Call of Duty is the alpha dog. Every other first person shooter is trying to capture the insane sales numbers. I remember when I saw the advertisements for Battlefield 2 as it was released way back when….oh well it was almost exactly a year ago (damn games come out fast now!). The commercials basically showed it as trying to be Call of Duty, and I quickly dismissed it as I didn’t really need two of the exact same game, and I already had a large group friends neck-deep into Modern Warfare 2. However, I recently had the urge to play a good FPS I hadn’t tried before. So on the basis of solid reviews throughout and it being twenty dollars cheaper than newly released game, I grabbed Battlefield 2. To my surprise it is not just a Call of Duty clone, although it has that feeling at points. It contains a single player offering that I thought is better than anything CoD has given us recently, and a much different multiplayer experience. I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse than CoD in that respect, but it’s most assuredly not a clone. These things combine make me question whether I should be getting MW3 or Battlefield 3 first come this holiday season…..I’m nerdy enough that I’ll probably end up getting them both eventually.
Single player finds you as part of a small squad of four men. You’re in the shoes of Private Preston Marlow, joined by Sarge, Hags, and Sweets. I’ll admit to having to look up these names, but a personalities, they’re cliché but memorable. Sarge is basically Danny Glover from the Lethal Weapon movies, while Sweets is your tech guy and Hags is your insane/pyromaniac Texan. The game takes place in present day, involving a plot that deals with the Russians supposedly having some super secret weapon from WW2 that was originally property of the Japanese and was thought lost. It’s your job to find the weapon and get it out of Russian hands. Did I mention that at this time, Russia is also slowly taking over the world and has plans to invade America? Yeah, the plot isn’t realistic at all. But it makes sense and is fun to follow, which is something I haven’t had in a shooter in a long time. Some interesting mechanics mix up the gun play, my favorite being a level in the middle of a blizzard. If you stayed outside for longer than 15 seconds or so, you’d freeze to death, so it was a matter of running from building to building and dispatching the guys in cold weather gear in time to not die. I can’t remember another FPS that did something like that, kudos to developer Dice for trying an interesting idea!
Thankfully the squad dynamic makes it PLAY a little bit more realistic than Call of Duty. Squadmates will actually help you and are pretty good, almost too good as I found myself unable to find a target that wasn’t getting shot sometimes in the early less manic levels. I enjoyed the pacing of the game as well, with several sections of calm making you a bit paranoid before all hell breaks loose. The banter between the four characters is also extremely well written, I actually laughed out loud more than once while playing. (After killing a guy in a cowboy hat: “Who goes to war in a cowboy hat, cowboys haven’t been in wars since the 1800’s.” “The Dallas Cowboys go to war every sunday, and sometimes on Monday.”) Characters and guns have more weight to them than in most FPS’s as well, with some little momentum shifts while running and taking a half tick longer to bring the heavy weapons up look down the sights. The major gameplay element Battlefield has working for it is destruction. Any building or piece of cover can be blown apart. Sniper in a window? Rocket the side of the house and even if he’s lucky enough to live, the giant gaping hole where a wall used to be should give you enough time to locate and put some bullets into him. This works both ways though, so the time I was sniping in second story window to avoid tank fire until the tank just blew the entire side of the house off shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Graphically, the game is impressive. Some of the environments were awe-inspiring, the snowy mountain and jungle levels in particular. Even as things lose and bits and pieces of themselves due to destruction it’s hard to see the seams, it looks natural.
Multiplayer will take a Call of Duty veteran like myself by surprise. First off, it’s DIFFICULT. Kills must be earned. Running around and hoping to catch someone unawares, as is my usual CoD play style, does NOT work. Team work is key and Battlefield actively encourages this by the concept of squads. Squads are small groups of players within any game, multiple on each team, that are given xp bonuses when they work together. Everything here is class based, so for example assault can drop ammo boxes and medics can revive. Do this to your squadmates and bonus experience will be given. It’s a solid system that encourages team play. That’s a very good thing, because taking an objective such as planting and then defending a bomb until it blows up will take coordination and communication to properly cover all avenues that attacks could come from. I’m pretty much a noob at this game with no friends playing it, and I have run into teams that completely locked my teams non coordinated behinds down.
The other X factor in multiplayer are the vehicles. Quads, Jeeps, tanks, boats, and helicopters can all be used. Vehicles are simultaneously the best and worst of the experience. They’re bad because they can completely ruin a game if someone who really knows what they’re doing with one is taking on a team with not much anti vehicle equipment or know how. I’ve had whole games where an enemy helicopter flew above the battlefield and just decimated my team. They’re overpowered nature can lead to some frustrating moments like spawn deaths or cross map kills that you can do nothing to avoid. On the other hand, two evenly matched teams make vehicles amazingly fun. My best moment in the game was shooting down a charging helicopter…..IN A TANK. I got a ton of xp, but more importantly, I got self-esteem. It was that badass. Another good one is blowing up a quad with a grenade launcher and watching the guy that was riding it go flying into the air. Some impressive physics going on! I appreciate the slower pace and more strategic approach needed to use the vehicles properly. The same could be said for the multiplayer in general. It’s not as reflex/twitch heavy as CoD, which can be fun, but I think a group of friends who decided to learn to properly play as a team would have an absolute blast.
I wish I would have tried Battlefield 2 earlier, when I could have felt like dedicating some time to truly learn the online experience would have been worth it. With Battlefield 3 fast approaching, I’m eager to see if it makes a dent in Call of Duty’s dominance of the market. Don’t dismiss this game as a clone like I did. A better written and actually funny single player campaign (that clocks in at slightly over CoD’s normal ones) coupled with a heavy on strategy and vehicles multiplayer is definitely worth checking out. Plus, really good explosions!