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Battlefield 2: Modern Combat Preview

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For years, first person shooters were almost exclusively the domain of the PC. It's where they got their start, and it's generally where they've beendone best. While a few games in the ‘90s, such as Goldeneye, gave us hope that shooters could be done well on consoles, it really wasn't until Halo: Combat Evolved (and, more recently, Halo 2) released on the Xbox that FPS developers started getting serious about consoles. Since then, we've seen many PC based shooters make their way to consoles, usually by way of the Xbox. Titles like Counterstrike and Doom 3 held up very well in the transition, and with ports of Far Cry and Half Life 2 also on their way, the console FPS market seems to be booming. Therefore, it's no surprise that EA and Dice are bringing their acclaimed series Battlefield to both the Xbox and PS2 with Battlefield 2: Modern Combat. Not only will the console version bring the tactical squad based intensity of the PC's Battlefield 2 to consoles via an extensive single player campaign, but the Playstation 2 version will also offer online support, allowing dozens of players to meet on the virtual field of battle in search of honor, glory, and most importantly, victory.

While the Playstation 2 version of Battlefield 2 is obviously not as impressive as its PC counterpart, either visually or functionally, it's definitely shaping up as one of the better console shooters to be released this year, as it offers most of what made the PC title so successful. Though there is only one game type available for online play, it's so varied, frantic and well designed that it's really all that is needed. Up to 24 players will square off on two teams in the mode Conquest, which requires the capture and containment of several strategic locations throughout the map, such as ruined buildings, encampments, mosques, and more. Players will need to ‘capture' these locations by holding that position for a specified period of time, at which point they can raise their colors to taunt the enemy. Once a flag has been raised, that location also acts as a spawn point, allowing you to spawn at any flag taken by your team. Each team starts off with a specified number of ‘tickets,' or spawns, and if the enemy forces you to use up all your tickets, or if they capture all flags on the map at once, it's game over. While it sounds simplistic, the dual nature of the gameplay offers a seemingly boundless variety to matches, as it offers you multiple routes to victory; you can choose to play it as a straight up slayer match and focus solely on the elimination of the enemy, or you can go for a more organized, tactical approach and attempt to capture all points on the map simultaneously. While each option sounds viable enough, with 24 combatants on the field, it's a bit more difficult than it sounds. The result is a sort of organized chaos that is thoroughly enjoyable.

Adding another layer of complexity to the gameplay, Battlefield 2 offers players several different character classes to choose from, each with their own special abilities and weaknesses. You can choose from a variety of soldiers, ranging from basic Assaulters to more specialized classes like Support, Engineer, Spec Ops and Sniper. Assaulters are your basic all-around badasses, equipped with assault rifles, grenade launcher, pistol, smoke grenade and more. Supporters are basically medics, as they carry health injectors that can heal nearby allies when they're low on health. Of course, they're not left empty handed as they carry a fairly lethal machine gun as well. Unlike games such as Halo 2 or Doom 3 where you have a seemingly unending supply of health, soldiers in Battlefield 2 are realistically mortal, and it only takes a few hits from a machine gun before you're worm food; as such, the Support class plays an incredibly vital role. Engineers can lay down land mines and basically operate as anti-armor support, as they have the easiest time taking out tanks and other large vehicles. They can also repair allied tanks and vehicles as well. Spec Ops are equipped with SMGs, C4 and knives. C4 can be thrown or laid down, allowing Spec Ops players to set ambushes at strategic locations or take out moving tanks; they also make good car bombs, as you can rig your own vehicle with C4, drive it into an enemy encampment, and bail seconds before you blow up your car (and any enemies unfortunate enough to be near it) to tiny pieces. The knife allows for silent, one-hit kills, provided you can get close enough to your enemy without being spotted, though it's obviously a gamble. Snipers also play a crucial role, as they can hide virtually anywhere and take out enemies in relative secrecy, though the tracers from the rifle's round can give away a sniper's position to astute enemies. In addition to the one-hit-kill sniper rifle, Snipers can also ‘paint' targets using a laser, allowing them to be taken out by artillery strikes. However, the most important asset a Sniper has is the ability to ‘light up' allies' GPS units with enemy locations. Each player has a small map (which can be enlarged using the D-pad), and every time a Sniper fires a round, it updates the map with enemy locations, provided there are any enemies inside the portion of the map covered by the GPS. This proves an invaluable tool for all players on a team, as it can help teammates get the jump on the opposition.

Obviously, team composition is incredibly important in Battlefield 2, as each class is vital to your team's success. More important than team composition, however, is teamwork. Knowing where your team is (and is not) plays a big role in the game, as you can not only call in air strikes on enemy strongholds, but also use tanks, choppers, jeeps, and even beat up old trucks to transport players en masse. Thus communication is essential, and good teamwork more often than not proves the deciding factor in most matches. A properly placed air strike can wipe out a large number of enemies, while a poorly placed strike can severely handicap your own team, and storming a flag held by several enemies all by your lonesome often spells quick death.

The controls in Battlefield 2 are fairly straightforward, though not without their problems. However, not only is jumping in this game basically pointless, you have to cycle through stances with the Square button, and it's not very responsive, meaning there is no quick way to duck and take cover. Instead, every time you want to change your stance, you have to hit the button and wait a bit while your avatar complies. This often means death for a sniper whose location has been discovered, as it's hard to get up and retreat, or for a soldier who desperately needs to take cover behind a low wall and dies because he couldn't duck fast enough. Overall, however, the controls seem solid, if a bit slow.

Visually, Modern Combat looks good, but not great. Perhaps the most impressive technical aspect is the sheer size of the maps, which is one of the big draws for the PC version as well. Simply put, the maps in Modern Combat are huge; to cross on foot takes several minutes, though the spawn system and vehicle support make it easy to cross quickly. The environments look good, with plenty of variety and detail, though character animations seem a bit sloppy at this point, and hopefully will have a more refined look upon release. In addition, there seem to be some fairly significant clipping and collision detection problems, as you can often run through solid objects or drive through fences as though they weren't even there. As realistic as Battlefield 2 tries to be, this certainly doesn't help.

While the visuals may not be a strong point in Battlefield 2, the sound certainly is. The game sounds terribly realistic, and incredibly loud. It certainly adds to the intensity of battle when, over the thumps of mortar rounds and cracks of sniper rifles, you hear your ‘commander' screaming that an air strike is inbound on your location and to take cover, now. In fact, the sound in Modern Combat may be the most realistic aspect of the game, since it certainly draws you in and helps add both a sense of urgency and belief to what's happening around you.

Overall, it seems Dice and EA have pulled off a fairly impressive feat with Battlefield 2: Modern Combat for the Playstation 2. While by no means as technically or functionally impressive as the original PC version of the game, Modern Combat looks to promise the same overall experience, which is good news for console gamers, specifically those looking for a new shooting addiction now that Halo 2 and Killzone are starting to wear thin. Look for Battlefield 2: Modern Combat to storm store shelves in late October.

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