It won't be long before you can get your hands on Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, the first Battlefield game for consoles. While you wait, you can read our preview, as we've had a chance to play some of the single-player aspects of the game ourselves. Yes, the game shares a franchise name with its predecessors on the PC, but don't let that fool you. Just one taste of Modern Combat's uniquely styled single-player campaign will disabuse you of any notion that this is just a port of the PC games. Modern Combat definitely has a flavor all its own, and one that will likely appeal more to console-shooter players than a straight port of Battlefield 2 would have.
The single-player game looks and feels more arcadelike than the PC version. The feel of the weapons, which don't seem to have much recoil, and the presence of handy health meters over the top of enemy vehicles contribute to the game's fast-paced, run-and-gun vibe. The very first mission dumped us off as paratroopers into a snowy town in southeastern Kazakhstan, with the goal of neutralizing enemy forces in the area. A radar screen in the upper right-hand corner shows you the location of nearby allies, as well as enemy troops and vehicles. We meandered our way through the town, with a moderate snowfall partially obscuring visibility. We were immediately greeted by some enemy infantry on the ground and on the rooftops of some of the buildings, along with soldiers driving around in machine-gun-turreted buggies. It's actually possible to shoot the gunners and drivers out of such vehicles without having to destroy the entire package. As we dispatched enemy troops, the game started awarding us points. The faster we killed troops, the more points we were able to rack up. We also gained special bonuses, such as bigger health bars for the soldier we were controlling, as well as increased damage potential.
What sets Modern Combat apart from other similar shooters is the ability to hot swap from one soldier to another by simply pointing at an ally and then pressing a button. The change isn't instant, though. You'll see the camera swoop quickly, kind of like a bullet cam, directly into the perspective of the other character. While it sounds kind of cheesy, the transition turns out to be less jarring and disorienting than you'd think it would be. The upshot of this feature is that you're able to almost instantly transport yourself from one hot spot to another. Even though the artificial intelligence is generally adept at maneuvering and shooting at enemies, nothing beats a skilled human player. So if you see a large concentration of enemies in one portion of the map, you're usually just one or two hot swaps away from putting yourself into the heat of combat and taking control of the situation yourself. This feature is also great for adapting to battlefield conditions. For example, you may find yourself on a rooftop, firing at the enemies below, when all of a sudden an enemy tank appears, but you have no effective way to attack it. You'll be able to look around for a nearby friendly tank, hot swap into the driver's seat, and then fire on the enemy armor.
The flexibility afforded by this gameplay conceit gives Modern Combat a unique sensation amid a crowded field of similar games. What's especially nice is that the AI is programmed to drive vehicles while you fire from a gunner position. However, so far this seems to be limited to getting you to an objective, and not so much dodging and weaving after you arrive there. You can still easily swap into the driver's seat at any point and let the computer handle the shooting.
Once you complete all the objectives in a mission, you're graded on a number of criteria, including the score you've racked up, time taken to complete the mission, style, accuracy, and the number of friendly losses you've taken. You're awarded stars depending on how well you do in each category. The stars then contribute to your rank as you go through the single-player campaign. You'll also gradually unlock new infantry classes and weapons. Another way to earn stars is to play the minigames in Modern Combat, called challenges. One is a hot swap challenge, which requires you to hot-swap between marked soldiers in a limited amount of time. The race challenge plays a lot like Crazy Taxi, where you have to use a Humvee to drive around and pick up and drop off soldiers in a limited amount of time.
The sound design also seems pretty rich. You'll hear a lot of radio chatter from allies as they call out locations of enemies and give updates on their battlefield status. It's not always accurate, though. Troops will often complain about being pinned down even when the momentum on the battlefield clearly belongs to you. But it can be useful when the radio calls out enemy locations like "eight o'clock, low" or "two o'clock, high." These locations are usually accurate based on your perspective at that moment.
What we don't like so much about the single-player aspect of the game so far are the graphics. Sure, there's a lot of detail in the environment and in the weather effects. But the models don't seem all that detailed, and exploding vehicles sometimes just disappear anticlimactically after you blow them up, with little in the way of satisfying particles or fireworks. We also don't like the way that enemies seem as though they're just spawning in out of thin air. As we played through the missions, there was little sense that enemy reinforcements were arriving in a logical fashion from another location. If you happen to be standing in the right (or the wrong spots, depending on your perspective), it just seems as if new forces materialize out of nowhere, which is disruptive to your suspension of disbelief. As for the multiplayer, we haven't yet had much of a chance to test it out during prerelease press sessions. Look for our full review of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat later this week!