Review: A great game ? for Xbox Live subscribers only, that is.
Let's face it ? when it comes to shooters, PC gamers have always had more fun. Long before Master Chief hopped online, PC gamers were enjoying intense battles in titles that read like a who's who of the industry: Quake, Unreal, Counter-Strike, Medal of Honor, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Call of Duty and of course, Battlefield 1942. It's only since the launch of Xbox Live in 2002 have console gamers been able to experience the same multiplayer thrills as their PC counterparts. Most of the popular franchises made the transition to the big black box except one ? until now, that is. With the long anticipated release of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, Xbox owners can now cross off the last of the great PC shooters to make it to their living rooms.
Before you get too excited, though, it is important to note that Modern Combat is not
the same as the incredibly fun PC edition; instead, we get a ?consolized? version that drops many of the PC's cool features and replaces them with more console friendly elements.
For example, there is no Commander function in Modern Combat, nor can you drop health or ammo packs. In fact, there isn't even a Medic class; instead, the Support class has a health injector that he can heal himself or teammates with. Similarly, the Anti-Tank class is toasted, leaving the Engineer as the only heavy weapons guy with his unguided RPG. You also can't fly fighter jets because there aren't any. The multiplayer maps are completely different and don't scale to the number of players, which was one of the coolest features of the PC edition. The graphics aren't as pretty, although it still looks pretty good (especially the explosion, smoke and particle effects).
Yes, the developers took a lot out, but in its place they added a much improved single player experience and an exclusive new multiplayer game mode.
Invasion of the Body Swappers
The Battlefield franchise has always been about multiplayer, but since the majority of console owners are offline, DICE and EA needed a solid single player campaign with good replayability if they wanted to earn decent sales. To be fair, it wasn't an easy task to take what is essentially a multiplayer only game and build a brand new single player mode to keep the offliners happy. They made a good effort but ultimately fell short of the mark. On the plus side, single player is fast paced, frantic and at times intense, but it sadly falls victim to bad AI, cheap old school tricks and repetitive gameplay.
The story (if you can call it that) takes place in Kazakhstan where a nasty dispute causes NATO and the Peoples' Republic of China to lock horns. The cool thing about the single player campaign is that you alternate sides, letting you kill dozens of enemies in one mission only to find you're fighting for
the enemy in another. Or are you? The most interesting aspect of switching sides is that you get to see the same events from each other's perspective, especially how the news media on both sides spin facts and twist them into subtle propaganda. You can also choose which side to fight for during the last two missions, and you don't have to replay the entire campaign if you want to play the alternate ending (although the last two missions are exactly the same; the only difference is which side you're on).
Gameplay is pretty simple: kill the enemy. Sometimes you have to destroy objectives like bunkers or submarines, but most of the 20 missions are straightforward attack and defend. Each mission will have certain soldier classes you can play, including Assault
, the basic rifleman who carries an assault rifle and grenade launcher; the Engineer
, who is armed with a shotgun and a RPG, and can repair vehicles and lay mines; Sniper
, whose specialty is self-explanatory, but he can also use a laser designator to target enemy vehicles for smart bombs; Special Ops
, who carries silenced weapons, stun grenades and C4; and Support
, who is armed with a light machinegun, can call in mortar strikes and can heal teammates.
You can switch between your troops using the cool new Hot Swap feature; by looking at a teammate and hitting the Y button, you can instantaneously jump into his body and take over. Sounds creepy, but it works great because it constantly keeps you in the action and gives you incredible tactical flexibility. For example, in one level I was fighting in the street happily mowing down bad guys when all of a sudden an enemy armored personnel carrier decided to join the party. I immediately Hot Swapped to an Engineer on a rooftop, pulled out my RPG and blew the APC to smithereens. I then Hot Swapped to an Assault trooper further down the street where more enemies were approaching. The enemies were gaining the upper hand on me so before my life bar ran empty, I Hot Swapped to another soldier behind cover and finished them off. It takes some getting used to at first, but you will soon be Hot Swapping like a madman; want to bring some serious firepower? Hot Swap into a friendly occupied tank or helicopter. Want to stand back and pick off enemies from afar? Jump over to that sniper in the hills. It's a very cool feature that lets you control the pace and style of gameplay as well as your tactical options.
