What makes Battlefield so popular? There are plenty of multiplayer action games, but few blend infantry and vehicle combat together, and fewer do it on the scale that Battlefield does. Battlefield games are like virtual wars, with players fighting it out on foot, in tanks, planes, and even ships in some games. This, along with the series' rock-paper-scissors balancing, is why Battlefield is as strong as ever. EA and developer DICE are currently busy at work on the next chapter in the franchise, Battlefield 2142, due out for the PC later this year. Though its futuristic roots represent a departure of sorts from Battlefield's historically grounded gameplay, DICE understands better than ever what it is that makes Battlefield tick. A big reason for that are the vehicles, and Battlefield 2142 will introduce an interesting and varied mix of new toys to play with.
This new Battlefield is set almost 150 years in the future, when a global climate crisis creates a sudden ice age, and humanity's billions are squeezed together onto the remaining habitable land near the equator. War and conflict naturally erupt when you have that many people in such a small space, and the game will let you fight it out as either a member of the European Union or the Pan-Asian Coalition, which is centered around Russia. With Asia already stuffed to capacity and with nowhere left to go other than Africa, both sides will battle it out on 10 maps that cover Europe and North Africa.
Knowing that they could alienate players with overly exotic machines, the vehicle designers have purposely kept things recognizable in the future. "As a Battlefield game, we want to have certain archetypes of vehicles that people who play Battlefield are familiar with," said Patrick O'Shaughnessy, assistant producer and vehicle designer. "Of course, for this game they needed a more futuristic feel." This means that you'll encounter a familiar array of ground and air vehicles, though there are some key changes and modifications that are worth mentioning.
For instance, each side has slightly different technology, which can have a subtle impact to how various vehicles play. The PAC has a slight technological advantage over the EU, and it has perfected hover technology, so PAC tanks hover while EU tanks still rely on conventional treads. That means the EU tank feels very much like a traditional Battlefield tank, but the PAC tank is something completely different since it essentially rides on a cushion of air. "The feeling when driving that tank is more of you running as a soldier and strafing around corners," said Daniel Sundberg, one of the key concept artists responsible for many of the vehicle designs. The downside, though, is that the PAC tank has a fixed turret, which means that it's harder to get accurate shots off since you have to maneuver the whole vehicle to line up your shot.
In addition to tanks, there's a new type of armored behemoth on the battlefield, one that walks on two legs. Appropriately, these are called walkers, and they're already the most iconic vehicle in the game. Two stories tall and equipped with active defense (a temporary energy shield), walkers can provide an elevated vantage point over the battlefield, and they pack a powerful punch thanks to their cannons and machine guns. To take advantage of it, though, you'll need two pilots, as teamwork is certainly something that's being emphasized more in Battlefield 2142.
For example, the pilot of the walker only has control of the main cannons, but not the antipersonnel machine gun. Someone else will need to control that, which means that if you pilot a walker solo, you could have trouble taking out a concerted infantry attack. We tried to do so ourselves, and though we unloaded on a single infantryman in the open, our walker's guns were designed to take out large vehicles, so the infantry managed to elude our fire. This led to trouble shortly afterward, as the soldier took cover behind rocks and destroyed us with rocket fire. That's not the only thing you have to worry about, either. Grunts can temporarily knock out a walker with an electromagnetic pulse grenade, or else use active camouflage (a personal cloaking device) to run beneath it and plant explosives in its knee joints or toss grenades and explosives into an exposed vent. This should give infantry a good chance against a lone walker, which is why effective tactics will require vehicles and infantry to support one another, just like they do in real life. And as you can see, the rock-paper-scissors balancing is something the designers are working to maintain, especially after the experiences with Battlefield 2, where some of the vehicles sometimes were a bit too powerful.
Have Pod, Will AssaultThe designers have admitted that they underestimated the skill at which players would be able to fly the attack helicopters and jet aircraft in Battlefield 2. The result is an imbalance in the game at times, when aircraft are virtually untouchable and rain down massive amounts of destruction. With that in mind, the aircraft in Battlefield 2142 have been rethought altogether. "We've combined the jet and the helicopter class into one kind of air attack vehicle that doesn't do as much bombing or large-area destruction," O'Shaughnessy said. "It's more of the role of the helicopter. It has an air-to-ground, antivehicle role in the game."
And saying goodbye to the jets was easy, thanks to the game's setting. Fixed-wing aircraft are history in the icy future, since long runways are a luxury that no one can afford anymore because they take up too much precious land. The aircraft in Battlefield 2142 all possess vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, as well as the ability to hover in place. They're also fairly easy to fly. While the helicopters in Battlefield 2 featured surprisingly realistic and delicate controls like real-world helicopters, we found the gunships and transports in Battlefield 2142 to be very forgiving in terms of handling. And while they might not be as powerful as the aircraft in Battlefield 2, the gunships can pack quite a punch thanks to their rocket pods.
Still, DICE isn't taking any chances with airpower this time around, and ground troops will have better antiaircraft weapons at their disposal. The erratic antiaircraft missile of Battlefield 2, which would hit friendly aircraft as often as it hit enemy aircraft, has been replaced with an updated version of the tried-and-true flak cannon of Battlefield 1942. No more worrying about locking onto a target; all you have to do is just point and shoot. Tied into that is a secondary EMP missile that can either send the target crashing into the ground or temporarily knock it out, so it hovers helplessly for the flak to arrive. (Please note that if you are shot down, the default parachute key is now the space bar and not the "9.") It may sound a bit unfair to the flyboys, but this should rectify any complaints that ground pounders have had about aircraft. It should also bring the team component of Battlefield back into play. Ground units will need to suppress air defenses, while aircraft will support the ground troops. At least, that's the theory.
There's another new type of "aircraft" as well, and that's the assault pod, which is designed to get infantry from low places to high places in a hurry. "Assault pods are sort of a reverse parachute," O'Shaughnessy said. "You only use them on Titan maps to get from the ground to the floating carriers." The new Titan mode requires each side to destroy the enemy's Titan while protecting their own. However, this won't be easy. Assault pods are located on armored personnel carriers, and the idea is that once a Titan's energy shield is knocked down, APCs loaded with infantry will drive up to the floating Titan and the infantry will rocket into the air in assault pods. And, though it's not armed, the assault pod itself can be used as a weapon. "I managed to take out an enemy transport once when it was hovering over the enemy Titan," Sundberg said. "I flew up, saw it, landed on it, and then proceeded with the assault."
Not surprisingly, adapting and coming up with new tactics is one of the great things about Battlefield. The designers are always amazed when the players figure out how to use a vehicle in a way it was never intended, or even envisioned. They're obviously interested to see what players do with these new vehicles. And while there are plenty of things that are familiar about the vehicles in Battlefield 2142, there should be lots of new capabilities and features for players to enjoy. We'll find out what the community can come up with when Battlefield 2142 ships later this year.