Battlefield 2 Updated Hands-On - More Commander, Infantry, and Vehicle Details

We get our hands on this upcoming team-based shooter for another look at the commander view, the additional infantry, and the vehicle action.

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We recently got our mitts on Battlefield 2, the upcoming follow-up to the extremely popular slam-bang shooter series from EA and Digital Illusions. The game is coming along extremely well. Like its predecessors, it's a military first-person shooter that focuses on team play, with almost enough realism to be called a serious simulation and more than enough action to match any arcade game. We had a chance to try out even more run-and-gun action and take an up-close look at the commander view, which is a part of Battlefield 2's stronger focus on team tactics. Here's what we found out.

Battlefield 2 will feature tanks, planes, and a lot of action-packed team missions.
Battlefield 2 will feature tanks, planes, and a lot of action-packed team missions.

While the game itself was unfortunately pushed back to June, the extra time is allowing the development team to optimize the game and add in some extra polish. Yes, it still takes place in the fictitious, near future during a conflict between the US and professional soldiers from either the Middle East or China. This time around, when you choose to play as a scout (one of the game's seven character kits) you will get a sniper rifle with a scope that dynamically reflects the surroundings as you walk by, similar to the OICW lens in Far Cry. Even though the game's seven kits (assault, medic, scout, special forces, engineer, support, and antitank) will all have very different roles in battle, you'll receive credit in your character's ranking for playing your role--whichever one you happen to choose--well. You'll even be able to unlock a special weapon for each of the seven classes by advancing all the way up through the ranks.

By the sound of things, the current plan for EA and DICE is to really expand the online game with multiplayer rankings. You'll create a persistent online profile that will stay with you for as long as you play online, and it will be updated each time you log into and out of the game. Right out of the box, every player will start off as a private in rank and will be able to advance up to the rank of sergeant (future Battlefield products will likely include higher ranks you can ascend to). In the meantime, you'll also be able to earn up to 50 badges for anything from excellent marksmanship to great piloting skills to skillful team support. These badges will briefly appear onscreen when you earn them and will be permanently added to your online profile.

You'll gain ranks by earning points, which can be done by taking out enemy players or capturing control points in the game's bread-and-butter conquest multiplayer mode (in which you must capture and hold control points on the map). You'll also earn points for playing your class well. Medics will receive ranking points for healing injured teammates and reviving them with their defibrillators. Engineers will receive ranking points for repairing destroyed vehicles (and even bridges, which can be built up and torn down on specific maps). Commanders will receive points for calling in successful air strikes. This will all be managed on a screen that lists just about every possible statistic for your profile, including how many kills and assists you've had with every single character class, your performance in vehicles, and your success as a commander.

As we've noted previously, Battlefield 2 will emphasize team play in a number of ways, including built-in support for voice-over-IP audio chat and the surprising addition of an actual headset in every box, along with in-game squads and a commander player. Squads seem extremely useful, since they appear on the game's minimap as easy-to-see green blips and as green chevrons when they're off in the distance. More importantly, squad leaders can act as mobile spawn points for their teammates, which helps downed players get back into the action much faster. This also means that a squad leader becomes strategically important; the squad leader can act as a forward spawn point, which can make capturing an enemy base easier. Of course, this gives every incentive for defenders to hunt down and eliminate the squad leader.

Commanders are very different from squad leaders, and although they're completely optional in any given game, a skilled commander can turn the tide of battle pretty quickly. There can be only one commander player on either side, and while commanders are potentially very powerful, they're also vulnerable, since they appear as normal soldiers who can be shot and killed like any others. This is an issue, since most of a commander's abilities are accessed from a command screen that completely blocks out your view of the outside world.

You can use this screen, which features a map of the level, to issue direct orders to your team by clicking on the map and assigning specific commands ("attack," "repair," "defend," "mine," and so on) to specific points. These commands are reflected in the world with colored smoke canisters that help point your teammates in the right direction. This feature goes hand in hand with the commander's four special abilities, which all currently work on a rechargeable timer. These abilities include scanning the entire map to reveal snapshot positions of all enemy troops; deploying short-range satellites to specific locations on the map that persistently track enemy movement in that area; dropping destructible supply crates that resupply nearby allies with ammo and health, unless an enemy blasts it apart first; and calling in devastating artillery strikes. Since commander players are actually in the game as characters, you can, if you're feeling lucky, scout out your target area personally, call in a strike, then close the commander view to watch the bombs drop firsthand (although we recommend getting to a safe distance first). Don't worry too much about lousy commanders, since you'll need to apply for the position in the game with in-game voting, and if some commanders aren't doing their jobs, they can be voted right back out of the position.

We also had another chance to try out some of the game's vehicles, including the US forces' startlingly fast M1A2 SEP battle tank and the devastating Su-34 Flanker fighter bomber. Players who enjoyed carpet bombing ground targets in Battlefield Vietnam will probably feel right at home with Battlefield 2's souped-up military jets, especially since the game's expansive 64-player maps allow much more airspace to fly through. The larger areas are a lot more conducive to dogfights, so even the most skilled bomber pilots will quickly find themselves pursued by squads of F-15E Strike Eagles. Both on the ground and in the air, you'll actually see additional team-based benefits that radiate from any vehicles being piloted by medics or engineers. Standing near a vehicle driven by a medic will actually slightly heal your wounds over time, and driving near a vehicle with an engineer behind the wheel will actually repair your vehicle slightly. This is yet another feature intended to promote team tactics and, in a larger sense, to keep players closer to the action (so there are more interesting firefights and fewer long runs to the next control point).

The game will offer all kinds of variety, whether you want to be a squad leader, a commander, a pilot, or just a grunt.
The game will offer all kinds of variety, whether you want to be a squad leader, a commander, a pilot, or just a grunt.

Vehicle combat is also a blast, and the designers seem to have learned lessons from Battlefield Vietnam. In particular, being the gunner in a helicopter is a lot easier now, since you're no longer at the mercy of the pilot's maneuvering; you now have a gun camera that allows you to lock onto a target. And with the addition of guided weapons, you can steer your missiles onto the target by simply clicking repeatedly for course corrections.

Battlefield 2 seems to have plenty of great features that will add all kinds of depth to what still seems to be a very fast-paced and accessible game, whether you choose to play as a regular old grunt, go after the title of the best engineer online, or try to perfect your squad leader or commander skills. If EA and DICE can pull everything together, then this will easily be the best Battlefield yet and quite possibly one of the very best online shooters to date. The game is scheduled to ship this June. Stay tuned to GameSpot for further updates.

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