The more we play Battlefield 2, the more familiar it seems. We had another chance to try our hand at the big-budget sequel on a recent visit to EA's Chertsey studios, and we're now even more convinced that Battlefield 2 is in fact Battlefield: Desert Combat with better graphics. If you're a fan of the popular Gulf War mod, this is great news; and if you've never played it before, you're in for a real treat. EA certainly has experience with big-license games, and although this isn't FIFA, the kits have certainly been updated to match the latest fixtures in the Middle East.
While it's too early to say whether Battlefield 2 might be too similar to previous games, the core gameplay of Battlefield 2 is identical to that of Battlefield 1942 and Desert Combat (BF: Vietnam being something of a tangent). Even new features such as the Commander mode, where one player from each team can view the battle from an overhead RTS perspective, don't fundamentally change the game.
Indeed, we've had a good crack at the Commander mode, and you're actually quite limited in how you can affect the battle. Sure, you can launch the occasional artillery round, but your most effective power is to issue orders to squad leaders. Knowing how cooperative online gamers tend to be, we can't help but think this is a feature only clan gamers will truly make the most of.
On the other hand though, there is one major difference: Battlefield 2 looks stunning. The custom graphics engine brings the game up to similar levels of detail as you see in offline shooters, which is extraordinary in a game of such scope. The new physics engine also makes for a far more interactive environment, though it does have to be a bit selective. Too many loose physics objects would bring your server to a standstill, while too many destructible items would allow players to lay waste to the carefully crafted levels. As it is, you can shoot through walls and blow up bridges, which is good enough for me.
Spanners At The Ready
On top of this, the gameplay has been tweaked in a million places, tightening
up and balancing something that was already superb. So, you've got two new combat kits (spec ops and support), advanced weaponry such as heat-seeking missiles, a new sprint function and a new medal and rankings system.
What's more, a huge amount of effort has been put into encouraging teamplay and tactics, with a squad system, the aforementioned commander role and a small set of command options.
We were dubious at first as to the appeal of such a formal command structure, but after extended play, we're now totally convinced. For one, the fact that you can select your squad leader as a respawn point is a stroke of genius, and means that lone wolf players are at a serious disadvantage. On top of this, the communication functions in the game are excellent. Not only is voiceover IP built right into the engine, but the context-sensitive 'commo rose' - a radial pop-up command menu similar to Raven Shield - is set to improve team cooperation hugely.
But perhaps the biggest difference between Battlefield 2 and its predecessors lies in the new game environments. There are 12 of them in total, with three variations of each depending upon server settings - every map can shrink and grow to accommodate 16, 32 or 64 players. In previous incarnations, all the maps were pretty much of a kind. In 1942 they were mostly open, sparsely-treed affairs; in Vietnam they were typically dense jungle or swampland. Buildings were sparingly placed, with urban combat mostly avoided.