Review by Evil Dave
"An excellent XBox Live game, packaged with a mediocre single-player mode."
Battlefield 1942's initial release four years ago heralded the dawn of a new type of online shooter. The game's unique form of team-based, slightly arcade-ish combat caught fire, and it ended up selling over two million copies in its first year of existence. Of course, that success guaranteed that the series would be continued in some form, and it subsequently saw several expansions and updates (and even a pseudo-sequel set in Vietnam), up through the release of a full-fledged sequel in Battlefield 2.
Battlefield 2 for PC was a complete modernization of the series' addictive gameplay. Set 100 years after the first, it pitted several fictionalized versions of modern armed forces against each other, and outfitted them with slightly advanced revisions of current weaponry and vehicles. The game became an even bigger hit than Battlefield 1942, despite its steep system requirements, and is now one of the most popular online games available.
Meanwhile, through all of the success of the Battlefield series on PC, console gamers were left out of the fray until the announcement of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat in 2004. BF2:MC was designed from the ground up as an adaptation of Battlefield 2's gameplay for the (admittedly) less powerful PlayStation 2 and XBox, complete with an entirely separate single-player story campaign. The addition of a cohesive single-player mode is a first for the series, and the overall scope of the game makes it arguably the most ambitious new title in the series since it began. Ultimately, though, ambition means nothing without execution tantalizing though it may be and the question remains: does BF2:MC live up to its strong pedigree?
CGI interludes play in between missions to set up the action, and they are animated fairly well. Character models look nicely realistic, and they move very realistically as well. The lip synching in the videos gets a little spotty at times especially when the characters are speaking in a foreign language but on the whole the videos look solid. There's nothing amazing to see, but they perform their function well.
Graphics in BF2:MC are, unfortunately, average at best. Character models feature a good level of detail, with all of any given character's weaponry displayed on their avatar. The characters are quite nicely animated as well, save for some peculiar situations involving death animations. Vehicles are similarly mediocre; they move well and look good while in motion, but when they aren't moving they look a bit blocky.
The game's different maps look decent, with some nice textures on the grounds in particular, although they feel a little rushed overall, due to the fact that most buildings in urban levels are un-enterable. They're all fairly large, though, and the game includes a fairly impressive number of them, so you definitely won't run out of places to go.
In general, the visual feel of BF2:MC seems to err on the side of performance, which is to say that it looks bland for the purpose of allowing more objects to be shown on screen. This is especially true for effects such as explosions, which are almost muted to the point of non-existence.
BF2:MC's in-game graphics simply feel like an inferior copy of those of Battlefield 2. There's nothing about that that should harm the gameplay, mind you, but the sheer fact that the game doesn't look great will certainly be noticeable to vets of the PC game.
Sound effects during gameplay are mediocre. You'll hear all the typical sounds of war, from guns to explosions, and they all convey accurately what they are trying to portray. Vehicles in particular feature some very nice sound effects, with helicopters whirring overhead and tanks rumbling down city blocks. Some sounds, though, feel like they just aren't powerful enough, and they really don't give you a good feel for the action around you. Explosions in particular are a bit muted, and at times you may be confused by how you've died when you're hit by one.
You will mostly hear the game's voiceovers during the between-mission cinematics, although you will occasionally get a bit of a monologue during battle. The delivery for these is good enough, and nothing more. You'll also hear a lot of radio chatter during the gameplay; this adds to the feeling of a constantly shifting battle, although most of the talk is just updates on your team's current status.
The music in BF2:MC is repetitive and bland. It stays quietly in the background as you're playing the game, never taking center stage or commanding your attention. This is generally a good thing, because some of the tracks are horrible to listen to. Generally, you won't mind them, but you still might want to turn the music volume setting all the way down.
Battlefield games feature some pretty chaotic combat, and as such they have always shown a high level of realism in their sound effects. BF2:MC tries to equal its PC brethren, and at times you can tell the resemblance, but on the whole it just feels like a dumbed-down copy.
The story mode in BF2:MC is a first for the series, but the way it actually plays out is remarkably similar to that of multiplayer. You'll be dropped into a map and given an objective, such as to defend or take control of an area, or just to kill a lot of enemy troops. While you're doing this, you'll be surrounded by friendly soldiers of all types including some piloting vehicles. This enables you to use a single-player only facet called hot-swapping' that gives this mode of gameplay its distinct style. By looking in the direction of any teammate and hitting the X button, you can instantly switch to controlling that character. The ability to zip around the map instantly adds to the frantic feel of the proceedings, and the feature functions extremely well as a balancing measure to ensure that you're always able to handle any situations that may come up.
Of course, while a single-player campaign mode may be a new addition to the Battlefield franchise, the way it plays ends up feeling like a disjointed multiplayer experience. For starters, you have no ability to coordinate with your teammates, and this often ends up being a very bad thing. The friendly A.I. is capable of handling itself well most of the time, but it can (and does) get itself into situations where it doesn't know what to do, and it either gets itself killed or renders itself useless by wasting all of its ammo. Swapping between allies becomes vital just as much for micromanagement as for specific combat situations, since your fellow soldiers will never really take charge of a situation. Of course, enemy A.I. isn't any better it just typically has the advantage of numbers.
