We recently got our hands on a multiplayer demo of EA Games' upcoming console shooter, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat. We spent some time playing both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game online, and it looks like it's shaping up to be a solid representation of the tactical and chaotic action of its PC counterpart.
The demo we played let us jump into a conquest game on a Middle Eastern-themed map known as Backstab. As in the PC version of the game, here conquest mode involves securing a number of checkpoints--represented as flags--on the map. You're given a choice to join the Middle Eastern Coalition or the US team, which both start the match with about 450 tickets. Whenever you control more flags than your opponent, their tickets start to count down. When one of the team's tickets count reaches zero, the round is over. This gameplay should be instantly familiar to anyone who played the PC Battlefield games, and in a good contest, the push and pull of the action as your team takes and loses flags makes for some exciting and frantic gameplay.
The game allows for 24-player online matches, with a manageable 12 players per team. When you start a match, you can choose what type of soldier you want to be and which control point on the map you want to spawn at. The demo we played had assault, sniper, special ops, engineer, and support classes to choose from. Each soldier class has a unique set of weapons and tools, and you can change your class each time you spawn. The assault class is your basic grunt, with an assault rifle, grenades, a grenade launcher, and a pistol. The sniper class is best for taking enemies out from a distance, as a sniper can lay hidden in tall grass or crouched on top of a building where the marksman can pick off unsuspecting enemies. Special ops troops come equipped with a knife, a pistol, flash grenades, and some very potent C4 explosives. The engineer is a working-class soldier, and he has the ability to repair vehicles, set land mines, and take out enemy vehicles with a rocket launcher. Finally, the support class is a medic and communications relay who can heal soldiers, call in artillery strikes, and engage in a few firefights, if necessary. Although both teams have the same soldier classes, the weapon sets vary in look. However, they seem roughly the same functionally. According to EA, there will be more than 50 weapons in the game.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Battlefield game without plenty of vehicles, and Modern Combat is no different, with more than 30 vehicles ranging from tanks to cars to helicopters. Supposedly there are boats in the game as well, although the map we played didn't have any. The vehicles are controlled entirely with the left analog stick, and there's no button for gas or brakes. The ground vehicles move very quickly, and they're fairly nimble, although we quickly found out that they are prone to strategically placed land mines. When in a vehicle, you can switch positions from driver to gunner at any time with the press of a button. In this way, it's possible to park a jeep and then man the turret to mow down your enemies before hopping back in the driver seat to make a quick getaway. Or, if you attended boot camp in Liberty City, you can stay behind the wheel and just run your enemies down instead.
During the demo, we got to try our hand at piloting a helicopter as well. The controls of the chopper are awkward at first, but we quickly got used to them. Using the right analog stick you can increase or decrease altitude, while you use the left analog stick to steer and aim. It feels pretty satisfying to fly over the town and start launching missiles at your enemies. And if you get into trouble, you can hop out in midflight and use your parachute to float back down to join the action on the ground.
The map we played had two outlying points, with a town in the middle and a river dividing the town into two sections. The river was spanned by one footbridge and one road bridge, which condensed the action at a few key points as teams tried to move around the map. We had to enter several multistoried buildings to capture flags or stake out good sniping spots. The environment was filled with debris, like burning cars and crumbled buildings, that gave the game a pretty authentic look. Of course, no shooter would be complete without plenty of exploding barrels, too.
The on-foot controls feel tight and intuitive as you run around the map, although the Xbox controls are a bit easier to get used to. The game uses the standard dual-analog control scheme of most console shooters, and you can adjust the aiming sensitivity as you see fit. Weapon selection is handled with a cross-shaped menu that you can bring up onscreen with the touch of a button. Then, using the right analog stick, you can choose the weapon you want to use. The D pad is used to bring up a map so you can see where you are in relation to all the control points and vehicles on the map.
While Modern Combat certainly doesn't look at detailed as Battlefield 2 on the PC, it still looks surprisingly sharp on both the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. The trees, grass, water, and structures look realistic, and although the map we played wasn't too colorful, nothing looked out of place, either. In both versions of the game, the frame rate remained fairly steady even during the most intense battles.
The sound also seems pretty authentic in Modern Combat. You can hear explosions and gunfire off in the distance, which both become much more forceful and loud as you approach the action. The game does support voice chat, but there wasn't too much battle chatter when we played. However, an announcer does chime in every time you take or lose a flag, which is handy for staying informed about what's happening on other parts of the map.
Based on what we played, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat looks like it could easily grab a spot among the top online console shooters for the Xbox and PlayStation 2. The game seems to retain the large-scale battles of the PC version, but the controls and tactics have been simplified just enough to keep things fun on the consoles. We'll bring you more coverage before the game ships this fall, so be sure to check back for details.