Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Digital Illusions
Release Date: March 30, 2006
Unlike most FPS gamers, I abhor gaming on my PC; I play strictly on consoles, and prior to the Xbox, I rarely had the opportunity to enjoy a good old-fashioned first-person shooter. Last fall, the much-touted Battlefield 2 arrived on the PS2 and Xbox, and it was almost lost among the hype of the next-gen consoles. The hype has begun to die down, just in time for a re-release of this title on next-gen hardware, in the form of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat. From graphics to gameplay, the new hardware has brought this port a number of upgrades. Although most casual players won't notice a difference between the two games aside from the graphics, any serious fans will likely take notice. The key dilemma is that while the developers managed to polish many aspects of the game, it still contains the same content as before, making it unappealing to many of the series' long-time fans. Looking at it with fresh eyes, BF2:MC does justice to its lineage and to the conceptual shoes it sought to fill.
One of the defining features in the Battlefield series is the "kit" system, in which, prior to spawning, players choose which one of five kits they will don. The kits themselves determine largely what role a player will fill, and they do so through the usage of weapon sets. The Assault kit focuses on a heavy duty assault rifle, excellent for medium- and short-range killings, the Sniper kit focuses on well, sniping (no surprise there); Special-Ops has a more up-close and personal design focused on breathing down the enemies' backs before dispatching them; and Engineers are largely designed to be anti-vehicular, while Support offers medical assistance on the field. To further the differentiation between the classes, each has a few other useful items at their disposal, such as grenades of varied disposition (smoke, flash, fragmentation, etc.), landmines, laser targeting and sidearms for when stuff hits the fan. The kits really complement each other, and the best chances for success tend to be when there is a fair balance on the field - of course, no one seems to want to play the medic, so that is rare.
Being able to change your kit upon death is both a blessing and a curse; I often found myself as a sniper wishing I had some sort of defense against tanks just prior to being obliterated by one. Of course, this was followed by me respawning as an engineer just to find the tank dead, while a large group of troops came over the hill I'd been covering with my rifle. Spawning in general can be a bit troublesome - all too often, I would spawn just to be mowed down almost instantly by enemy gunfire. While spawn camping is not a new thing in FPS games, the timed spawning system can make it more pronounced than it otherwise might be. In most FPS games, your respawn timer is static and related to when you die. The spawn timer in BF2:MC seems to be on a 12-second cycle, and depending on when you died during those 12 seconds, you might be waiting the full duration or spawning almost instantly. The problem here is that the enemy can get a good idea as to when that 12-second cycle is and know when to expect company.
Vehicle-based combat is growing to be more and more commonplace and perhaps even expected in FPS games, but its implementation in BF2:MC is somewhat on the bland side. The control methods for the vehicles fall somewhere between the intuitive Halo-style of piloting and the more precise PC controls. Not unlike mixing two good things like pudding and steak, the end result is not what might be expected. Instead of being a delicious new treat, the controls feel more like a sloppy and slightly miscalculated mess. Despite the occasionally frustrating controls, vehicles can offer some enjoyable experience; strafing an enemy base with missiles from a helicopter is rewarding both in-game and in a less tangible coolness factor. Just don't expect to get it right your first time, and don't look for anything revolutionary.
Another fascinating feature is the reward system, whereby players gain access to better equipment by increasing their rank. This system feels like a page right out of the MMORPG handbook, where a gamer is rewarded for playing the game. This is done by granting tangible goals and feelings of accomplishment that can be attained through standard play. Like an MMORPG, this form of positive reinforcement worked, and I found myself constantly trying to unlock more weapons and upgrades, which made the game more fun and in turn fed my desires to unlock even more stuff. No longer must we do something as mundane and "pointless" as playing video games just because they are fun - no, now we can play them to achieve stuff!
This system of rewards is present in both the multiplayer and single-player games, but they are not interchangeable, so attaining the easy rank by yourself won't change your equipment against other players, and vice versa. I like this method of handling unlockable content, as it helps to reward the players by placing an emphasis on skill instead of time spent playing alone. The less exciting prospect here is that the gear has less of an impact in the single-player campaign than it does against real opponents.
The single-player campaign is obviously less of a focal point than the multiplayer, offering a fairly meager number of missions that are largely without innovation. For the most part, when playing the campaign, a gamer will be able to enjoy standard military missions with pretty basic objectives: capture the building, keep enemies out of the building, shoot everyone, etc. The saving grace for BF2:MC is the hot-swap feature that allows a player to take control of any of their teammates at any time during a battle. If a helicopter is coming, it might be a good time to change over to the mechanic and bombard it with missiles, then back to the sniper to clear out the paratroopers descending from its twisted remains. The often-essential act of swapping mid-fight increases the excitement and involvement in the battle. At times, that could seem slow, so a player may want to change over to the medic to heal up troops, engineer to lay mines, or even the special-ops to scout an area for troops. Sometimes, I found myself using the hot-swap just for the novelty, and other times, I found myself forsaking it just to manually run to the target. Even considering how easy it is to forget at times and overuse at others, I maintain that hot-swapping is what makes the single-player campaign not only tolerable, but fun.
