There will be doubters and naysayers who will claim that Battlefield 2 is just an incremental upgrade from its famous predecessors, or that it only offers a marginal improvement over the popular Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942. Ignore them, because they couldn't be more wrong. EA and Digital Illusions' cutting-edge and highly awaited sequel is everything that it's supposed to be and more. Battlefield 2 is a thrilling testament to how great PC gaming can be. It packs unmatched gameplay, impressive visuals, and endless replayability in one exquisite package. And it's, by far, the most fun that we've had with a PC game this year.
Battlefield 2 elevates the excitement and action from its illustrious predecessors by making you feel like part of an actual elite military squad in battle.
Contrary to its name, Battlefield 2 is actually the third game in the Battlefield series, and, on the surface, it sticks closely to the formula established in the previous two games. In it, two teams of up to 32 players each battle it out for supremacy on huge virtual battlefields, taking the fight to one another on foot, in a vehicle, on sea, and in the air. This time around, though, you'll have the opportunity to take modern weapons and equipment into the fray, as the game is based in a near-future, hypothetical conflict that pits the forces of the United States, China, and the fictional Middle Eastern Coalition in mortal combat with one another.
Strangely enough, Battlefield 2 ships with just one gameplay mode, but the conquest mode is what made Battlefield what is today. Conquest is essentially a sprawling, king-of-the-hill-style game with multiple control points (doubling as spawn points) scattered on the map. Each team gets a limited number of tickets, or spawns, to draw upon in the battle for control of these points. The winner is the side that can either capture all the control points and eliminate the opposing team entirely, or whittle down the opposing team's tickets to zero. It's a fairly simple formula, but it sets the stage for the wild and memorable virtual battles that take place.
The beauty of Battlefield 2 is the fact that, like its predecessors, it has a totally unpredictable nature to it. It's completely unscripted and chaotic, but in an awesome way. There are simply so many insane, over-the-top moments that can happen in a single game that you quickly lose track. In any given match, you can have a dozen desperate firefights, countless moments when a rocket or bullet whizzes by your head, and the proud sense of accomplishment when you and your squad overcome the odds and achieve your objective. You'll see feats of audacious daring as someone flies a helicopter through a city's streets or runs up to plant explosives on an enemy tank that's mowing down your colleagues. You'll experience the hellish shelling of artillery, see the desperate revival of wounded colleagues, and be killed a dozen grisly ways. And yet, through it all, you'll find yourself coming back for more.
What makes Battlefield 2 better than its predecessors, though, is that there's much more of an attempt to instill some method to this madness. Battlefield 2 is full of excellent new features designed to make coordinating your efforts a lot easier. First up is the new voice-over IP system, which means that real-time voice capability is built into every single copy of the game. There simply is no excuse not to get a headset and start talking with your buddies, because even though Battlefield 2 does offer an improved keyboard-based communications system, nothing beats the power of being able to instantly and effortlessly communicate with your teammates. The voice system in Battlefield 2 is simple to set up and use, and you no longer have to fiddle around with conflicting third-party solutions.
More critically, it's the voice-chat system in Battlefield 2 that's important. Rather than have 64 players swamp a single channel with nonstop chatter and taunts, the voice system is instead integrated heavily into the concept of a commander and squads, which are both new features in the game. In earlier Battlefield games, you simply ran around as part of an unorganized mob, with little coordination between players. Battlefield 2 solves this by letting you organize into squads that come under the leadership of a single commander. In other words, a team of 32 players could split up to potentially form five or six squads consisting of five to six players each, with one player coordinating all the efforts as a commander. This fundamentally changes the nature of the game from having a bunch of lone wolves running around to having coordinated combat teams working together to get the job done.
Here's how it works. Armed with a real-time, top-down view of the battlefield, along with a number of powerful abilities, the commander can keep an eye on the big picture. The commander can scan the battlefield for enemy forces, deploy spy drones on the map that transmit data to all the members of the team, air-drop supply crates that rearm and heal adjacent units, and drop powerful artillery barrages onto enemy positions. The commander also issues orders to squad leaders, who have the job of carrying the orders out. The squad is much more than a handful of players, thanks to the potent squad abilities. Since you can spawn on your squad leader (so long as he is alive), the ability to create a sort of roving, self-supporting combat team is possible, especially if a team has a medic or two to keep the squad on its feet. The voice-chat system automatically filters all communication, so if you're in a squad, you can only talk with your fellow squad members. Squad leaders can talk to their squad on one channel and use another channel to communicate with the commander. And the commander can only talk to squad leaders. Thus, orders have a way of trickling down the chain of command, while requests go up the chain from the squad leader to the commander (like they do in real-life militaries).
One of the great new features is the ability to keep a permanent character who gains rank and medals over time. Rank gives you priority to be commander, while medals are simply cool to collect.
When this system is clicking, it makes Battlefield 2 simply a transcendent experience unlike anything we've experienced before. While other games have incorporated concepts such as squads and commanders, none have combined them in such a brilliantly designed and executed way. The ability to only chat with your squadmates can create a sort of instant personal camaraderie, even when the sound of bullets, explosions, and artillery surrounds you. At times, you'll find yourself yelling for a medic, telling a buddy to cover you while you sprint across an open patch, or quickly organizing an impromptu assault on an enemy. It's so easy and tempting to fall into role-playing mode when playing this game. We found moments when, as squad leader, we requested permission from the commander to go after an enemy target. Or, when we were attacking an enemy control point, we screamed, "Go, go, go," and the squad rushed in just moments after an artillery barrage softened the objective, the dust from the explosions still thick in the air. The sensation that you're actually fighting as a unit is simply immersive and gripping. In fact, the only thing missing is the ability to keep some kind of friends or buddies list. This is something that you'll desperately want once you've played with a great squad and want to play alongside them in future battles.
It's fair to note, however, that your online experience with Battlefield 2 is completely dependent on the nature of your fellow players. And yes, it can be frustrating if you find yourself on a team that doesn't organize into squads or doesn't work together. This frustration is doubled if you find yourself facing a team that is organized and coordinated. With the powerful team tools in the game, it's quite easy for a completely outnumbered but coordinated team to defeat a far larger and unorganized force. The game does come with tools designed to get you familiar with the controls, but you still rely on the willingness of your teammates to work together. If anything, we wish for some kind of option that requires you to join a squad when you enter a game, and if you fail to do this you'll be kicked off, since players who play outside the command and squad system remain outside the loop. (The game could use a better auto-balancing system, as well, as far too many matches become lopsided affairs because one team has twice as many players as the other.)
Though you don't get to run around a lot as the commander, you can still inflict a lot of damage upon the enemy by reporting enemy movements and raining artillery down on their heads.
Of course, all it takes are a handful of anarchic team killers to throw a wrench into your experience, as well. In that case, you can try to vote someone off a server if he or she proves annoying enough, or the server can boot players who team-kill too often. In addition, Battlefield 2 introduces the concept of persistent identity. When you log onto Battlefield 2 for the first time, you'll create a unique account that will follow you throughout your online adventures, keeping track of your rank, your statistics, and much more. The better you play, the higher in rank you will rise, and you can eventually unlock alternate weapons. A higher rank also means that you will be given higher priority to assume the commander role in a match, so hopefully this will let the serious players gain control of such a potent position.