There's little doubt that Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is one of the most anticipated Xbox 360 games of early 2006, thanks in no small part to the huge success that the Battlefield 2 franchise enjoyed last year. Eight months after its release, Battlefield 2 is still a top-selling PC game, and Battlefield 2: Modern Combat for the Xbox and PS2 has devoted audiences, as well. So now all eyes are on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which promises to up the graphical ante to next-gen standards. With the game due out next month, we got our hands on a late version to get a feel for this new Battlefield.
It's worth mentioning again that Modern Combat for the Xbox 360 is essentially a souped-up and improved version of Modern Combat for the Xbox and PS2, and it only bears superficial resemblance to last year's hit PC game. While the PC version focuses mainly on large-scale multiplayer matches on huge maps (supporting up to 64 players), Modern Combat balances a single-player campaign along with a somewhat smaller-scale multiplayer component. Don't worry, though, because you'll still get to interact with plenty of high-tech, modern-day weaponry in intense battles.
If you played Modern Combat on the Xbox and PS2, then the story will already be familiar to you. The campaign starts in Kazakhstan, where a geopolitical fault line erupts and US-led NATO forces clash with the gigantic Chinese military. Once again, you'll lead your forces into battle, fighting as infantry on foot but also jumping into a variety of vehicles, such as tanks, jeeps, attack and transport helicopters, snowmobiles, and more. The stable of vehicles hasn't changed from the Xbox and PS2 versions, aside from the fact that they all look a lot nicer, and the controls are still fairly forgiving and arcade-heavy. For example, flying helicopters takes some figuring out, but it's hard to actually lose control of it, whereas in the PC version, the controls are so realistic that it takes a lot of practice just to figure out how to land without crashing into the ground.
You'll also be able to instantly "switch" the soldier you're controlling to take advantage of the different soldier classes that are available. For instance, you may be fighting as a Special Forces soldier armed with a carbine when an enemy tank comes around the corner. In that situation, you can take control of a nearby engineer, because the engineer carries an antitank missile as a secondary weapon. Once the tank is dead, you can keep playing as the engineer or "switch" to any other friendly soldier in the battle. The Xbox 360 version adjusts this feature a bit, though. In the Xbox and PS2 versions, you needed to have direct line of sight to a soldier in order to switch to him, but the Xbox 360 version changes that. Now, all you need to do is target the soldier's icon, which is always visible to you, regardless of whether or not he's on the other side of a building. Once the icon is highlighted, just jam the "X" button and the switch animation kicks in. Essentially, time freezes as the camera warps over to the soldier you're taking control of. When you arrive, time unfreezes and you're good to go. This entire process usually takes a couple of seconds at the most.
We played through the opening missions of the Xbox 360's single-player campaign, and for the most part, they're essentially the same as the single-player campaign seen in the Xbox and PS2 versions of the game. It goes without saying though that the environments are more fully realized, and the missions themselves have been streamlined a bit and had any kinks worked out of them. Still, expect to have some brutal moments, as the missions often put you in bad tactical situations. For example, you may need to defend a series of buildings from waves of attackers, and the key is to keep as many of your troops alive as possible, because the crucial moment tends to come near the end of a mission when you're all but exhausted and depleted. Enemies have a way of coming at you from all sorts of angles, whether they parachute in from a hostile chopper or simply show up when you turn the corner. It's important to neutralize them quickly.
You once again earn medals and bonuses for meritorious conduct, and these, along with your general statistics like shot accuracy, are persistently tracked whenever you play. Medals and bonuses are earned if you manage to go on an effective killing spree or do some other impressive feat, such as nail consecutive enemies with the sniper rifle. And at the end of a successful mission, you can unlock a new type of weapon to play with in the game.
It goes without saying that the Xbox 360 version looks great, especially when viewed on an HD display. The game benefits from much more detailed models and higher-resolution textures, as well as some incredible lighting effects that take full advantage of high-dynamic range lighting. However, once again, it's the little things that really caught our eye, like the way our vision blurred if we spun around quickly (a nifty visual effect first seen in Perfect Dark Zero), as well as some impressive reload animations that gave us a good view of the sharp-looking weapon models. The sense of immersion is pretty intense, especially when you see fountains of dirt and snow being kicked up around you by gunfire.
Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to see the game in action online, though it wasn't for a lack of trying on our part. The test servers were simply devoid of players. However, we did get to run around several environments that are sure to be popular, such as a level where a gate controls access to a compound, so the NATO forces must battle their way to the gate controls in order to get their heavy armor into the fight. Unfortunately, to get there, the NATO infantry have to battle up a steep slope and then cross several exposed platforms and catwalks. Needless to say, this sounds like it's going to be a blast.
Considering that there really isn't a good modern-day military shooter on the Xbox 360 yet, it almost seems a given that Modern Combat is going to do well on the platform. The mix of modern-day weapons, intense gameplay, and impressive visuals seems pretty unbeatable. We'll find out soon, since the game is scheduled to ship in a just a couple of weeks.