Battlefield 2 Hands-On - On Foot and Commander View

We get our hands dirty with the next game in the action-packed Battlefield series.

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It's a different world for first-person shooters these days. The latest entries in the genre are about more than just dashing about and blasting everything from a first-person perspective. So to make a really distinctive game, you need things like great multiplayer and drivable vehicles, especially in the wake of Battlefield 1942, from developer Digital Illusions and publisher EA Games. The 2002 game took online gaming by storm, and its 2004 follow-up, Battlefield Vietnam, refined the series even further. The teams responsible for those two games are now gearing up for the next game in the series, Battlefield 2, which will take place not during World War II or the Vietnam War, but in a near-future conflict in the Middle East and Manchuria. And we finally got our hands on an early alpha version of the game.

Get ready for multiplayer mayhem with tanks, gunboats, attack helicopters, jeeps, and APCs--all on the same map.
Get ready for multiplayer mayhem with tanks, gunboats, attack helicopters, jeeps, and APCs--all on the same map.

The next game will make plenty of changes to the standard Battlefield formula. Like in the previous games, matches will take place between two opposing teams--in this instance, US Army troops pitted against either Chinese insurgents or a fictitious mercenary faction known as the Middle Eastern Coalition. But this time around, each side will have a whopping seven playable classes, including special forces, sniper, assault, support, engineer, antitank, and medic.

As it turns out, Battlefield 2 will not have stationary supply boxes in preset locations on the map (in the previous games, you could often find ammo boxes and health-supply crates at checkpoints and in houses, and automatically resupply just by standing near them). Instead, in Battlefield 2, medics will have medic packs they can use to directly heal nearby teammates, or toss on the ground to be picked up, much like the medics in Return to Castle Wolfenstein's multiplayer. In addition, the all-new support class carries ammo packs that function similarly--support players can hand ammo directly to nearby teammates or scatter additional ammo on the ground. Apparently, the new game will also attempt to be more accessible to new players by means of helpful audio cues that sound whenever you start playing the game, switch weapons, or use a new vehicle.

And Battlefield 2 will place even more emphasis on infantry operations with a variety of improvements, including the much-needed ability to sprint for limited periods of time (crucial for dodging incoming artillery or getting to the next waypoint when you don't have a vehicle). The game will also have a greater variety of weapons and an integrated stat-tracking system that will be tied in with a persistent online profile you'll keep (though players who really don't want to be held to rankings can turn them off on their servers). You'll actually be able to increase your ranking not only by being a good shot, but also by being a highly effective medic or engineer. By increasing your rank in a specific skill, you may gain access to new weapons and items and appear as a higher-ranked officer online. Also, you'll actually have your rank marked above your character's head with a set of chevrons that can be seen from a distance by your teammates.

The new game will put even more emphasis on team play. Fortunately, there will be lots of systems in place to reward skillful teams.
The new game will put even more emphasis on team play. Fortunately, there will be lots of systems in place to reward skillful teams.

In addition, Battlefield 2 will attempt to more strongly emphasize team play with many new options, including an enhanced quick-chat system that brings up a context-sensitive radial menu when you press the Q key, along with plug-and-play support for voice-over-IP chat. The new game will also have in-game "squads"--groups of players that, when joined, show your teammates' names in green hovering above their heads, show your buddies as green blips off in the distance, and display the location of your team's leader on the minimap in the upper right corner of the screen. Squad leaders can press the T key to give orders to their teammates, like calling for ammo or medics, and they can also drop colored smoke canisters on the ground to point out the direction their squads should follow. A highly intriguing development for squads that makes being a skillful leader worthwhile is the new ability for any squad leader in a vehicle to essentially become a mobile spawn point--all your squadmates, when killed, have the option of rejoining the game in your vehicle. You can join a squad from the standard map screen (which allows you to choose where you'll spawn next, and which class you'll play as), but players who are serious about their squads can actually password-protect them.

