The Cold War may be history, but EA and developer DICE have a new cold war up their sleeves in Battlefield 2142. As the next game in the acclaimed Battlefield saga, 2142 takes place approximately 150 years in the future, after a new ice age makes most of the Northern Hemisphere uninhabitable. Unfortunately, most of the world's land is in the Northern Hemisphere, so war erupts between futuristic factions for the last remaining land on Earth. In Battlefield 2142, you'll be able to participate in that war in multiplayer battles of up to 64 players, representing either the European Union or the Russian-centered Pan Asian Coalition. With Battlefield 2142 scheduled to arrive later this month, we got some last hands-on time with a nearly finished version of the game recently to see how well everything has come together.
We were able to play in single-player against the artificial intelligence. Actually, we were also playing alongside the AI bots, as the computer controls 15 of the 16 players in single-player. That's right--it appears that single-player is still limited to 16 players and the 16-player maps. We suspect that it might have something to do with processing issues, since having the computer control and keep track of more characters might affect the performance of the AI. Speaking of which, you have some control over the AI's behavior, as well--a sliding bar lets you adjust their difficulty from easy to hard. We played on the latter to see how smart these bots are.
The AI in previous Battlefield games has been everywhere from brain-dead to merely decent, and judging from our teammates' behavior in Battlefield 2142, it looks like the AI is a bit sharper than before, though you won't mistake them for real human beings. The AI does seem to work better in a squad, since squadmates have a tendency to stick together and support one another. This is especially true if you're capturing an outpost. Your squad will come and help cover you while the enemy flag slowly comes down the flagpole and your team's flag goes up it. If you're wounded, teammates are usually good about taking out the med kit and healing you, and if you're "killed," they're also good about getting the old defibrillator paddles out and shocking you back to life, which is helpful.
We were also able to toy around with the commander functions. Commanders are team leaders and as such are able to issue orders to squad leaders, as well as make use of a number of tools. The commander tools in Battlefield 2142 are fairly similar to those found in Battlefield 2. There's a supply drop, a satellite scan that tells you the location of every detectable enemy on the map, a UAV button that puts a drone temporarily over an area of the battlefield, and an orbital strike option that works like artillery but is a lot more responsive. In fact, the old days of having to call in artillery and then wait 15 seconds for it to arrive are gone. Now, you'll hear the thuds of the orbital bombardment within seconds of calling it in. There's also an EMP strike, which calls down an electromagnetic burst that temporarily knocks out enemy vehicles in the blast radius. As in Battlefield 2, though, there's a way to take an enemy commander's tools away from him. By destroying various structures on the ground, you can cripple your enemy's ability to call in UAV or satellite scans, or orbital and EMP strikes. Of course, the enemy can do the same thing to your side, so these structures become strategically important to you, as well.
It appears that single-player supports only the traditional conquest gameplay mode, where the goal is to seize and hold various outposts on the map until the other side runs out of respawn tickets first. Since single-player is limited to 16-player maps, there's not enough room for the new titan mode, which tasks both teams with assaulting and destroying the enemy's titan, or floating aircraft carrier. Still, single-player conquest did let us see maps that we hadn't seen before. This includes Belgrade, a frigid urban level set in the Serbian capital, and the Fall of Berlin, another urban level set among the gleaming office towers of the German capital. Then there's Cerbere Landing, which is set in the last EU stronghold in Europe in 2142. A port city, Cerbere Landing doesn't have the sleek towers of the previous two maps but instead feels more like a traditional European town. Finally, for a warmer setting, we saw Suez Canal, which, as you might expect, is defined by the titular waterway that cuts through the level.
One thing that we were able to appreciate fully for the first time was just how good Battlefield 2142 sounds. The musical score that accompanies the level load feels inspired by the bombastic tones of Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer, but everything else sounds cool, too. Weapon fire is distinctive and quite a bit different from the regular gunfire we've heard in so many other games, while the thud of orbital artillery landing in the distance makes you want to smile at the pounding the enemy is receiving. (Of course, when you're on the receiving end, it's not so much fun.) There's a ton of voice dialogue, as all orders are verbally issued, and you'll even hear Russian being uttered by the PAC forces. The EU troops, on the other hand, speak with clipped English accents, so it's easy to tell sides apart. A word to the wise: Learn the Russian word for "grenade" as soon as possible.
As we've said before, it'll be interesting to see how the Battlefield community embraces 2142. Battlefield 2 remains incredibly popular, and EA and DICE have noted that they don't see 2142 as a replacement for that game. Instead, Battlefield 2142 will offer a new addition to the family with its new gameplay mode and unique setting. Answers will come soon, though, as Battlefield 2142 will ship later this month.