Publisher: EA Games
Release Date: June 6, 2006
There is, in America, a certain cultural dread – a fear of an event that will almost undoubtedly take place at some foggy point in the distant future. This is because the United States is quite nearly unique amongst the global consortium of nations in that, besides the Revolution that forged the country, no conflict has ever brought foreign soldiers to domestic soil (the Spanish-American war doesn't count; Texas was an independent nation back then). This has become a point of pride for the U.S., and one that has induced the aforementioned anxiety. No American wants to fight a foreign army on the home field.
It is exactly this unease that Battlefield 2: Armored Fury, the second booster pack for the popular FPS, plays upon. Like the previous entries in this now-seminal first-person multiplayer juggernaut, a glimpse into the near future shows a massive world conflict over, one assumes, a certain viscous, valuable natural resource. Unlike before, however, DICE has introduced that element of paranoia by implementing three new massive maps, each of which represents some staple of Americana, from the chaotic jumble of interstate highways to the serene breadbasket landscape. Additionally, two new types of vehicles grace the stage of ultra-modern combat: the light scout chopper and the ground attack aircraft.
Perhaps the best of the new maps, Operation: Road Rage is an eerie, claustrophobic mess of tangled off-ramps and strip malls with a single overpass, which provides sniper and overwatch positions for skirmishing forces. While several control points litter the arena, ownership of the overpass can easily be the deciding factor of a fight, as it completely bisects the battlefield. While taking this high-ground position is no mean feat in and of itself, holding it can be brutally impossible, thanks to the absolute plethora of armor so pleasantly parked at the local gas stations and department stores. Luckily for the defenders, the two new vehicle types make their debut appearance, with the light scout chopper providing UAV-style enemy recon (albeit with a slightly smaller scan radius) and a serious punch against infantry and light vehicles. The ground attack aircraft afford a healthy balance against the heavier vehicles.
Operation: Harvest has the same emphasis on armored combat, with the goldenrod fields of the American northeast Amish country providing huge open areas for intense cavalry battles, and tall grain silos providing snipers with high ground for flag defense. Just as in Road Rage, the number of tanks and APCs is huge, allowing for mechanized combat on a scale never before realized in a Battlefield game. Also as in RR, the tide of combat can be swayed by the possession of a central high-ground control point. While Operation: Harvest is devoid of the ground attack planes, the light scout birds are neatly complemented by heavy attack helicopters.
The last of the new maps, Midnight Sun, is set in the eternal twilight of the Alaskan tundra, and is centered around the control of an oil pipeline that, theoretically, has been providing the American forces with most of their fuel since the war began. Set up as two lines of control points separated by a large river, Midnight Sun is the smallest of the new maps, with control points so close together that there is rarely any break in the action. The sharp rises in the terrain make armored combat difficult, and the abundance of trees provides a sharp challenge for air-to-ground combat. Like the two other new maps, Midnight Sun is well designed for fast-paced vehicular battle.
The two new vehicle types, light scout helicopters and ground attack planes, are an interesting addition to the Battlefield 2 canon. The helicopters, while certainly capable of shredding light vehicles and infantry, serve a less punitive purpose by allowing a UAV-like scan circle and alerting ground troops to the positions of enemies. Though the effect is smaller than that of the drone, the small choppers make up for it by laying down carpets of lead with their armaments. They are also quite a bit faster and easier to handle than their large cousins, meaning that while they lack the firepower to engage anything heavier than a Humvee, it's relatively easy to have them hover near a flag and provide recon while mowing down anything light enough to be vulnerable. When used as forward scouts for bombing runs, they are truly devastating.
The new bombers themselves aren't without their uses, either. Slower and more ponderous than the other jets, these new planes (which include the infamous A-10 Warthog) are invaluable against the booster's horde of mechanized cavalry. Each of the jets comes equipped with a payload of heavy bombs and some variation of machine gun, and lacks any form of the missiles so relied-upon by other aircraft. This means that any jet-versus-jet combat requires an almost impossible amount of determination and skill. On the other hand, the lower air speed of these vehicles and their enhanced sensory range seriously curb the previously formidable task of bombing ground targets.
The detail of the new maps and vehicles is, as to be expected in a BF game, superb. Bales of hay and the famous Amish carriages litter the landscape of Operation: Harvest, and Operation: Road Rage's depiction of a bombed-out American suburbia is outright disturbing. The strip malls and convenience stores that act as strategic control points are chillingly realistic, with the ruined husks of cars strewn about like detritus. There are also, oddly enough, a few drivable cars as well, though they really serve little purpose other than novelty (I found that out the hard way – I had just ducked behind the front end of a seemingly immobile semi, when it started and ran right over me!). Perhaps the only questionable element of the graphical detail of Armored Fury occurs on the signs of the various gas stations: Regular unleaded is listed at $2.09! More than once during the booster's first few hours, chat was inundated with comments about the comically low price of petrol during the third world war.
Unfortunately for Armored Fury, DICE's usual attention to detail actually works against the game. While each inch of each vehicle is lovingly crafted and textured, certain elements of the game's sloppy physics engine are made to shine like sullen beacons in an otherwise outstanding world. The M1A2 Abrams Tank, America's entry into the BF2 heavy armor category, weighs in at a hefty 69.55 tons. That's roughly 140,000 pounds of uranium-depleted steel hurtling forward at an astonishing 40 miles per hour. Nonetheless, that much weight moving so fast can be halted, and even damaged, by something so infirm as a picnic table or pine sapling. Though this oversight wasn't much of an issue pre-Armored Fury, the addition of so much detail and so much armor has created a situation in which rickety waist-high fences and children's swing sets form choke points where there should be none, and massive mechanical behemoths can get caught and killed on terrain objects that should require little more than a light breeze to topple. It may seem like nitpicking, but this severely damages the continuity of the game.
All in all, Battlefield 2: Armored Fury is a fun and challenging addition to the original game, and at a price of only $9.99, it is also highly affordable. The new maps are well thought-out and gorgeously realized, and each of the new vehicles plays a very distinct role in combat. On the other hand, the now-dated physics engine hurts the authenticity of an otherwise realistic combat simulator. Even at less than $10, though, the new content offered is on the light side, especially since the last booster offered an entirely new army. On top of that, EA still has yet to address the issue of the ridiculously long load times on most of the maps. While I like AF well enough, I'd only recommend it to die-hard BF2 fans.
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