Friday, October 20, 2006

Battlefield 2142 Review

Battlefield 2142, developed by Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts.
The Good: Intense Battlefield-style gameplay, some unlocks are pretty cool, cinematic background music, close quarters battles in Titan mode are fun and a change of pace
The Not So Good: Unlocking is an unfair system that punishes new players and rewards stat padding and exploits, additions from BF2 are superficial and minor (including Titan mode), same old bugs are still not fixed
What say you? A nice mod or expansion pack, but there is too little new content to justify a full-priced game: 5/8

The Battlefield franchise has gone a long way since it was first published way back in the year 1942 (thus the title of the first game). The game has taken you on tours of Europe, Africa, Vietnam, China, and the Middle East as you shoot, drive, and fly your way to capturing control points and accumulating a higher score. Since most of the recent major wars have been covered, the series has only one way to go, and that’s into the future. The future, Conan? Yes, all the way to the year 2142! The Earth has frozen (I knew pollution-reducing legislation was a waste) and now the world factions are battling over the few glacier-free locations around the globe. Featuring futuristic weapons, futuristic vehicles, futuristic aircraft, and futuristic futurism, Battlefield 2142 strives to make slight changes to the Battlefield 2 formula while still charging full price. Isn’t capitalism wonderful?

The graphics of Battlefield 2142 are very similar to those found in Battlefield 2, except the developers have added a more metallic and gloomy feel to the game in addition to some futuristic effects like interference when using digital displays. The game looks like a well funded mod team has come in, designed a handful of levels similar to those found in Battlefield 2, re-skinned some vehicles, and gone home for the day. Even though the graphics (and system requirements) are similar to Battlefield 2, the game runs much more sluggish. On a system that ran Battlefield 2 on high detail level with ease, Battlefield 2142 runs laggy and slow with medium settings, especially with a lot of explosions on-screen. This is quite disappointing: where did all of the extra computing requirements come from? Half-Life 2: Episode One made a quantum leap from the original title and ran the same; why can’t the same be said for Battlefield 2142? In fact, you would think that a follow-up game would perform better than the original, since the developers have had more time to streamline and improve the code. The sound of Battlefield 2142 remains as good as ever and is still one of the strong points of the series. The menu background music has a very cinematic feel to it and continues the strong tradition of the series in this area. The voice commands, while repetitive, are still effective (although I have yet to figure out what allies yelling “GREASEMONKEY!!!!!!!” means, apparently a slick primate is loose), and all of the weapon and vehicle effects are convincing and plausible enough. Battlefield 2142 has strong graphics and sound, a hallmark of the series, but I just wish it ran the same as its predecessor because it sure looks the same.

In Battlefield 2142, you will join either the British EU or the Russian PAC in a fight for survival. The game features single player, but, like Battlefield 2, it’s limited to just 16 players and completely useless. You would think an extra year of development beyond Battlefield 2 would result in better code, but there are a lot of minor bugs in Battlefield 2142:

  • The game refuses to save my control settings for forward and backward movement (I use the right mouse button…so sue me), so I have to re-input them each time I run the game.
  • Unit tags don’t pop up soon enough, leading to some friendly fire kills, especially on distant (but still in range) aircraft and vehicles.
  • Ranked servers are incorrectly identified in the server browser. First, the filters are useless: selecting “ranked servers only” will show both ranked and unranked servers. Brilliant! Secondly, some ranked servers seem to be marked unranked and vice versa; this might explain why people are reporting that their stats are not being updated properly, as they might think they are playing on a ranked server (because the server browser told them so) but aren't really.

Not really a bug but still annoying, Conquest mode has discarded the straightforward enemy-always-red color scheme used in Battlefield 2 (and the Titan mode) for a confusing green/orange combination, making it difficult to quickly assess friendly and enemy bases and making you remember which color you’re on. The Battlefield series has always been known for minor but irritating bugs, and the trend continues in Battlefield 2142. The gameplay of Battlefield 2142 is very reminiscent of Battlefield 2 (not surprising), with very little change other than different (but still conventional) weapons and vehicles and some futuristic unlocks and tools. The game works the best with a coordinated attack, and the command and squad tools from Battlefield 2 remain essentially unchanged, although artillery attacks are much less powerful now. You are still allowed to spawn on the squad leader (although any transport vehicle is now available for your mobile spawning needs in Titan mode), and the squad leader as some additional tools at their disposal: a stationary spawn point, recon drone, or sentry drone.

