has been integrated into the game. Your I.P. address will be anonymously collected, shared, and used to insert targeted advertising into the maps. To me, a game that takes place 136 years in the future seems an odd choice to experiment with dynamic in-game advertising of products that exist today. I wouldn't mind a little Mercedes star on the back of an APC, but there are some giant billboards in the game that have me worried. As of the time of this writing, the billboards all display the same fictional product of the future, and I have yet to encounter any real-world advertising, but if I see the AFLAC duck on one of those billboards, I am not going to be happy.
While Battlefield 2142 is not likely to supplant Battlefield 2, still a strong game in its own right, it nevertheless offers substantial gameplay improvements and is unquestionably one of the best multiplayer shooters available today. Battlefield 2142 continues the tradition of combining ground forces, land and air vehicles, and huge, wide-open maps in an addictive, wholly entertaining package that sets the bar high for competitors to follow.
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