The action is pure Battlefield, fast-paced and fierce. Enemies will attack you from all sides, usually in superior numbers and firepower. This is both good and bad: good because intense frantic action is always welcome in any FPS; but bad because the way the enemies attack can be frustrating. The single player campaign uses the same ticket system as multiplayer, where each side has a certain number of tickets or ?lives? that are used up as people are killed. In most cases, you have to kill off the enemy's ticket count in a particular area before moving on to the next objective. Enemies spawn in waves from the same spots each time, which sounds like it would be easy to handle but it's not; the pace of the game is so frantic you are often so busy finishing off one wave, you don't notice another wave has spawned right behind you until you're killed ? and the fact that enemies seem to always spawn when you're looking the other way feels a bit cheap. When you enter new areas enemies will suddenly appear even before they show up on your radar, meaning you can easily die before you even know someone is there. It also doesn't help that the speed at which you can turn your view is agonizingly slow, even with the sensitivity cranked all the way up (oddly, this problem doesn't exist in multiplayer).
Enemy AI also leaves much to be desired. For the most part, they simply stand out in the open or run right at you. They also have the psychic ability to instantly know which soldier you are controlling because they will all switch their fire to follow you no matter where you Hot Swap too. Even if my teammates are standing right in front of them, enemies will redirect their fire to wherever I am; enemy tank turrets will swing around, helicopters will change course. This often means your lifespan is measured in mere seconds when you have several enemies shooting at you at once, which can be very frustrating to say the least.
Your teammates' AI isn't any better. They will often stand face-to-face with the enemy and one of two things will happen: one or both sides will suddenly lose the ability to shoot, or if they do shoot, they can't seem to hit their opponent at point blank range. Teammates will often run into your line of fire or drive vehicles right into you. One time I was hovering in a helicopter during a recon mission when another supposedly friendly helicopter slammed right into me, destroying us both. Argh.
Of course, I suppose I can't blame him because controlling vehicles is a true exercise in frustration. When will developers learn that the Halo vehicle control scheme works the best? Ground vehicles are tolerable, but helicopters are simply terrible. The physics are way too realistic for such a fast-paced action game, often leaving you drifting out of control while getting pummeled by enemy fire. A more arcade style of physics would be much more appropriate.
The missions do have a nice variety of level design ranging from city to forest to an oil rig, but overall the gameplay is essentially the same: control objective points by killing waves of enemies over and over again. It's fun at first but gets quite repetitive ? and the corny music doesn't help either.
To help enhance replayability, the developers added a ranking system where you earn stars for your performance; the more stars you earn, the higher you move up in rank from Private to Five-Star General. Each kill and completed objective earns points; you also earn multipliers by getting multiple kills with the same soldier, which also unlocks new attributes like rapid fire, increased damage and health. The more points you earn, the more stars you earn. You also gain stars by completing the missions (which are all fairly short) within a certain time limit, keeping your death count low, Hot Swapping frequently, and having a high accuracy rate. You can also earn dozens of medals by completing certain tasks like killing a high number of enemies with one clip, piloting or destroying vehicles and so on. Earning stars also unlocks new weapons, increased ammo capacity and new Challenges.
There are 18 Challenges, which are mini-games testing you on things like your Hot-Swapping ability, weapon proficiency, vehicle piloting skills and so on. The Challenges can also earn stars and are generally a fun diversion from the run and gun ? except the vehicle challenges which are more frustrating than they're worth.
The Challenges and ranking system do a good job of increasing single player replayability as you try to earn that one extra star you need to move up in rank. But for real replayability ? and for what I feel is the real reason to buy this game ? you have to hop onto Xbox Live.