Battlefield 2142 can be played in the classic Conquest mode, where you run around the map taking flags to reduce the opposition’s spawn tickets, or the “new” Titan mode. Despite the fervor surrounding the “new” Titan mode (ostensibly the biggest addition to the game), it’s exactly the same as the Conquest mode (flags have been replaced with missile silos) except for the end-game, where you get to board a Titan and take it down by destroying several components in the interior. I’m glad to see Battlefield 2142 take the series to indoor, close-quarters action, and boarding and running around the Titan is pretty fun, if you can get a coordinated attack. Plus, destroying the enemy Titan has more of a defined end to each round, instead of an arbitrary and anticlimactic ticket count. While not as innovative as advertised, the Titan mode adds an extra step to the Conquest mode and will probably become the more popular online mode, since it includes everything Conquest has to offer plus the raw excitement of shooting people indoors. It’s too bad, then, that the list of Titan-equipped maps is pretty low (only five of the game’s ten total maps), especially considering that all you need to do is swap control points for missile silos and add some airborne Titans to the map. The low map count of Battlefield 2142 isn’t all bad, as each game plays out essentially the same anyway and the actual map is just window-dressing. Battlefield 2142 features about the same mix of maps we saw in Battlefield 2: mostly open air maps with some city maps, that will probably prove to be very popular again. The developers have seemed to put a greater emphasis on tighter quarters with more choke points, which results in more intense battles with a large number of participants.

Although the game is set 136 years in the future, most of the weapons and vehicles of Battlefield 2142 are quite conventional. Each side comes equipped with a jeep, an APC (equipped with assault pods for boarding enemy Titans), a heavy tank, a hover tank (that can strafe), and a walker, the second major addition to the series. While walkers are an imposing figure on the battlefield, they are clunky and they don’t offer any real advantages over more conventional vehicles other than offering more weapons (anti-personnel guns, anti-armor rockets, anti-air EMP missiles) if the walker is fully staffed. You can make walkers sprint and crouch, but the high profile makes the walker a desired target on the battlefield; in any event, they still look cool. Taking to the skies is a lot easier in Battlefield 2142 as the assault and transport planes are very easy to control due to their hovering ability (a fine combination of helicopters and jets). You will also automatically be encased in an assault pod when exiting a plane, which makes storming an enemy base from the air a much more realistic proposition. Apparently the future is devoid of any boats, and avoiding water is a primary concern, as every vehicle is now aquaphobic, including the previously amphibian APCs.

The weapons of Battlefield 2142 are also conventional and, like previous titles in the series, their availability is dependent on your class. Battlefield 2142 combines a lot of the classes of Battlefield 2, resulting in just four: recon (sniper plus special forces), assault (assault and medic), engineer (engineer and anti-tank), and support. The default support and assault weapons have high firing rates but piss-poor accuracy and, due to the extreme overheating of the support machine gun, behave exactly the same in the end. You would think they would have developed an efficient cooling mechanism by 2142 for conventional weapons, but apparently not. Your specific role in each class will be dependent on the unlocks you choose as you advance through the ranks. Personally, I abhor the unlock system, as it penalizes new players and rewards points-gathering over good team play (although points can be earned by team-related activities, they are overshadowed by kills and renegade base capturing). In Battlefield 2, the only unlocks available were different weapons, but Battlefield 2142 keeps all of the cool futuristic tools away from new players, including some essentials available from the beginning in Battlefield 2 like grenades, C4, and the defibrillator kit. Recon players can choose between a sniper rifle or unlocked carbine, and unlocks include AP mines, a better scope, C4, and optical camouflage. Assault players get the standard rifle that can be upgraded with rocket or shotgun attachments, in addition to smoke grenades and defibrillators for those budding medics. Engineer classes get the most rounded set of weapons out of the gate (namely why they are the most popular class so far): a sub-machine gun, rocket launcher, and repair kit. Engineers can be upgraded with EMP mines, vehicle detection systems, or moving mines. My favorite class, support, comes with a light machine gun and can be upgraded with EMP grenades, temporary shields, enemy scanners, or sentry guns. As you can tell, the developers have come up with some really cool gadgets to play with; it’s just too bad they aren’t available until you’ve played the game for quite a while.

While Battlefield 2142 has the solid and entertaining gameplay from Battlefield 2, the additions to the series are so minor to the overall experience that charging full price for the game is unreasonable. Essentially, you are paying $50 for a new mode (Titan) that’s almost identical to Conquest, re-skinned and tweaked maps, weapons, and vehicles, and a bunch of unlocks you can’t use until you’ve invested quite a bit of time into the game. I see how unlocks add some longevity to the game, but shouldn’t the gameplay alone be enough to keep you coming back? I’d much rather let everyone access all of the tools from the beginning and just restrict usage to one unlock at a time. Those players who enjoy playing multiple roles (a strength of Battlefield: variety) are penalized as they now must spread their unlocks over several classes (jack of all trades, master of none). Battlefield 2142 feels like a well-developed mod of Battlefield 2 because that’s essentially what it is. The changes from Battlefield Vietnam to Battlefield 2 are much greater, and it makes paying full price a little hard to swallow. In addition, the game features in-game advertisements to go on top of the already inflated price; I hope this is not a trend in games, with publishers trying to ink even more money out of you. We are also subject to the same bugs from Battlefield 2: this is inexcusable. Still, Battlefield 2142 is fun to play and a blast when you get on a good team, and Titan mode adds a much-needed conclusion to the end of each round. However, unless you really like the series, Battlefield 2142 doesn’t offer anything beyond Battlefield 2 that warrants a $50 investment.