EA is showing off a noninteractive demo of a new build of Battlefield 2, the forthcoming modern-day update to the wildly popular online military shooter series, at a press event at its Redwood City, California, offices. We got to take a look at several staged scenes from a map called "The Dam"--which featured a large dam, a bridge, and an industrial complex in the middle of the desert--to get a better feel for some of the new features and improvements in this anticipated sequel.
In one of the scenes, we saw a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter engaged in battle with a rocket-equipped foe on the ground. The Blackhawk was spraying the area down with machine gun fire and managed to sever a crane's cable that was supporting a large storage container, which subsequently crashed to the ground in an impressive display of physics modeling. Another scene showed a Middle Eastern Coalition soldier firing from a vantage point high atop a construction girder, and when he was taken out by an offscreen sniper, he plummeted to the ground with a thud, showing off the game's realistic implementation of ragdoll physics.
One interesting thing we saw in this second scene was a player driving an unarmed dump truck, and we were told that every map in the game will come with some sort of these civilian vehicles. Some of these will be armed--such as pickup trucks with machine gun turrets mounted in the bed--but others, such as the dump truck, will merely let you run over your hapless foes on the ground. In any event, these civilian vehicles are intended to increase the realism of the battles in the game by giving you more to play with than simple military hardware.
Another scene gave us a good indication of how the air combat will work. We saw a close-up shot of a pilot preparing to board a fighter jet, and the pilot was equipped with an oxygen mask and other such flight gear. Apparently, all characters who enter a vehicle in the game will be provided with visual enhancements such as this to make them look the part they're about to play. The demo then switched to an in-cockpit perspective so we could see the pilot going on a strafing run and evading a recurring surface-to-air missile lock-on. We were told that the airplane flight controls in the game will feel very familiar to players of Battlefields 1942 and Vietnam, although the helicopter controls are said to be easier than in the previous game.
Perhaps the most impressive scene depicted a battle between two US Marines stationed at one end of a bridge and a Middle Eastern Coalition tank at the other end. At one point during the exchange of fire, a large section of the bridge between the two enemies' positions was destroyed, which showed off Battlefield 2's increased support for destructible geometry in its levels. The tank proceeded to fire at the Marines with impunity until a third marine with a laser targeting system entered the fray. After painting the target for a few seconds, a US fighter jet swooped down and obliterated the tank (and another major portion of the bridge) with a guided rocket. Battlefield 2 will provide lots of opportunities in its maps for munitions-happy players to destroy buildings and terrain.
One of the most interesting new features in Battlefield 2--and, reputedly, one of the most demanded by series fans--is a new system the developers are calling "Battlefield TV." This tool will allow you to essentially start recording a battle to your hard drive at any time, and you'll then be able to open the recorded battle later and manipulate camera angles and playback with a set of TiVo-like controls. Battlefield TV doesn't capture any actual image data--it simply logs world events with a sort of engine script that will be less than one megabyte in size. This system provides two advantages: First, the small amount of data that has to be written shouldn't seriously affect performance while you're recording, and second, you'll be able to easily send this small file to other players who can then view the battle on their own machines. Battlefield TV should be especially handy for clans running official matches who want to put together highlights reels or examine replays to look for signs of cheating.
It's been said before, but it bears repeating, that Battlefield 2 represents a marked visual improvement over its predecessors. The character models that we saw are even more detailed than those in Battlefield Vietnam, and we saw some degree of real-time shadows at work on them as well. The maps look to include more complex geometry than in past games, as the terrain looked smoother and the buildings more detailed than what we've seen before. Things were running smoothly in the demo we saw, although to be fair, the game was running on PCs equipped with NV40 video cards.
From what we saw during our short demo today, Battlefield 2's developer seems to be taking the strengths of the previous Battlefield games and improving on them thoughtfully without overloading the game with too many unnecessary features. The modern setting and equipment should provide plenty of opportunities for heated battles, but if you want to play in some other time period, you can always make your own game--EA plans to ship the mod tools in advance of the game's spring 2005 release.