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 obvious graphical enhancements for the Xbox 360 do add something to the overall package, though.
The presentation is where Modern Combat has received the greatest attention in its transition from the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox to the Xbox 360. Character models and vehicles exhibit a great amount of detail, with full shadows and much sharper texturing all around. Other nice details include persistent bullet-hole decals and spent cartridges. If you man a stationary machine gun for a while, you can look down and see quite a pile of brass building up at your feet. The environments can look a little sterile at times, though, and many of the buildings on a single-player map still can't be explored. However, vehicle explosions are much more satisfying now, with fire and smoke effects, as well as large chunks of metal that break off and disappear later via secondary explosions. The weapon sounds seem about the same as the other versions of Modern Combat, which is to say, decent but not totally remarkable. There is quite a bit of radio chatter during battle, too, but it still tends to get very repetitive, and the voice acting for the Chinese side might be a shade offensive, as most of it is delivered in English with a thick, Charlie Chan-style accent.
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. The game encourages you to replay missions for rank, and earning a higher rank gets you new weapons for the various classes in the game, as well as upgrades, such as a larger ammo capacity, to existing weapons.
The biggest problem with the missions in Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is that they feel too canned and contrived, which doesn't fit the series. At least the spawning issue that plagued the other versions of the game seems to have been addressed somewhat in this version of the game. Instead of enemies popping out of nowhere, you'll often see them approach by boat, helicopter, or some other vehicle. But at times, they still do pop in from thin air, which makes it somewhat difficult to measure the flow of a mission. The more difficult missions in the campaign often require you to memorize the sequence of scripted events, which will help you get the jump on the enemy. There's little in the way of tactics or counter-strategies that you need to know, aside from choosing appropriate unit counters for a given threat. The friendly artificial intelligence can also be frustrating at times--they never seem to take the lead in a battle, as they usually follow you very slowly and there's no way to direct them anywhere. Also, they're not very effective at helping you out and tend to waste a lot of ammo, which is a problem when you're switching back and forth between allies.
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 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 the most fun aspect of the game, and the one that gives Modern Combat its unique style, although it's worth noting that the zooming look of the hot-swap function gets old fast and can be disorienting.
At the end of the day, 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. Movement and aiming feels extremely loose, and at times it seems as if the bounding boxes for the character models are gigantic and are too forgiving of sloppy aim, although this may be a blessing, given the poor weapon feel. 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 Xbox Live, offering 16 maps in either capture-the-flag or conquest mode, where teams struggle to capture spawn points and force the opposing team's ticket count down to zero. 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, offering some fast-paced shooting action. 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 large enough for 24 players, and there's generally a good balance between infantry and vehicle combat. There are usually a lot of nice nooks and hiding places for infantry to lurk or tall structures to climb up and snipe from or just get a better view of the field. For those who like driving around, there are usually good avenues for tank and vehicle traffic linking the major capture points. Choppers and boats are also available on many of the maps.
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. There's also a tendency for many players to pick the overly romanticized sniper class. Don't be surprised if you see too many people plinking away at each other from long distance instead of actually capturing and holding locations, 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 simple minigames, such as weapons challenges, races with various vehicles, or checkpoint challenges that are played using the hot-swap feature.
Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is still very much the same game as its predecessors on the PS2 and the Xbox. 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. The primary difference with the Xbox 360 version is the upgraded visuals, which make for a sharper-looking game. However, the shiny new veneer still can't hide what's missing in Modern Combat: 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.