It seems a little strange that Battlefield 2: Modern Combat should have the "2" in the title, given that this is the first Battlefield game to make an appearance on consoles. The game also, unfortunately, bears little resemblance to its superb namesake on the PC. While Modern Combat does offer some amount of charm with its highly produced interludes and its slick unit-switching mechanism, ultimately this multiplayer-focused military shooter falls short of its promise with design flaws in its campaign and clunky vehicle handling.
The plot base of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is something out of your standard, Clancy-esque techno-thriller. Unrest in the Soviet state of Kazakhstan has sent a US-led, UN peacekeeping force to the region in order to promote stability. However, the Chinese are a little nervous by this show of force, and they have sent their own forces into the region in order to maintain their own territorial interests. You'll switch back and forth between controlling the Americans and Chinese throughout the game's 20-mission campaign. What's neat about the campaign structure is that between missions you'll be treated to some fake news broadcasts from media outlets on both sides of the war. It's rather amusing to see two conflicting accounts of the same battles that you've just fought, which provokes the idea that nobody ever tells the whole truth in a wartime situation. The campaign missions themselves are pretty varied, even if certain maps and areas get recycled a bit. You'll drive tanks to capture and defend bases, fly out to investigate and destroy enemy cargo ships, and fight in and around an oil platform, among other things. The maps in the game are of a decent size and definitely give enough space to fight large-scale, combined-arms battles. The missions don't take too long and aren't very difficult to beat, but beating them with a high rating can be hard, and the game encourages you to replay missions for rank.
The biggest problem with the missions in Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is that they feel too much like a multiplayer game of Battlefield, only in a single-player context. Specifically, when you're fighting in an area that you're trying to control, enemy troops will spawn just about on top of you. For instance, you may run into an air base as an infantryman, clear out the left side of a hangar, and then turn around to attack infantry on the other side of the airstrip, only to find you're getting shot in the back because new enemies have spawned in right on the area you just cleared. It's a situation you are accustomed to in a multiplayer match, but for a single-player campaign it comes across as somewhat cheesy and contrived. To give a more ridiculous example, in a battle for control of an oil rig, Chinese and American forces would alternately parachute in over the same areas during the course of a battle. Is neither side bothering to control the sky in this modern war? How could the defensive forces be so prescient as to send in paratroop drops as reinforcements right about the time as a surprise attack?
Despite those concerns, the core gameplay in Modern Combat is still pretty good and offers its own unique flavor, due in part to the ability to switch between any friendly unit on the fly. The battles you fight are mostly combined-arms affairs, so you'll have a chance to drive and ride wheeled vehicles, tanks, attack helicopters, and attack boats, among other things. If you want to switch to another unit, simply aim at that soldier or vehicle, press a face button to warp across the battlefield, and then take control. This design conceit serves a few purposes. The most obvious one is that it's the fastest way to "transport" yourself across the map to a hot spot that needs your attention. Another use for it is to put yourself in control of the right unit for the job at hand. You may be playing as a regular assault trooper as you hose down infantry, when a tank all of a sudden pops up on the horizon. Using Modern Combat's hot-swapping feature, you can warp yourself into the body of an RPG-wielding engineer, or one of your own tanks, to take on the new threat. The hot swapping is definitely the most fun aspect of the game, and the one that gives Modern Combat its unique style.
At the end of the day, though, the single-player aspect of Modern Combat just doesn't feel like a Battlefield game. Sure there are all kinds of different vehicles to drive and different infantry classes to master for different situations. But the vehicle control is pretty clunky, and the raw action of firing weapons just feels limp and lacks impact. Whether you're shooting a rifle, a shotgun, or even a tank cannon, there's just no sense of power in anything, which makes the game feel like a shooting gallery. Other gameplay contrivances contribute to the arcade feel, such as the health, damage, rapid fire, and other character bonuses for racking up kills in quick succession. The game even keeps score for you as you play through a mission, and it encourages you to go on mad killing sprees to rack up score multipliers. You're graded on your performance and awarded stars depending on how well you do racking up scores, switching between your units, and completing a mission in time. Those who enjoy a straight-up arcade shooter will appreciate all these aspects, but if you're a console-only player who wants a good idea of what the fuss is all about with the PC Battlefield games, Modern Combat doesn't really have that similar feel.
The game does support 24-player online multiplayer action on both the Xbox and PS2 versions. However, there are only two game modes available: conquest (the standard capture-and-hold mode popularized by the PC Battlefield games), and capture the flag. The hot-swap capability, which is the best part of the single-player game, can't be used in multiplayer, for obvious reasons. As far as the actual gameplay goes, multiplayer Modern Combat plays pretty well. The game does support 24-player online multiplayer action on both the Xbox and PS2 versions. However, there are only two game modes available: conquest (the standard capture-and-hold mode popularized by the PC Battlefield games), and capture the flag. The hot-swap capability, which is the best part of the single-player game, can't be used in multiplayer, for obvious reasons. As far as the actual gameplay goes, multiplayer Modern Combat plays pretty well. The maps aren't particularly large--those who are used to the vastness of Battlefield 2's maps on the PC may find the fighting fields in Modern Combat a little cramped. But they are a suitable enough size for 24 players and a good selection of different maps. The terrains and settings used generally provide good balance between infantry and vehicle combat.
That said, we did have a couple of quibbles with the multiplayer experience. One is that it might be a little too easy to spot and track enemy players, because a red enemy dot appears over them any time you close within visual range of them. The community also could use some tutoring on proper tactics in conquest mode as well. In many games we played, players seemed content to just choose the sniper class and plink away at each other from long distance instead of actually capturing and holding locations. Perhaps that's a consequence of the game's extensive stat tracking system, as people tend to be enamored with upping their kill totals as opposed to playing more of a team role and helping win matches. Beyond that, Modern Combat offers some single-player challenge modes as another way for you to pick up stars for ranking. These are just simple minigames, such as weapons challenges, races with various vehicles in the game, or checkpoint challenges that can be played using the hot-swap feature.
The game's presentation is also decent for what it is, yet disappointing in light of the fabulous visuals and sound effects available on the PC version. At least the scale of the maps and number of troops and units is pretty impressive, though not to the degree of the PC version. The character and vehicle models themselves exhibit only an acceptable level of detail, and the environments and settings you play in are just decently detailed as well. Unfortunately, you can't actually enter many of the buildings you'll find on a given map. Many don't have doors or fully fleshed-out interiors, or they'll have doorways that simply lead to nothing (perhaps just a spawn point?). The explosions are also rather lackluster, as destroyed vehicles simply disappear in a puff of fire and smoke. The sound is also not wholly remarkable. You get a good amount of radio chatter during the course of a battle, which helps set the mood and gives you a real feel for the chaos of a fight. But the weapon and explosion effects are somewhat weak and lack the oomph you'd hope for from a game like Modern Combat.
Overall, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat has made a decent first effort in bringing the Battlefield experience to consoles. All the necessary elements are there to make a great shooter--superficially at least--like infantry and vehicles together in large-scale, combined-arms battles. The hot-swap feature is also really cool and an idea we hope will get expanded on should the console franchise continue on. What's missing in Modern Combat are the little things that really made the Battlefield series so great in the first place, like getting the look, feel, and sound of the weapons and vehicles just right. Despite those deficiencies, Modern Combat is still probably worth a look, especially if you've never played a Battlefield game (or clone) before.