Baseball legend Yogi Berra once quipped that "the future ain't what it used to be," which seems appropriate when describing Battlefield 2142, the fourth PC game in the best-selling action franchise. This new game attempts to follow up last year's superb Battlefield 2--and that's both a blessing and a curse, as 2142 will invite inevitable comparisons to Battlefield 2, even while it's busy trying to break new ground. Nevertheless, while a lot of the changes seem minor, there is enough new content in here to merit your attention.
A different sort of Cold War rages in Battlefield 2142, as two factions battle for survival and a new home in the distant future.
The plot of 2142 could best be described as Battlefield 2 meets The Day After Tomorrow, the 2004 movie where the world is suddenly encased in a present-day ice age. When billions of people are forced to flee the frigid Northern Hemisphere for the more hospitable Southern one, tensions escalate and shooting wars erupt for the last remaining bits of habitable land. In the game, this translates to the European Union battling the Russia-centered Pan Asian Coalition as they fight to flee Europe ahead of the ice and establish themselves in North Africa. The battlefields will shift from a wintry and war-torn European landscape to the arid sands of North Africa. This also means there are only two factions in the game, though why are the current inhabitants of North Africa sitting idly by while they're being invaded? In any event, these new factions are interesting, even if they are a bit hard to distinguish from one another. The soldiers of the future are clad in the same type of high-tech body armor, though the Russian armor is a bit blacker than the European version.
If you've played Battlefield 2, then you'll feel quickly at home in Battlefield 2142. The future is a very familiar place, because the designers didn't go too exotic with the weapons and vehicles. There are no laser or beam weapons here; instead, you'll get futuristic versions of today's weapons. There's an assault rifle, a sniper rifle, a missile launcher, and a light machine gun to equip the game's four classes. That's right: There are only four classes in the game, down from the seven seen in Battlefield 2, though these new classes are a lot more flexible and customizable. The price is that you're going to have to play 2142 a lot to access most of these customization options, as this system is designed to encourage long-term play.
The designers took the idea of weapon unlocks in Battlefield 2 and put it on steroids, so you can unlock up to 40 different weapons or pieces of equipment. Not only that, but each class has two different unlock tracks, which specialize in a different direction. For instance, the recon class can become a more powerful sniper or a more effective Special Forces operator, who can sneak around and blow up enemy ground stations, thus hampering the ability of the enemy commander to call in various forms of support. However, this also means that you might be in for some frustration in the beginning, as your character won't even have grenades until you unlock them, and you'll be at a disadvantage against those players who have access to the more powerful weapons and abilities. And while the promotions and unlocks come fairly quickly early on, the pace will slow down as each new unlock requires you to accumulate more and more points. So you'll need to play quite a bit to unlock a lot of what makes Battlefield 2142 so different from its predecessors. Or, you'll find yourself playing one class a lot more than the others, since that's where most of your early unlocks will go. This entire process is a bit confusing, as it's not enough to simply unlock new items, but then you must outfit your character when you join a battle for the first time.
Of course, Battlefield games aren't just about infantry combat, as the series' engaging mix of infantry and vehicle combat is what makes it so addictive. If you're a Battlefield veteran, you'll find that the vehicles of the future are a familiar lot, save for the cool mechlike walkers, which are essentially walking tanks. Still, you have slightly tricked-out versions of today's buggies, armored personnel carriers, and tanks. Again, there are some new features to make these vehicles feel a bit different. The buggies can kick in a short turbo boost to speed out of the danger zone, while the APCs can launch infantry into the sky on assault pods. The PAC tanks float thanks to hover technology, while the EU tanks rely on conventional treads. If used properly, these new vehicles can be devastating, though they can be countered if infantry teams work together. Of course, getting people to work together has always been a major issue in Battlefield, so we can probably expect the same endless debates about balancing as before. And the big question is the airpower, which was overly dominant in Battlefield 2. Our experience with 2142 is that these aircraft aren't as devastating as those in Battlefield 2, since they're slower and less capable, plus there are more ways to take them out. Then again, we'll probably be proven wrong once ace pilots emerge and figure out how to make these aircraft do stunts that even the designers didn't envision.
The unlock system is a lot more complex than in Battlefield 2 and it rewards long-term play, though it also means you won't have a lot to play with at the beginning.
As you can probably tell by now, many of the gameplay concepts that were introduced in Battlefield 2 return in a slightly more evolved form. The squad nature of the gameplay is back, but now there are incentives in the form of "field upgrades" that reward players for squadding up and playing together. You get more points quicker if you follow orders, too. The commander role returns, and one player on each team can call in satellite scans and aerial drones to detect the enemy, as well as orbital strikes, which are a powerful form of artillery that take a long time to recharge. There's also an electromagnetic pulse strike that temporarily disables any vehicles in the blast radius, as well as scrambles the helmet-mounted displays of infantry. Still, there's a lot here that seems familiar, including the visuals, thanks to 2142 using a slightly enhanced version of the Battlefield 2 graphics engine. The engine is getting a bit dated at this point, and there's still no widescreen support, but the good news is that the system requirements haven't really changed, though the drawn-out load times of Battlefield 2 haven't been improved on, either.