The designers at Digital Illusions struck a good balance between a run-and-gun FPS and the slower simulator style "#$@#$ he has a gun, run for cover" FPS. With time, players will find that taking on a mix of strategies from the two types of FPS games is the best route to victory. This type of balanced gameplay, with mixed strategies, hits the spot in two ways - it lets players use the style with which they are most comfortable, and it also translates well to the less-precise control methods found on a console.
The controls themselves are standard fare for a console-based FPS: the left thumbstick controls movement, the right thumbstick controls the camera, and the right trigger fires the gun. There is a kneel/lay function mapped to the top left button, which allows a player to take on a more accurate and less mobile crouching or prone firing position. Inventory management is handled by clicking the left thumbstick and then using the right to cycle through the equipment. It's a fairly novel design but a little awkward in the middle of a heated battle. Finally, the ever-so-important hot-swapping is handled with the Y button.
Despite the limited number of multiplayer "modes," the online gaming never felt tedious. Always going to capture the flag is not dull when there are so many different roles to play in a match. Depending on the terrain, it can drastically change the tone of any given conflict, since assaulting a flag that is on top of a building plays out extremely differently than assaulting a flag that rests port side of a naval base. What's more important is that the layout of the maps creates areas of contention. Certain flag positions will function as gateways that need to be surpassed by either side before the remaining flags can be captured, sort of like bypassing a meat grinder before more strategic flag attacks are attempted. The sheer variety of gear is another factor that influences how easy it is to play multiple games; there are numerous factions that can be used depending on the map, and depending on the faction, the gear will change slightly. The changes are never drastic, but the 50+ different weapons help to ensure that there will be little to no tedium in a series of online matches.
The graphical upgrades are easily evident; although everything has a detailed, next-gen look, it also manages to avoid the "super-polished shiny sheen" that many of the first X360 games "boasted." This doesn't quite make up for the graphics seeming slightly below par for the 360, which I would largely blame on the scope of the game. The only major complaint I could make against the graphics is that at times, the draw distance seemed a bit shallow, an observation which was usually punctuated by helicopter rockets flying into my skull from somewhere far, far away. A rocket to the head seems to be largely fatal, but, it does have one very cool benefit - explosion physics!
BF2:MC offers extremely fun-to-watch physics, which, when properly prompted (with grenades, rockets and even well-placed bullets), can turn a battlefield into a morbid ballet of spinning, flailing human bits - now with helicopter and tank chunks! Watching an opponent's legs get blown out from under him by a shotgun just to get clipped upside the head with a second shot that sends his freshly made corpse cartwheeling to the ground is always fun.
The stages are realistically and stunningly designed, complemented with a variety of logical additions that you would expect to see in real cities or ports. Even the occasional vehicle ramps seem like they belong, and although I have never seen a ramp on the freeway before, I am sure that if I did, it would look like this. Each stage has an assortment of terrain features, from tree-covered hills to decimated building rubble, all of which offers unique strategic considerations. The stages span the globe and place the combatants in various exotic locales, from Asian shores to European complexes and ruined cityscapes, each as convincing and beautiful as the last. I often find myself feeling malaise about the stages in simulation FPS games, as they begin to blur together into one big, darkened war-torn alley filled with wreckage. I never felt that particular problem with the BF2:MC stages, since each and every one was unique and interesting.
The audio is very impressive, especially with a 5.1 system. Being able to pinpoint gunfire by sound is not only immersive, but can be very useful. The gunshot sound effects are similar to what people would expect if they had seen any war movies - shallow, almost like firecrackers from a distance, and sounding loud and powerful when up close. Explosions also sound as one might expect, both from a distance and (much to my dismay) up close. Every audible example felt right on, from the whistle of a sniper's near-miss speeding past your head and the softly muted crack as a bullet collides with the wall directly behind you, to the sound of a helicopter running into a light post, getting turned to its side and then grating its blades against what was previously your upper body.
All in all, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is a fun game that just doesn't quite attain greatness. It is thoroughly enjoyable and easily recommendable, but it doesn't really compare to its PC counterpart. It is still fun, and the few minor gameplay flaws are heavily outweighed by the enjoyment that this often hectic, fast-paced game can offer. If you already have the PC version of Battlefield 2, MC won't be anything new, so it might not be the best choice for you. However, any FPS fan without a PC should experience the extremely entertaining and addictive gameplay that the Battlefield series has to offer, and Modern Combat is the best way to do so.
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