Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Digital Illusions
Release Date: April 11, 2006
First-person shooters are quickly turning into the Xbox 360's mainstay genre, which should hardly be a surprise to anyone. What is amazing is just how different all of the major titles feel so far. While the recent Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is very much a thinking man's FPS, heavily focused on strategy and precision shooting, Battlefront 2 is the game for pure unadulterated arcade action. The X360 version is extremely similar to the Xbox version of the title that came out last year, with the graphics standing out as the major difference between the two titles; you can also unlock Xbox Live Achievements with the 360 version, in addition to the usual kills-for-points and medals for combo kills. The actual missions have been streamlined somewhat, but are basically the same. In a very real sense, if you've played the PC or Xbox versions, you've already played this game.
While the single-player campaign does tell a story, it's mostly a primer for the multiplayer aspects of the title. While the game has no tutorials or training modes in the current build, the basics of gameplay are simple enough to figure out. You target with the right analog stick, move around with the left, and fire with the right trigger button. Tapping Y lets you switch between the different positions when you're controlling a vehicle, while X lets you seize control of another soldier you're looking at.
Switching units to suit the mission conditions is one of the quickest survival skills you'll learn in BF2's campaign mode, and absolutely essential to beating some missions. It also makes BF2 an unusually forgiving FPS, since you can really keep getting killed for as long as you have team members left to use. Of course, this isn't desirable at all, since it docks your points and makes finishing longer missions less likely, but it also gives the game a very gentle learning curve for beginners. On top of this, it's an FPS where you can regenerate health easily, get bonus health for racking up big kills, and even under the worst of conditions, soak machinegun fire from enemy soldiers for a lot longer than any real person could. The total effect is to create a game that feels like the hyper-reality of an action movie, complete with dramatically exploding vehicles and the hero who never, ever runs out of ammo no matter what. Playing Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is an exercise in near-unadulterated adrenaline rushing.
Even as FPS storylines go, Modern Combat's plotline is pretty thin. It has something to do with tensions between China and NATO exploding into conflict over Kazakhstan. No characters figure into the storyline, with the missions instead being introduced as group-oriented goals. Still, the mission setups have some stylish narration and do a good job of giving you some idea of why you're trying to achieve your particular objective in the way you're trying to achieve it. The actual missions tend to functionally not be too complex, simply cleaning enemies out of an area or protecting territory. The wide variety of weapons and vehicles available to you gives the game a pleasant feeling of variety, though, as do the chances to play as the various character classes. Wiping out all of the bad guys as an engineer doesn't feel anything like doing it as a sniper.
The five Modern Combat classes for the 360 version are Engineer, Spec Ops, Sniper, Assault, and Support. Engineers carry high-tech weapons, Spec Ops specialize in close-range combat, Snipers specialize in slow and painstaking headshots, Assault often brings in heavy firepower like armored vehicles, and Support... well, supports. For the most part, the class names completely describe how the class handles. You can play them across three different factions: the US, the EU, and China. As you complete missions, you'll unlock superior equipment for the various classes and factions.
While any of the classes seem theoretically capable of finishing all the objectives presented in their missions, some class is usually better suited to the task than the others. Often the best way to make it through a mission with your squad intact is to memorize the exact moments where you need to switch off to deal with the next threat in the most efficient way possible. This can be painful during some of the missions that deal in subterfuge, such as the sniping missions, but will definitely satisfy gamers who want to deal with a stiff challenge. This is yet another FPS where the sense of satisfaction you get from completing a mission is enormous.
Achievements unlocked during a mission are retained even if you fail to complete the mission, too, which helps keep the heavy repetition some missions call for from being too frustrating. You can also do challenge runs in each campaign to help give yourself a change of pace, short missions where you're challenged to kill so many guys in a short period of time, make so many hot swaps, or race to a particular target in time. They bring some much-needed variety to the gameplay, and while beating a challenge at low skill levels is simple, doing so at the highest possible levels of skill can be quite difficult. You'll want to practice and hone your skills for each challenge as much as you can, since clearing challenges at higher skill levels offer better unlockables like equipment and new challenge courses.
Of course, when it comes to BF2, a lot of players are going to concern themselves almost exclusively with the online multiplayer. BF2's online presence with the PC version has been legendary, and while the X360 pool of players is likely to be smaller, they'll also have the advantages inherent in the Xbox Live network. BF2 will also have the advantage of being the first modern military shooter released for the console, which is sure to draw a good pool of online players. The multiplayer experience is expected to be basically similar to what's available for the Xbox version, while offering environments that are more sophisticated. The 360's superior resolution is also sure to play a factor in the way online battles play themselves out. Of course, this still probably won't impress veterans of the PC version, but console versions rarely do.
In comparison to the Xbox version of BF2, the X360 Modern Combat shines. Everything from the flash of a sniper's rifle going off to the way bodies topple over into the snow has improved dramatically on the 360. This goes a long way toward enhancing the immersion of the gameplay experience, as your environments are at times startlingly realistic to be playing on a console. Even little touches, like beautiful particle physics for billowing smoke and more realistic drift in the falling snowflakes, add so much to the 360 version of the game. In terms of sound, the title is largely the same, full of good solid military voice-acting and big, Hollywood-style musical scores. The aesthetic for BF2 was clearly built around the notion of letting players feel like they're playing a movie, and the effect roundly succeeds.
Whether you're a Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter vet or just an action gamer looking for some fast frags, there's little doubt that Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is going to be the next major title for the Xbox 360, and what all the FPS fans with the system are going to be flocking to over the next few months. The game's been a smash hit on basically every other console it's been released for, so there's no reason to expect the 360 version to be any different. Look for it in stores in early April.
More articles about Battlefield 2: Modern Combat