Though Battlefield 2 has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide since it launched last year, EA and developer Digital Illusions CE haven't been resting on their laurels. Battlefield 2142, the next chapter in the popular multiplayer action series, recently reached a significant development milestone en route to its scheduled ship date later this year, and we were able to get a firsthand look at the game at DICE's Stockholm offices, as well as learn new details regarding what is sure to be one of the biggest PC games of the year.
Like its predecessors, Battlefield 2142 will let you battle online with up to 63 other players divided into teams of two. Your objective will be to defeat the enemy using a variety of infantry weapons and vehicles in a never-ending online war. However, while it mostly sticks to the tried-and-true formula of the Battlefield series, DICE is also taking some creative risks by setting the game in a sci-fi future and by introducing a new game mode, called Titan mode.
In the world of 2142, a new ice age has squeezed the 15 billion people of Earth together. Nation-states collapse and new alliances and coalitions battle for the remaining habitable space on the planet. The game will focus on just two of these factions: the European Union and the Pan-Asian Coalition, which is led by Russia. Since Russia can't migrate south into Asia due to the presence of so many people already, it's faced with no choice but to aim for North Africa. However, that's the only option available for the Europeans, so the fight is on.
Battlefield 2142 will ship with 10 maps that cover both European and African battlefields, and we were able to get the very first peek (as well as some hands-on play) at two of them. The first, Gibraltar, is an infantry-heavy map that is fought using the familiar conquest game mode, which requires both sides to battle for control of a number of strategic points on the map. When players die and respawn, they use up a ticket, and the losing side is usually the team that runs out of tickets first. As an infantry map, Gibraltar is relatively small for a Battlefield game, and most of the combat will be handled by squads of infantry battling for control points. But that's not to say that there aren't any vehicles on this one. We saw futuristic buggies that have an afterburner-like turbo boost to the huge, two-story battle walkers, which are basically two-legged tanks.
The infantry combat in Battlefield 2142 is as fast-paced as in previous Battlefield games, if not a bit more, thanks to the lethality of future weapons. The game incorporates an "electronic battlefield," which means that you are now data-linked to the rest of your squadmates, though not to all of them. If you put your rifle on a reticle, it will not only transmit that target's location to the rest of your squad, but it will also transmit data about the target, such as its current health. It's easy to see how useful this enhanced level of shared information will be. If one squad member sees a tank coming up the street, other squad members can see it on their map and take up positions to ambush it or lay down tracking mines to take it out. The developer intends for this sort of thing to encourage players to build and join squads. In addition, squad leaders can get special toys, such as deployable sentry guns that only kick in if there are a minimum number of people in the squad. Also, players who play in squads will earn more points in battle than those who don't.
While some of the maps in Battlefield 2142 will be available only in conquest mode, others will be playable using both conquest and the new Titan mode. We got a firsthand chance to experience titan mode with Verdun, the second map that we saw. Verdun may sound familiar, as it was the site of one of the bloodiest campaigns of World War I. Now Verdun is a battleground again, and it's the opposite of Gibraltar. Whereas Gibraltar was small and set in a dry, arid setting, Verdun is huge and set in the cold French countryside. This is a vehicle-heavy map, with wide-open spaces on the ground and plenty of room in the air to maneuver the Titans, which are huge floating platforms originally developed to help move large numbers of refugees and their belongings away from the ice. However, the Titans were militarized and used as both aerial battleships and aircraft carriers.
Clash of the Titans
In Battlefield 2142's Titan mode, your job is to defend your Titan while destroying the enemy's Titan, and that's not going to be easy. Titans are heavily shielded and armored, and they can deliver a pasting to targets below due to their hull-mounted turrets. Though your team can slowly whittle away a Titan's shields using regular weapons, such as tanks, antiaircraft guns, and aircraft, the easiest way to cripple the shields is to seize missile silos (there are five on Verdun). Each silo is capable of popping off a powerful anti-Titan missile every two minutes, so the more silos that your faction can seize and hold, the faster the enemy's Titan's shields will drop. Once they're down, you must board and battle your way to the Titan's core and destroy it, a process that we described in our E3 preview.
Our Titan mode play session against the developers was an eye-opener, to say the least. We got a good sense of just how different this mode is from regular conquest. Having so many competing tasks means there are plenty of things to do. Though the process of seizing and holding missile silos is akin to capturing strategic points in conquest mode, things get pretty crazy once a Titan's shield is down. For instance, if you take out the enemy Titan's shield, you'll need to commit forces to try to take down the Titan. But doing so means that you risk leaving the missile silos relatively undefended, which means that if a handful of defenders can keep your team at bay, the rest of the enemy can capture the missile silos and take out your Titan's shields, and then launch an assault on your Titan.
