If you find yourself missing the brief Reagan-era invasion genre of the 1980s (Red Dawn, Invasion U.S.A.), then here comes Battlefield 2: Armored Fury, the second booster pack for EA's popular multiplayer action game. Like the first booster pack, Battlefield 2: Euro Force, Armored Fury is a moderately priced collection of new maps for Battlefield 2 that's available for purchase and download online only through EA. In Armored Fury, the global war between the United States, China, and the fictional Middle Eastern Coalition finally shifts to American soil, as China tries to seize the Alaskan oil fields while the MEC storms the Eastern seaboard to seize the capital. While that does sound a bit farfetched, it's nothing more than an excuse to battle it out among America's suburbs and highways. And like with Euro Force, Armored Fury has plenty of good content for a decent price, though the big question is will Battlefield 2 fans bite?
Armored Fury packs three new maps that are a refreshing change of pace from the desert battles of Battlefield 2. In Midnight Sun, the Chinese attack over the Bering Straight and race to seize the Alaskan port of Valdez, a strategically important source of crude oil. This is a fairly confined level, as the map is defined by narrow roads that carve through a river valley. Meanwhile, the MEC keeps America's defenders--already stretched thin by the global war--busy on the East Coast. In Operation Road Rage, the MEC battles to control a critical highway junction, while in Operation Harvest, the fight shifts to the rolling hills and pastoral farms of Pennsylvania Dutch country. These are more open battlefields and really embrace Armored Fury's emphasis on tanks, armored personnel carriers, and mobile antiaircraft guns. The emphasis is on vehicles, and you'll definitely be most effective behind the wheels of something. At the same time, infantry aren't completely helpless, thanks to some clever use of the terrain and the environment. There are plenty of woody copses that hide infantry in Operation Harvest, while concrete highway barriers offer a way to stay out of sight in Operation Road Rage.
We must note that while these new environments are pretty, some of the limitations of the engine shine through. For example, it's frustrating to see 60-ton armored vehicles come to a sudden halt when hitting a white picket fence or a hay bale, especially since you can still knock over flimsy objects such as road signs. This wasn't a problem in Battlefield 2, since there are few white picket fences or hay bails in the desert or the Chinese levels, but here it can be annoying, especially after your APC blows up for slamming into a wooden fence!
Though Armored Fury doesn't introduce a new army (like Euro Force did), it does introduce a couple of new vehicle classes: light helicopters and ground-attack aircraft. And while the addition of even more airpower might elicit a groan at first, especially since airpower is unbalanced in Battlefield 2, these new aircraft actually fit in well. The scout helicopters are quite fun to fly and considerably easier to control than their larger and heavier counterparts. Though armed with a light canon that's suitable only for killing infantry and soft vehicles, the scout helicopter can be dangerous if used correctly. Two passengers can ride on either side of the helicopter and drop C4 charges or mines onto targets below, while the scout helicopter's detection ability (it's just like a UAV, though with a smaller scan radius) can make it useful for spotting enemy infantry trying to avoid detection. On the flip side, though maneuverable, the scout helicopter is very fragile, and it can be knocked down without too much effort, which is good news for Battlefield 2 players with nightmares of helicopter gunships that will not die.
The ground-attack aircraft can also be potent in the right hands. To help with the aiming, vehicle targets appear boxed in on the heads-up display, which gives you enough time to line up a shot. Also making things easier is the fact that the ground-attack aircraft are slower than the regular fighter jets. However, this also makes these mud movers more vulnerable to antiaircraft fire, and thankfully, there are plenty of antiaircraft missiles and vehicles on these levels. There are also lots of TOW missile emplacements, which are incredibly useful for killing scout helicopters or helicopters hovering over a flag.
It's also worth nothing that you can commandeer civilian vehicles in Armored Fury, though the selection is a bit weird. Considering that the United States is a nation full of sport utility vehicles, there are none in the game. However, you can jump into a muscle car or a big rig. These civilian vehicles aren't armed, and passengers can't even shoot from the shotgun position, so their presence comes off as gimmicky, at best.
Armored Fury doesn't feature any improvements to the graphics, aside from the larger color palette at use in these new levels. After endless battles in the desert, the cool green hills of the American heartland are refreshing. The audio remains unchanged, save for the fact that longtime Battlefield fans will welcome the return of the classic Battlefield 1942 musical theme in updated form. After all, these are basically all the same vehicles and weapons from Battlefield 2.
There's no question that Armored Fury has some interesting new levels to battle around. The bigger question is just how valuable will this booster pack be? While Euro Force, the first booster pack, also packed lots of great content, the sheer fact remains that there are only a handful of servers that feature Euro Force levels today, most of those run by EA. The vast majority of servers hosted by clans and other third parties skipped Euro Force so as to not alienate anyone in the player base. If the same goes for Armored Fury, then odds are you'll only find a handful of servers that support this booster pack. That's a pity, too, because American battlefields are something the Battlefield 2 community has wanted since day one.