With Battlefield 2142 coming hot on the heels of last year's Battlefield 2, there are bound to be questions on how genuinely new this game actually is. Battlefield 2 was an all around top title when it was released in June of 2005. It erased the memories of the last Battlefield: Vietnam game. However, soon after the game's release, the game was prone to technical errors including mysterious drops to the desktop and shaky connections to servers. And gameplay imbalances were magnified with air units dominating the game and dolphin diving becoming an issue until subsequent patches attempted to resolve them. Patch days were not always happy days for Battlefield 2.
Step forward to Battlefield 2142, which clearly has learnt some lessons from Battlefield 2. The server browser features a buddy list now and you can do a little server sorting and scrolling while the master list is updating. I also found the game to be generally more stable. While I have upgraded my PC rig since the days of Battlefield 2, I still think Battlefield 2142 is loading faster than my copy of Battlefield 2 on the same machine. No longer am I clicking on a 42/48 populated server and getting a ‘server is full' message because it took too long to load the level.
Indeed, Battlefield 2142 is very polished but that's also a chance to give the developers latitude to introduce something new to Battlefield since the original World War II game. The crown jewel of Battlefield 2142 is the new Titan mode, which introduces the concept of a mothership to the usual Conquest mode. The Titan is basically a home base spawn point complete with defenses, air transports and supplies. It can move, albeit very slowly, to support your ground assault. It's protected by a shield and when the shield is gone by its hull and internal electronics (control panels, reactor core, and such). To bring down the shields and hull, you need to capture missile silos on the ground and protect them while they fire at the enemy Titan. The silos are basically the flags you need to capture in Conquest except you have to spend more time waiting around the silo (or ‘flag') than usual to reprogram the missile to shoot the opposing Titan.
Once the shields go down, your team has two options. You can hold the silos and continue whittling away at the Titan hull or you can go in for the kill by boarding the enemy Titan and destroying a number of control panels before getting access to wipe out the reactor core. Once the reactor is destroyed, you'll have a few seconds to escape, although this moment is all for naught since the game immediately ends after the Titan goes down.
By doing this, the Titan mode introduces a new dynamic. Your team will have to be much better at multitasking. Leave all the silos undefended and your Titan will be shot out of the sky. Leave the Titan undefended and commando raids will bring it down a lot sooner. This works both ways too. If everyone on your team is angling to board the enemy Titan, the underdog can stage a come from behind win by capturing the relatively undefended missile silos below and knocking out your Titan's shields, effectively equalizing the situation. On the other hand, if everyone continues to play classic Conquest while the Titan shield is down, it won't take much work for your enemy to board and make short work of the Titan's innards. Titan mode thus brings teamwork to the next level.
The Titan is up in the sky. To get to it, you'll need the use of air units. Luckily, Battlefield 2142 seems to have largely solved the issues with aircraft dominating game. For one, I found the air units to be slower so it's easier to track them with anti air weapons. Another thing I found is the reload time for the secondary bombs and missiles were lengthier. Some positions, like the pilot for the air transport, don't even have access to weapons so solo mavericks can't rack up hundreds of kills with constant strafing and bombs.
APCs have been made more useful by allowing them to jettison pods of soldiers upwards into the sky. It's rather like Robert Heinlein's Starship Trooper book in reverse and lets you board the Titan or lets an APC send units directly into a hot zone without endangering itself. Again, the developers have chosen some smart design decisions.
Because the game takes place in the future, the weapons themselves are not modeled after anything currently in existence. The guns, for example, are completely fictional and have moved on from the military weapons of today. That said, they are completely satisfying to shoot and have interesting futuristic sights as well as different behaviors and rates of fire. This is something Battlefield always seems to get right especially the sound effects.
Battlefield 2 introduced the concept of unlockables. It didn't give a player a distinct advantage so much as it was a status symbol that you played the game for x number of hours and can access more exotic weapons. Battlefield 2142 takes this a step further by literally imposing a technology tree in the game. Even something as simple as a grenade, or the revival ability of the medic pack or an engineer's mines needs to be unlocked before you're able to use it. This was a shock to me as during the co-op games, even the bots had the ability to revive me and throw grenades and because I started a new soldier, I couldn't. This will become even more infuriating later on when new players show up and can't throw a grenade while the regular engineers are setting up automated turrets.
The classes themselves have been streamlined. The medic profession has been folded into the assault one. The anti-tank class is now part of the engineer. And the demolition pack that accompanied the special forces role is now with the sniper. It does make for less class switching in the middle of the battle and with the longer technology tree is likely to force players into adopting one single class.
The other disappointing aspect of Battlefield 2142 is the co-operative mode. Still restricted to sixteen player maps, fans of co-operative will at least be glad they don't have to wait for a year for something that was already part of the game to show up as a selectable game mode in multiplayer. Are the bots superhuman players? No, they still tend to get mowed down at chokepoints but at least they do not think entirely linearly and will at times jump to the back of the map. Unfortunately, Titan mode is not playable with bots.
Fans of Tribes will find Titan mode to be pretty similar to what Tribes offered except Battlefield 2142 lacks jetpacks. One of the things people complained about Battlefield 2 was the imbalance between armor, air and infantry combat. The Titan raids eliminate the use of armor and air units by taking the game indoors to close quarter battle so even if players discover a new way to use those mech-like walkers to dominate the game, it will only be one portion. Titan mode also effectively allows the game to mix it up without redesigning maps or designing maps and expansion packs specially for one type of engagement.
Visually, Battlefield 2142 is similar to its predecessor. The ice age vistas are done well but none of it seems terribly interactive except for the odd explosive crate spread out over the maps. Understanding that this is a dystopian world, I am still left wondering where all the inhabitants are. Only the African maps exhibit any kind of unfrozen landscape capable of life so I would say overall the ice makes things a little repetitive.
Battlefield 2142 made up a lot of its own fiction with an ice age in the year 2142 dividing the remaining inhabitants on Earth between a Russian led Pacific Asian Coalition (PAC) and the European Union. It seems unrealistic to count the Americans out but that's how it is. I enjoyed the little blurbs before each map talking about the PAC and EU wars but I found it restrictive that the EU is fated to retreat. If the battle's results could determine what the next map should be, that would have been better. I was fascinated enough to want to know more but a multiplayer only game offers only so much to tell the story. Are PC gamers ready for another Battlefield? From what I saw in the online population, it's very likely Battlefield 2142 will be met with success. The question is will it be wild runaway success or a muted one. Until history can answer that, you'll have some decent Battlefield action on your hands with a shiny new wrinkle in the Titan mode to play online with your buddies.