From what we've seen, just reaching a Titan can be challenging, almost to the point of being comical. The easiest and fastest way is to use an assault pod, which is essentially a one-man rocket that arcs high into the air. You can launch an assault pod from a Titan or from an armored personnel carrier on the ground, and getting the trajectory right will take practice. It's strangely funny to watch pods fall short of the target or bounce off a Titan's shields. But if you do make it aboard, you'll want to make sure that the squad leader puts down a respawn beacon, which will let the squad spawn on that point, even if the squad leader is killed. Otherwise, if you die, you'll need to find another assault pod and launch up to the Titan all over again.
Though balancing is still going on in the game, we're encouraged by what we've seen of the vehicles thus far. The designers admit that they completely underestimated the skill of the players in previous Battlefield games, particularly when it comes to aircraft. So while the aircraft in Battlefield 2142 are much easier to fly than their counterparts in previous games, they're also much slower and more fragile, which should level the playing field. To make things even tougher, the game will offer ground flak cannons with a secondary electromagnetic-pulse missile that can temporarily stun an aircraft, making it a sitting duck. Tanks and other ground vehicles, while fearsome, have definite weak spots as well. Using an antitank missile, we scored a hit on the frontal armor of a heavy tank and barely damaged it (the heads-up display now shows health bars on your enemies, so you know their health state when they're in your sights). However, hitting the tank squarely in the rear resulted pretty much in an instant kill. On the other hand, walkers, the game's giant mech robots, are vulnerable if an infantryman can sneak up underneath them using active camouflage to be invisible, and then plant explosives on its exposed knee joints or toss grenades into certain vents on the underside of the walker.
The action in Battlefield 2142 is as fast-paced and dynamic as ever, and the Titan mode certainly feels like a worthy companion to conquest mode. We'll have plenty more about Battlefield 2142 in the future, but what we've seen so far looks good. For now, continue on to our developer interview with senior producer Marcus Nilsson.
Battlefields Past, Present, and Future
To learn more about Battlefield 2142, including new details about its history, setting, and new gameplay mode, we caught up with senior producer Marcus Nilsson.
GameSpot: First off, tell us about how Battlefield, as we know it, came to be. Did you expect it to become the incredibly successful franchise it is today?
Marcus Nilsson: Two students had a vision back in 1996 to create a game where players could meet on LANs and on the Internet and partake in huge battles featuring both vehicles and soldiers. After an attempt with Codename Eagle, we came to an understanding of what we wanted to do next and the idea of Battlefield 1942 was born. Battlefield 1942 became popular for a number of reasons: it was a groundbreaking game where you could play both infantry and vehicular battles with rock-paper-scissors balancing. We never expected it to be as big as it has become, to be honest. We have sold more than 10 million units of the Battlefield series and they are very widely played.
GS: Battlefield 2142 seems like quite a departure for the series, since the first three games featured familiar real-world or historical weapons and settings. Why the decision to push so far into the future? Was it just the logical progression for the series? Were there no more good historical conflicts to model?
MN: The series is built on great gameplay. This gameplay has the benefit of being applicable to pretty much any era or war. So no, I don't see this being a departure from the series, but rather, a natural elaboration. The reason we put it so far into the future was simply to get into an era we could create ourselves. We know less of 2142 than, let's say 2070. Why we choose 2142 should be pretty obvious to fans of the series. Finally, there are most probably plenty of other historical battles that we could build a game on, but we are very picky. We only make the games we think we can make really, really well.
GS: Can you give us a better picture of the setting of Battlefield 2142? We understand that the game takes place in the 22nd century and there's a new ice age that forces humanity to battle for what little land is left. Is the ice age a result of global warming? Is this some kind of hidden environmental message?
MN: I personally do think the environment and the way we treat it is worth thinking about, but for 2142, the reasons behind the drastic change in climate are vague. It's rapid and it hits the world more quickly than anyone could anticipate. Chaos and violence are the result.
GS: Tell us about the two new factions in the game, the American-European Alliance and the Pan-Asian Coalition. Do they each have special traits or abilities that are unique to them? Why only two factions?
MN: We're making a game about the future, so a few things are very essential, such as strong art direction and a strong vision. The story is used to build the future we want. A focus for us has been to keep the world believable in the sense that the people playing it understand the fiction, the weapons, and the equipment. Therefore, we are still in the land of conventional warfare, but with a technological twist. We do not have laser or plasma guns, we do not feature teleporting. Instead, people will feel instantly that this is Battlefield but on a different, and hopefully, better level. In the year 2142, we do not have countries as we do today, due to the devastating push of people to smaller and smaller areas of the world. Two things happen when you squeeze people together: they fight and they unite. So, in the battles in 2142, we see two coalitions, or armies, if you like. The sides are similar from the start, but after players start to level up, we are going to see sides that are different from battle to battle. The new unlocking and persistence systems will cater to having asymmetrical sides every time you step onto the battlefield
GS: Tell us about how 2142 will handle infantry gameplay versus vehicles. How will 2142 avoid common issues like teammates all rushing for the fighter jets, for instance? Will infantry have a stronger role in the game, or will the game's new futuristic vehicles be emphasized more?