Adding to the disorganized feel of the gameplay is the fact that new enemies are constantly spawning in to fight you and sometimes, they'll materialize out of thin air right in front of you. Spawn situations like this may be commonplace in the online portion of the game, but they just look and feel sloppy when juxtaposed into a story-based offline game. Additionally, you may see both friendly and enemy reinforcements coming from the same place, which is as jarring to behold as it is to think about.
Despite its warts, the single-player game does have its good points. It often feels extremely satisfying to be able to control every soldier during the large-scale battles you'll take part in. There will also be moments during the game when you do something awe-inspiring say, taking out a handful of infantry as an assault soldier, and then quickly switching to a nearby tank to destroy the enemy reinforcements riding up in a humvee and these experiences are in some ways worth the occasional frustration.
The game's control setup is, for the most part, very good. The hot-swapping feature is extremely easy to use, and this helps makes it a lot of fun to pull off successfully. The only real problem with the controls is that vehicles, no matter which type, are somewhat difficult to maneuver with the analog sticks. Helicopters in particular have a steep learning curve; you can expect to go through a few before you get the hang of them, and even then you might still never be able to handle them with the precision you would like.
It's also worth noting that the intense realism of the PC Battlefield games seems to have been toned down a bit in the console title. You'll still get the same large variety of weaponry and vehicles, but the guns lack some of the real-world physic components that they have in the other titles; this allows you to perform some highly unrealistic actions while using them, such as shooting a machine gun fairly accurately while running. This gives the game a more arcade-style feel, which isn't all bad, considering how difficult some of the weapons would be to use in the real world.
On the whole, the single-player gameplay in BF2:MC isn't as fully realized as it could be, and feels more like a grand experiment than a complete experience. It certainly has its moments, but those moments may feel a little bit empty to veterans of the PC titles.
Online multiplayer has always been the focus of the Battlefield series, and it can be argued that the same is true of BF2:MC. The playing experience for this mode is detailed in the Online Play section. Multiplayer games are only playable online, and are not accessible through any console's LAN feature either.
Also included in the game is a challenge mode. This mode consists of straightforward minigames, most of which are vehicle or checkpoint races. These games don't add much replay value to the game, although they may help newer players learn to use the controls efficiently. There are no other extras modes or features available.
BF2:MC seems to have clearly been designed with the online multiplayer gameplay as a focus of development, since the game lacks much in the way of other value.
BF2:MC's online multiplayer consists of two gameplay modes, playable in either ranked or non-ranked games, and capable of supporting up to 24 players at once. The two modes (Conquest, the series' traditional king-of-the-hill variant, and Capture the Flag) are both generously populated, so you'll always be able to find a match that's at or near capacity. Additionally, the game supports all the regular XBox Live features, so you can always find and join your buddies quickly and easily.
The gameplay itself is quite fun. Voice chat allows communication between teammates, and with all the people you'll have on your side, it's often a good idea to plan a bit of strategy between yourselves. The game's trademark chess-match personnel system feels as good here as it ever has, even if it is a little more arcade-styled than the PC games. If you can get a good group of players together, and know how to work well with them, the game is absolutely a blast to play.
Naturally, though, the online community provides its share of problems when playing multiplayer and, in fact, some of these problems are direct results of the game's design. You can't set up your own matches in BF2:MC, so you're always at the mercy of the game's auto-match system to find a place to play. This often leads to rooms where they play only one map over and over, which is a real waste, given the game's large variety of them. The maps are chosen by player votes following a match's end, and if everyone else wants to play the same one again, you're out of luck.
Another feature of the online play is the use of an extensive stat-tracking and ranking system. This is fairly novel at first after all, who doesn't want to know how many kills they've been getting? but it leads to a lot of players focusing on improving their stats, to the detriment of those on their team who are trying to win. By focusing the ranking system more on team achievements, it could have greatly reduced the recurrence of this problem.
Otherwise, you'll meet your fair share of team killers, spawn campers, and immature users, which is par for the online course. The game is usually well balanced, and the occurrence of these problems can of course be negated by always playing with a group of friends, rather than strangers.
On the whole, the online gameplay in BF2:MC usually is as satisfying as you're going to find in an online shooter today, a few design problems notwithstanding. It doesn't capture the PC games 100%, but it does a pretty good imitation.
Battlefield 2: Modern Combat was, undoubtedly, a bit of a risk to create. PC gamers and console gamers are usually very different types of people, and they tend to have widely varying tastes in games. The fact that the game contains a single-player mode compounds that hazard. Of course, solid gameplay tends to sell games no matter what the platform it's on, and BF2:MC has plenty of that. It isn't the best shooter ever to come out (or even the best Battlefield game), and it definitely has its share of problems, but it offers a lot of solid gameplay for your money.
Gamers who have online play capabilities, as well as those who are diehard shooter fans, should definitely pick this one up. Anyone else who is looking for a reliable action game to occupy a weekend or two would do well to give it a rent to see how they like it. If you don't fit either of those criteria, though, you should look elsewhere for a game to play.
Score: 8/10 (not an average)
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/19/06
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