Though other first-person shooters introduced vehicular and infantry combat first, the Battlefield series from EA and developer DICE does it best. In Battlefield, teams of up to 32 players each can fight, drive, fly, and shoot their way across a vast virtual battlefield. Having hit a home run with last year's hit multiplayer action game Battlefield 2, the two companies are now putting the final touches on the next game in the series, Battlefield 2142. With the game scheduled to ship next month, EA gave us a chance to check out the latest work-in-progress version of the game.
Set in the distant future of 2142, the game pits the European Union against the Pan-Asian Coalition for some of the last inhabitable land on Earth. As in all Battlefield games, you select a class to play as, such as assault or support, and that defines what sorts of weapons and equipment you carry in battle. And with our recent play test, we were able to really appreciate the customization options that are introduced in Battlefield 2142.
Each class comes with a main weapon, such as an assault rifle for the assault class, as well as two unlockable weapons that supplant the main weapon, such as a heavy or a light assault rifle. However, you can't simply select each of them as your first unlocks. To unlock either of these, you must work your way up the unlock ladder for each. So, in keeping with the example of the assault class, to get the heavy assault rifle, you'll need to first unlock the shotgun attachment, then the infantry identification system (which lets you gauge an enemy infantry's health), and then the rocket attachment. Meanwhile, to get the light assault rifle, which is useful in the tight confines of a Titan, you must first unlock the defibrillator, then the advanced medical hub, and then the smoke grenade. The unlock progression means that you'll probably want to decide early on what sort of role you want to play on the battlefield that you can tailor your unlocks toward this role.
In addition to weapons and equipment, you can unlock special abilities. These are presented as a ladder as well, so you must start with the bottom unlock and work your way up. The most basic ability is the ability to carry a frag grenade in addition to your other weapons, but then you can unlock enhanced endurance (so you can sprint further), enhanced stamina recover (so you can recover endurance faster from a sprint), max clip (so each magazine can pack more bullets), and then be able to carry an extra grenade. But wait--you're not done yet. Though you might unlock quite a number of items, you can't carry them all into battle, so you must then customize your character's loadout. This involves choosing which weapon to carry, as well as what equipment to take. You also get a choice of outfitting your character in light or heavy armor. As you can probably tell, light armor is great if you want to be able to run for long distances, but it provides less protection than heavy armor.
We played the new Titan mode throughout the session and were able to see some new maps that haven't been seen before, such as Suez Canal. In Titan mode, your job is to find a way to board an enemy Titan, essentially a floating aircraft carrier, and destroy it while defending your own Titan. In order to take out a Titan, you must destroy four security consoles to gain access to the ship's reactor core. What's interesting to note, though, are some of the new tweaks DICE has made to this mode. For example, attacking teams must now destroy the two security consoles on the bottom floor before they can destroy the two consoles on the upper floor. Apparently, having all four consoles in play at the same time made the job much harder for defenders, since they had to spread out across the Titan. Now, defenders can mass at the consoles in play, which should allow for more intense hallway battles. Indeed, in our battles, defenders fought desperately to hold off onrushing attackers, though once an enemy gets a firm foothold on your Titan, you're in trouble. Thanks to the deployable squad beacon, enemies can keep respawning on your Titan, which means that until you take it out, they'll continually apply pressure on you.
Infantry combat is just part of the Battlefield experience, of course. Vehicle combat plays as large a role. Piloting the hover tank is incredibly cool, too, as you can now circle-strafe in a tank by simply holding down the left or right movement key and keeping the reticule on the target. At the same time, it takes a bit of getting used to, because in order to aim the fixed turret, you must maneuver the entire vehicle. On the other hand, the traditional tracked tank has a rotating turret, which lets you aim simply by moving the mouse. And we still get chills whenever we encounter one of the walkers, the two-legged tanks in the game. Being an infantryman, turning the corner, and then looking up at one of these things firing is a pretty awesome sight, though it's not so much fun when it's firing at you. On the other hand, piloting a walker is also a thrill, as you really get the sense you're sitting in this huge war machine and looking down on all your targets. Aircraft, on the other hand, will take some getting used to, as they're nowhere near as fast as the jets in Battlefield 2, which means that you can be picked off pretty easily if you're not careful.
The version that we played exhibited a couple of bugs. At one point, parts of the Titan disappeared entirely from view, and some of the fonts in the interface could distort under certain circumstances. Still, we can expect these bugs to be fixed over the coming weeks, and the rest of the game seemed relatively stable and polished. Lag wasn't so much of an issue, but we were playing on a local area network, and lag isn't much of an issue on those, anyway. Hopefully DICE is making sure the rest of the multiplayer code is optimized at launch. Still, we couldn't escape the feeling that with the sci-fi feel of the combat, Battlefield 2142 is certainly coming into its own now.