MN: The soldiers in 2142 will be well equipped against vehicles. The setup is that you build your own kits. As you gain ranks, you unlock items that you put in your arsenal. You will need to make choices before entering the battlefield, but fundamentally, the new equip system means you will be more suitably equipped for the type of the game you want to play. For instance, if you are constantly being thwarted by someone using a battle walker, equip yourself with the active camouflage and some explosives--this way you'll be able to run up to it undetected, slap some C7 to its leg, and send the pilot to a warmer place.
We are not going to have vehicles that can dominate the game the way fighter jets can do in BF2. Don't get me wrong; we will have strong vehicles, but we'll make sure there are plenty of ways of mitigating the power of these beasts.
Futuristic Chess...but with Grenades
GS: How did the fiction of the game come together? Was the setting created from scratch, or are there specific inspirations you can cite?
MN: The foundation for the story comes from the development team, but we got in contact with a writer to flush it out. Something that is very important to me is the fact that everything is there for a reason, and this is exactly why we need to have a detailed story. Why was the battle walker developed? Why did Titans become the new aircraft carrier? If we can base it upon the story we've created, then we know it has a place in our future.
GS: Tell us about Titan mode--what is it, and why is it such a big deal?
MN: Titan mode is the first new game mode for the franchise in a very long time. One reason for setting the game in the future was actually so we could introduce this mode--this is how much we believe in it. The mode is very easy to understand. You need to blow up the opponents' Titan. It's as simple as that. I use the comparison to chess when describing this mode because it works very well. The Titan is your "king," and you need to protect it at all costs. But, as in chess, you need to attack your opponent's "king" at the same time. Like in all Battlefield games, there are multiple ways of getting the job done. The Titan can be taken out by pounding on it with ground cannons and vehicle cannons, so one tactic could be to try to take it down this way. But a far more efficient way is to fight for the ground missile silos, capture, and defend them. Let the missiles pound the Titan until the shield goes down and then launch an infantry attack. This could be regarded as the second part of the mode--getting on board the Titan and battling your way through corridors and narrow paths with the final aim of taking out the core.
So I guess the "big deal" is a whole new way of playing a Battlefield game while still staying true to everything that has made the previous games so popular. I'd like to call it another level on top of what you have seen before. The game mode is filled with choices of how to equip your soldier and where to go next to maximize the team effort.
GS: How does teamwork fit into Titan mode? It's far more than simply "board the enemy Titan and blow up its reactor," right?
MN: There is a great mechanic of timing and decision making built into Titan mode. When do you decide to attack the Titan? Remember the missile silos on the ground? If you leave them, they could be taken over by your opponents and a few more missiles toward your own Titan could turn the game around. So, team play is essential. An active commander, well-balanced squads, and great communication will raise your odds. Taking out the Titan is not a one-man job. Lone wolves will not stand a chance, and a diversified squad that is equipped properly will do a better job.
GS: How long have you been working on the idea for Titan mode? How difficult is it to introduce a new mode considering conquest mode has all but defined Battlefield over the course of three games?
MN: It is hard to introduce a new game mode, take my word for it. We are working very actively to progress the design of our games and the mode is something we have looked at for a long time. Conquest is a very compelling game mode simply because it gives players a natural flow in the game, and it has more than a "kill them all" objective. Titan mode was born some two years ago, while Battlefield 2 was in development, and since then, we have iterated on the concept of leading up to a design I am convinced is the right direction for the next step in this franchise.
GS: Finally, are there any other lessons the team has learned from Battlefield 2 to bring into 2142's development?
MN: Lots and lots. We learn all the time from all our products. We are always looking into ways of expanding the experience. To give you an example, in Battlefield 2 we saw the beginnings of squad play. This time around, we have started to reward people for playing in squads, as well as actually making some scenarios considerably easier to achieve if playing in one.
A big lesson that we learned from Battlefield 2 specifically is that we need to be more prepared for the load of people. Also, we are working very actively to set up a live team to handle the game after launch. We have learned that we need to communicate much more with the community and address the items they have issues with. This organization is built up around the 2142 project and is going to be prepared and ready when we launch.
GS: Thanks, Marcus.