Battlefield 2 review

Edge declares victory for EA's immersive massively multiplayer online warzone

Beyond providing umpteen tools and arenas for audacious gambits and eclectic destruction, it maintains a steady, if not perfect, set of rules that faithfully reflects the real-life balance of combat.

For every device or tactic that threatens to turn the tide, an opposite number exists to turn it back - that's the fundament of any competitive event, but in massively multiplayer videogaming its importance is paramount.

With this fervently anticipated sequel, Digital Illusions has a precarious mission to accomplish: not only to tweak that experience, but to elevate it entirely.

The debriefing, in short, declares victory. Battlefield 2 is an immersive and captivating experience that, for all the increased flash and bang it brings to each game, achieves a governing balance equal, if not superior, to its predecessors.

Every sniper, for instance, handicapped as they are with awkward reloading and reduced shot power, will have an air patrol searching for them. For every tank, similarly, there's an anti-tank infantryman with missiles to spend.

Though the roles of each troop class, from medic to the newly introduced special ops, have expanded in versatility, their overall effectiveness in the field remains equitable.

As a sandbox, much of the game's further achievement stems from the difficulty in singling out specific vehicles, weapons, classes and methods as the most enjoyable.

Reward is sewn into its very fabric, from the measured turn of ground-to-air artillery as it pummels the sky to the supreme satisfaction of watching opponents lift off in a helicopter previously laden with explosives, primed to shear it in half at the click of your mouse.

As is so often the case with games of this calibre, pleasure exists for the victim as well as the executioner, the devious brilliance, uncommon fluke or simple twitch reflex behind most kills appreciable by all.

In its portrayal, this havoc is no less refined. Explosions, for instance, are less depicted and more recreated, the sight and sound of a C4 blast being less an outwardly flung amalgam of sparks, smoke and miscellaneous debris, and more the authentic clap of a vehicle being kicked out of shape and cloaked in airborne grit.

The collaboration of event and environment, while never overstretching itself in complexity, makes for a thunderous frontline where destruction lingers in the air - a fog of war that, for once, is about atmosphere rather than specs.

Battlefield prioritises the impact of this milieu above all, toggling reality and hyper-reality to suit. While it applies exquisite depth-of-focus effects to weapons held close to the eye, it throws its ragdoll troops about like ballerinas.

The visual clout lies beyond the shaders and textures that, when detached from the overall composition, are 'merely' very good.

Arranged as they are - drawn to an epic distance in layer upon self-shadowed layer - they form a moving image unparalleled in games of this scale.

The 12 warzones are ambitious to the point where the term 'maps' feels inadequate. The disparately themed locations, each home to three scaled configurations of boundaries, flags and indigenous equipment, are no mere arrangement of routine furniture.

Their sheer believability, meticulously detailed with circuitous geography, puts these environments far beyond what we've come to expect of contemporary multiplayer game design.

This isn't to say, however, that the more immediate sights are any less striking. Tanks, for example, recoil with a dozen degrees of articulation as they pile flashes of ordnance into their chosen targets.

Aerials flap in the wind, the ground rises into dust with their passing and the entire first-person view shakes to a blur when they attack nearby.

When inside, their turrets swivel with all the inertia you'd expect of heavy metal engineered to glide against itself as best it can. For each of the game's many vehicles there's at least one such aspect of handling, weaponry or presentation that will endear it to someone, if not to all.

Though Battlefield's bots are still a world apart from the vigour of human opposition, the game's 16-man single-player matches are decent, if only for the honing of marksmanship and learning the ropes of its many machines.

As before, Digital Illusions will provide a modder's toolset for those unhappy with how the engine calculates ballistics damage and otherwise conducts its game.

Indeed, the default experience has its share of imperfections. Spawn killing, though partially alleviated by the squad system, still rears its ugly head from time to time, not least when contesting an area where your team's single remaining capture point has been overrun by the opposition.

So complex is the terrain and so effective the game's many transit systems that regrouping an overwhelmed team can also be a formidable challenge.

Though it largely proves effective, the punishment system for team-kills can backfire if, say, a player gunning for a Darwin Award dawdles across the runway while you're taking off in a jet, subsequently taking the option to heavily penalise you.

This latter point, however, is more a failure of player etiquette than of the game itself which, really, tries enormously hard to tie up any loose ends and typically succeeds.

Battlefield 2 is a much-needed statement of authority for the PC - an online spectacle that eclipses the grand rhetoric volleyed back and forth between the manufacturers of tomorrow's super-powered consoles.

While those presently paper tigers growl at each other from afar, so a new level of multiplayer combat begins here and now, with shock and awe.

Battlefield 2 is out for PC now

More Info

GenreShooter
DescriptionA military fragfest that offers savagely cool visuals, but it's the challenging teamwork that makes this the best in the series.
PlatformPC, Xbox
US censor ratingTeen
Release date21 June 2005 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)