Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Digital Illusions
Release Date: November 22, 2005
Buy 'BATTLEFIELD 2: Special Forces': PC
Boy, they sure didn't waste any time coming out with an expansion pack to Battlefield 2, did they? While this expansion removes some of the chief complaints people had with the original game (notably, how powerful the air units were), this feels more like an eight-map booster pack, with some high tech gadgets thrown in, than a true expansion. It also feels incredibly rushed and is more buggy than the original. If you can believe it, the load times are even worse; with 2 gigs of ram, it still takes way too long.
I've always been amazed at how, with each incarnation in the Battlefield series, the game browser just keeps getting worse and worse. Special Operations continues that trend as changing the server filter requires you restart the client. Switching between "original" Battlefield 2 maps and Special Operations maps also requires a client restart, but this one is handled for you. I force the client to keep my username and password remembered, and I've frequently run into issues where it returns a "username or password is incorrect" error. They haven't made the "verifying client data" any faster, either.
There are eight new vehicles included: the attack helicopter, an ATV, a Russian armored personnel carrier, a dune buggy with a mounted machine-gun, a Hummer with a TOW, a pickup truck with machine-gun, a civilian car, and a jet ski. Most of the new vehicles are of marginal usefulness; the APC doesn't have windows so passengers can only be ferried, the jet ski is novel at best, and the civilian car just left me scratching my head in puzzlement. At least the ATV and the dune buggy let you get around fairly quickly.
In addition to vehicles, there are six new gadgets that soldiers can use: a grappling hook, which lets you scale walls (available in the Assault and Anti-Tank kits); a zipline, which lets you get off a roof quickly (Sniper and Special Forces Kits); a flash bang grenade, which blinds enemies (Assault kit).; tear gas, which disorients enemies (Support kit); night vision goggles, which turn the world green and reveal enemy troops in the dark by their heat signatures (flash bang grenades are particularly effective against soldiers wearing these, at least on maps that support it); and a gas mask, which helps ward off the effects of tear gas (again, all classes have these). I didn't have much issue with the new toys; the tear gas and flash bangs, while a big pain the ass to be on the receiving end of, are quite effective. To avoid being overpowered, climbing the grappling hook is very slow, leaving you susceptible to being picked off.
As in Battlefield 2, the maps are excellent. The expansion focuses more on ground ops, so the only airpower on the new maps is small number of helicopters. According to EA/Dice, the most popular maps in BF2 were the town-based ones, so as a result, most of the eight new maps are focused on close combat. While most of them are town-based, there's also one that requires an insurgent group to try and take an aircraft carrier away from a SEAL team — apparently, the usual 5,000-person crew is on port call or something. This one (Iron Gate) has incredibly detailed interiors and even includes a working aircraft elevator.
Overall, the maps play well and are nicely themed. They all use the "conquest" mode, where the team that holds the most control points wins. While it's a tried-and-true model, given the name of "Special Operations," it would have been nice to see a sort of Assault mode from Battlefield 1942: Secret Weapons of World War II, where one team defends a position, and the other team tries to take it away. About half of the maps require night vision goggles, and they balance out well; since they amplify light, they're useless in well-lit areas and when flash bangs go off. The nighttime maps would have benefited from destructible environments where you could shoot out the lights.
The maps based off towns were the ones I enjoyed most. The absence of copious amounts of airpower is welcome, and I enjoyed these maps more than I enjoyed the BF2 maps. One big downer with the maps, though, is that only six of the eight are available in single-player mode, and only the smaller 16-person version of the maps. It's a glaring omission, as I prefer to use the single-player maps to get to learn the layout, and the bots sure beat some of the morons you play with on the servers. At least the bots usually form squads and attack as a team.
Special Operations has the same visuals as Battlefield 2, which is probably a good thing since they still push most decent rigs to the limit. You'll need 2 gigs of ram to run it at a decent rate, and I still noticed some lag issues occasionally, so the network code is a little wonky. There are also some stability issues, and one crash even rebooted my computer on me. As mentioned earlier, the browser is still a pain in the rear to use; I can handle it doing a client restart on its own to switch between BF2, and Special Operations maps, but needing to restart the client to apply the filters properly is incompressible. Full disclosure: the day I wrapped up this review, a patch was released that might change browser performance, but I was unable to test it out in time. Unless the browser goes through a drastic re-design and re-coding, however, a patch isn't going to help it much.
It's a testament to the great gameplay that once you get into the actual game, the difficulty in finding a server might be forgotten. You could have gone for a pizza in the amount of time it took the map to load, the game likes to optimize shaders about as much as the White House likes to cover up shootings, and it takes longer for the game to verify your client data than it took my bank to verify my credit ranking, but the gameplay is still that addictive Battlefield style.
In many ways, it's better than the original, since most of the airpower is gone. However, Special Forces feels more like a tacked-on "fix" for some issues than a true expansion. Sure, there are six new factions here, but they're just skins for the same classes. There are new vehicles, but in the long run, they aren't overly useful. There are some serious stability and performance issues here as well — the game rebooted my system once and seemed to perform worse than Battlefield 2. While the gameplay was good, I couldn't help but think that there needed to be more maps, a better single-player component, some new kits, and perhaps an assault mode. Fans of the original will enjoy it, but people were looking for something better than Battlefield 2 might find it lacking, unless air supremacy drove you away.
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