We've Got 'Em on the Run!

Battlefield 2 won't just be about squad combat, either. Each side can choose a single "commander" player, based on profile ranking. Commanders must "apply" for the position in-game, and, when elected, these players do not actively participate in the battle, but instead view the game from an overhead map (which can be zoomed in on the action). Commanders have four primary abilities: satellite scan, artillery strikes, Predator UAV recon, and supply drops.

The commander can take a top-level view of the action and give orders to the rest of the team.
The commander can take a top-level view of the action and give orders to the rest of the team.

Satellite scans are complete passes of the game map that last for only a few seconds, but provide a snapshot that reveals the positions of all the players on the map (including enemy soldiers) to the commander only--so the commander must use text and voice chat to alert his or her teammates to the last-known enemy position. Artillery strikes are extremely powerful support attacks that take several seconds to execute (and allow commanders just enough time to scream at their teammates to get out of the blast radius), but usually wipe out any infantry unlucky enough to get caught in the blast. The Predator UAV is a drone flyer that does not appear in the gameworld (and therefore can't be shot down), but can scout out a specific area of the map and reveal that area's contents to commanders and their teammates. Finally, supply drops replace the static supply boxes from the original game--they're boxes of ammo and health that can be dropped by parachute onto specific sections of the map to support teammates who are pinned down.

In keeping with the increased focus on team tactics, Battlefield 2 will have a number of modern-day vehicles that, like those of this year's other online multiplayer-focused shooter, Joint Operations, can accommodate many players at once. These include armored personnel carriers with weapon slots that can be fired out of, along with all-new attack choppers, speedboats, and highly mobile modern tanks like the M1A1 Abrams (as opposed to the slow-moving World War II tanks of Battlefield 1942). To account for this change, the interface has been altered slightly so that you use your keyboard's function keys (F1, F2, F3, and so on) to change positions in a vehicle (rather than your number keys), since you'll be using your number keys to switch between your handheld weapons. Some of these vehicles have open positions on top or on the sides for passengers to fire from. Generally speaking, most of the new game's vehicles seem to move faster than those in Battlefield 1942 or Battlefield Vietnam, so getting to contested areas and other hotspots on the map seems like a faster process overall. Choppers currently handle similarly to those of Battlefield Vietnam, so experienced helicopter pilots will be able to make good use of the skills they picked up in that game.

Battlefield 2's on-foot pacing seems roughly comparable to that of Battlefield 1942's desert maps, if not slightly faster, and many of the new game's weapons sound even more powerful than those of Battlefield Vietnam. However, even though many of the new game's weapons seem hard-hitting, several kits seem to also have finesse weapons--both the support and special forces kits carry submachine guns (special forces have an SMG with a laser sight). Also, all classes can not only throw hand grenades, but they can also press and hold the fire key with grenades equipped to roll them along the ground (perfect for sneaking them under vehicles).

You'll be able to beat down your opponents by land, sea, and air, and then catch an instant replay using Battlefield TV.
You'll be able to beat down your opponents by land, sea, and air, and then catch an instant replay using Battlefield TV.

Though the version we played was only an early alpha, what we've seen is already very encouraging. Battlefield 2 looks great in motion and has highly detailed character, weapon, and vehicle models, and even packs in a few special effects, like an appropriate reaction to being too near an artillery or grenade explosion (your screen blurs and the sound gets muffled under a high-pitched ringing). The game's "Battlefield TV" option is also apparently already in full use and can be set to automatically record entire matches. Once a match is complete, the relatively small (less than 1MB) Battlefield TV file can be shared and opened using the game itself, allowing you to watch the match and adjust the camera angles to focus on whichever aspects you're most interested in. If the game's various features can be fully implemented, and the kinks can be worked out of the very early version we played, Battlefield 2 will be one of the most exciting and most complete multiplayer games of 2005. The game is scheduled for release next spring. Keep an eye on GameSpot for more updates.

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