In June of 2005, developer Digital Illusions and publisher Electronic Arts released Battlefield 2, their full blown graphical revamp of their multiplayer shooter series that began with Battlefield 1942. It took place in a modern setting and used a new graphics engine. While it was a huge seller, it also became something of a conduit for players who found EAís continued support of the game through various patches lacking. Now, less than 18 months after the release of Battlefield 2, DICE and EA are releasing Battlefield 2142 which in some ways represents a departure from the Battlefield formula. But is the game good on its own terms?
As we stated before in our previous features on the game, Battlefield 2142 takes place in the somewhat near future where a new ice age has occurred on Earth and the two superpowers of the era (The European Union and the Pan Asian Coalition) battle it out with infantry, tanks, walkers, and massive floating dreadnaughts called Titans. Itís actually an interesting backstory but it also can swiftly be ignored. This is a multiplayer shoot Ďem up with support for up to 64 players with a bunch of cool new stuff to play with; thatís all you need to know.
Each side is fairly balanced, at least in terms of its basic units. The game uses four character classes (Assault, Engineer, Recon, and Support) but those classes are a bit of a misnomer since some of them can actually do other tasks than the ones indicated in their title. The Assault class, for example, can also serve as a medic to heal others. The classes start out with only a few weapons and items available but as the player goes through the game he or she will get special ranks and awards that will allow them to unlock more weapons and items for each class. There is considerable variety in equipment, from portable shields for the support class, through personal cloaking devices for Recons, to special enemy detection devices for the engineer are involved.
The game also has a special role for Squad Leaders, which are in-game leaders of several men inside the main team. The Squad Leader is basically his own spawn point; squad member can spawn near him and follow his or her orders to attack specific targets. The Squad Leader also has an automated firing drone that hovers around him. Thereís also a commander role (one player elected by each side when the round begins) that can fire massive orbital bombardments on enemy positions among other things. Then there are the new vehicles, from small two man jeeps to small and large tanks and the massive two player mech-like walkers. Battlefield 2142 doesnít venture too far from the present; these new vehicles look advanced but certainly are not like the vehicles and mechs you might find in games like the Tribes series. While the two new aerial vehicles tend to handle better than their counterparts in the older Battlefield games they can still be tough to navigate.
Battlefield 2 was a huge step forward for infantry combat in the franchise. Previous Battlefield games lagged clearly behind their infantry-oriented peers like Medal of Honor. BF2 really brought infantry into the spotlight, with much crisper controls, movement, terrain suited for cover, and excellent weapons feel. It wasnít quite Call of Duty, but infantry was good enough that all-infantry servers became fairly common in the server browser. In Battlefield 2142, this seems to have taken a step back. Partly due to the way maps are layed out, the unreal weapons, and even the graphics (more on that later), all add up to an infantry experience that is significantly less compelling than Battlefield 2. There are areas where it comes together, like on the Titans, but in general weíre disappointed with infantry play.
On the upside, vehicles are more interesting and varied. While weíre not quite ready to call the game balanced on such short notice, the abusive airpower of Battlefield 2 seems to have been toned down. Anti-aircraft emplacement are actually a menace to the would-be airborne gankers. Tanks, APCs, and jeeps control in the standard fashion, but walkers and hovertanks are the truly interesting toys. Hovertanks have no turret, so you must aim the entire vehicle at your target before firing. Itís a lot like playing infantry, in that you can strafe and rotate, but your vertical aim is limited and the vehicle has considerable momentum in its motions and is slower to move. The walkers are basically separated into two parts, the top and bottom halves. The bottom is controlled by your keys while the top is mouse-driven. Itís perfectly possible and even encouraged to have your top half rotated in a different direction than your body in combat, it keeps your movements less predictable.