Battlefield 2 E3 2005 Preshow Impressions

You'd better get ready to lock and load, because Battlefield 2 looks amazing.

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We recently had a chance to take an updated look at Battlefield 2, and we weren't alone--pretty much everyone who walked into EA's preshow demonstration of the game walked out wanting to play the game right then and there. The 15-minute demonstration we witnessed was good enough to get many of the console game fans in the crowd thinking about upgrading their PCs. And the sequel has evolved quite a bit since the last time we saw it, which was only a couple of months ago. It simply looks fantastic now.

Since 2004's Battlefield Vietnam was developed by a different studio, Battlefield 2 looks to be the full sequel that fans have been waiting for. The game, which is being developed by the same team at Sweden's DICE responsible for Battlefield 1942, is set in a near-future conflict that pits the United States, China, and the fictional Middle Eastern Coalition against one another, on maps that will scale in size depending on the number of players on them. The smallest map size supports up to 16 players, while the middle map size handles 32, and the largest can take up to 64.

To begin the demonstration, EA showed the official trailer that's been available to the public for the past couple of months. The producers really love that trailer, because it captures the rock-scissors-paper nature of the game. To summarize, the trailer starts with infantrymen engaged in a fierce firefight, but the sudden appearance of a fast attack buggy changes the tide of battle to one side's favor. And then, in sudden progression, a four-wheeled assault vehicle kills the buggy, only to get blown up by an antitank missile fired by an attack helicopter. The attack helicopter is promptly shot down by an F-18, which is then brought down by a MiG. And then the MiG is shot down by an antiaircraft missile fired from a Bradley fighting vehicle. And yes, everything in the trailer is actual, real-time gameplay footage that was recorded during a single gameplay session.

One of the major new features in Battlefield 2 is the commander screen, which allows one player to serve as his or her side's commanding officer. Battlefield 2 will also maintain persistent statistics on your performance, so the better you play, the faster you'll be promoted. The highest-ranking player on either side of a match will have dibs on the commander position, and there will be plenty of reasons to want it. Commanders can run around the battlefield like any other player, but they can also hole up in one spot and call up their command screen, which gives them a map of the battlefield. The commander can then call up a satellite scan that temporarily reveals the positions of all enemy forces to the commander (and the info can then be relayed to the rest of the team) or commission an unmanned aerial vehicle to circle unseen over a portion of the map and transmit the location of all enemies there temporarily to all friendly units.

However, the commander's abilities go beyond simple reconnaissance. Using the map, the commander can call down powerful artillery strikes to deliver a devastating barrage. However, artillery needs time to recharge between salvos, and since the guns exist on the battlefield, it's possible for the enemy to destroy them. (They can be repaired or will simply respawn after a certain amount of time.) Meanwhile, the commander can also drop supplies via cargo plane and parachute to friendly forces on the map. Those supplies automatically heal friendly units and refill ammo supplies, but they can also be captured by the enemy or destroyed in midair.

Voice chat will play a huge role in the game, and while Battlefield 2 will include the familiar keyboard communication system, a team that is equipped with headsets will have a huge advantage over a team that isn't. EA indicated in the past that the game would ship with a headset, but now it appears that the company is actually working on a preorder deal in which you will receive a free headset if you preorder. However, that's not final, so we'll have to wait and see.

One handy feature about voice is that it works on a chain-of-command system. Individual players can group into a squad, commanded by a squad leader. Meanwhile, above the squad leader is the commander. Thus, the commander speaks to all squad leaders by default, and all squad leaders can talk to their squad members or the commander. But squad members can talk only to their squad leader. This should certainly cut down on all the random chatter that tends to overwhelm these kinds of games, since you can talk only to your subordinates or commanders.

We watched a gameplay session on a map that we apparently hadn't seen or profiled yet, set in the Fuschi Valley, a green and lush valley split by a river. Naturally, river crossings become tactically critical on such a map. Tasked with capturing the bridge, the American forces seized one end of the bridge. However, the bridge itself was destroyed, so infantry were ferried over by helicopter to seize the other end. Infantry on their own are in trouble against Chinese armor, but in this case, the commander was able to bring artillery strikes down on top of the enemy tanks. Meanwhile, attack helicopters swooped in to support the infantry, and between the artillery and airpower, the enemy tank column was shattered, and the American infantry was able to quickly seize a control point. This demonstrated the power and value of the commander position and how teamwork can play a critical role in the game.

Battlefield 2 also looks a lot closer to completion than the last time we saw it. At this point, all the game's features have been implemented, and the game as a whole just looks fabulous. You have to see it in motion to really appreciate the incredible amount of graphical detail, but the game's models and textures are incredibly sharp, and the environments are believable and on the verge of lifelike. And, let's be honest, it's simply cool to see all those high-tech weapons and vehicles in action. When you're staring at the gun camera on an Apache attack helicopter and lining up a shot at a tank below, it feels like you're looking through the real deal.

There's also a lot of good news on the single-player front, as EA says that the much-maligned artificial intelligence from the first two Battlefield games is a thing of the past. If you ever played with those bots, you know that sometimes all they were good for was running in circles, literally! The AI for Battlefield 2 is completely new, and we're told that the bots will act like real human beings, which means they're going to gun for objectives and give you a fight, which is a welcome change.

So the bad news is that we have to wait a bit longer for Battlefield 2 to ship, because while all the content is in, EA wants to spend the time balancing, tweaking, and bug-fixing. But judging from the reactions from even the console fans at EA's press event, the ship date of June 2005 can't come soon enough.

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