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Battlefield 2: Modern Combat Review

By Jeff Buckland, 5/1/2006

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I don't understand what's so difficult about porting Battlefield 2 to modern-day consoles. EA, for some reason, made a completely different game for the Xbox and PS2 late last year called Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, and it wound up being a pretty watered-down version of the hit PC game released a few months earlier. Now, EA has ported Modern Combat to the Xbox 360, adding some new graphical flair to the game but little else, and it's the same mediocre game with a prettier look and a higher price tag.

Unlike the PC version, BF2: Modern Combat does include a real single player campaign that has an actual story. In it, you'll start out fighting as NATO forces in Kazakhstan against the Chinese sometime in the near future. After a couple of missions you will be able to actually play as both sides in the battle in going from one mission to another, and can actually choose which side to finish the single player game as.

The unique feature in Modern Combat is that when you're in a battle, the AI will control all your buddies, and you can "hot-swap" to any other allied soldier in the field just by looking at that solder and hitting the Y button. The AI will take over the guy you were just controlling, and you get to take advantage of the new soldier's class or position. If you get killed, the game will swap you out to a nearby soldier and the mission will go on until either all of your guys or dead or specific mission objectives are completed or failed.

This is a pretty cool system until you realize that any character you're not controlling is almost completely brain-dead from an AI perspective. I've watched a AI-controlled buddy stand there and get shot repeatedly, firing his gun in seemingly random directions and complaining about how he doesn't have an angle. When I switch to him, I can easily take out whoever was shooting him in mere seconds. Sure, switching to different classes in real-time, like popping over as sniper to take out a troublesome guy at a distance, or assault to finish off a bunch of ground troops is great, but knowing that most of your team is just as dumb as dirt won't really help your confidence in the team in mid-fight.

This is not to say that this game is completely devoid of fun; the vehicles handle fairly well, even if it is pretty arcadey overall, and the mixed combat of helicopters, tanks, APCs, Humvees, and small arms fighting all together on the same large battlefield is certainly appealing. It's a unique mix of fighting when you look at this game versus the rest of the Xbox 360 shooters available right now, and they've at least got that going for them.

All the sides you can play on in Modern Combat each include five classes you can play as in both single player and online modes. Assault includes a rifle and usually a grenade launcher, the Engineer has mines, can fix stuff, and includes an anti-vehicle rocket launcher, Snipers, well, snipe, Special Ops has stealthier weapons and C4 explosive, and finally, the Support class has a light machine gun, can call in artillery strikes and heal himself and his buddies. Veterans of the PC version of BF2 might notice that some classes have been merged for this game; more on that later.

While the single player campaign does have some fun and unique stuff, including the ability to get a score for each of the game's missions and see how you rank worldwide, the reason that people are buying this game is the multiplayer mode. In that case, EA has done a great job in making sure that the online experience is smooth and has you playing rather than sitting in lobbies, and it's in this respect that I enjoy Modern Combat more than Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. That said, Ghost Recon is clearly the better game with its better graphics, better campaign and formidable online play, but BF2 isn't that far behind and getting into games quickly is much easier. That's worth a lot to me.

The online modes available are Conquest where you'll need to capture and hold all of the pre-set points throughout the map, and Capture the Flag which any action gamer should be pretty familiar with by now. Most people play Conquest online, and while it is a solid mode, the overall problem I find with it - just like in the PC version of BF2 - is that there's rarely a single "front" where you need to fight. Battles will commonly rage all over the map, leaving you wondering where you should go to get the most action. You will rarely have any massive firefights involving the whole server going at it. And part of this problem is that while the game supports up to 24 players at once, you'll rarely see more than somewhere around 14 in any one game. Since the maps are all geared for 24 anyway, that means the game can feel kind of empty even in a fairly full online session.

If you've flown a helicopter in the PC version of Battlefield 2, you'll know just what a challenge becoming a good pilot really is. Well, one place that the developers decided not to make Modern Combat any easier is in the chopper department - flying these things with any kind of proficiency is going to take a lot of practice.

The graphics have been beefed up in the move to a next-gen system, but BF2:MC still doesn't quite have what it takes to be at the top level of 360 visuals. The smoke, depth of field, and water effects are top notch, but games like GRAW, Fight Night and Oblivion still look better; part of it is that the source artwork for this game just isn't that great. The large, open areas in Modern Combat consist of roads and several buildings in a semi-urban setting, but the maps still feel somewhat barren. The more natural pieces of the environments, like trees and terrain, just don't hold up, and the overall drab color scheme just feels too dismal. The weapon and vehicle models are generally pretty impressive, but overall I'm just not terribly thrilled with the big graphical update on the 360.

Sound effects and music are quite lacking as well. Online games include canned soldiers yelling about when the enemy takes or loses flags, and this stuff is frantic and actually comes out luder than the explosions going on around you. Weapon sound effects are rather uninspiring, and the music gets repetitive after maybe a half-hour of play. The mission structure includes lots of voice work both before and during missions, but the quality of the voice acting is not going to win EA any awards.

It gets worse during the single player mode, though, as the voice acting switches to accented English instead of just the native languages. The Chinese-accented English sounds like a really bad caricature of the real thing, like as if someone who knows nothing of the language was trying to make fun of Chinese people. I can't think of any way to make that terrible accent any more offensive, actually. It's just plain embarrassing to even be caught playing this game by other people when this crap's being blurted out.

But what is it that makes the PC version of BF2 so fun when the console ports, Xbox 360 included, are, well, pretty boring in comparison? It seems that it's mostly just stems from the complexity, or the lack of it in this case. In moving to consoles, EA has "dumbed down" Battlefield 2 quite a bit, with fewer overall weapons and vehicles, no planes at all, no commander mode, and no medic class (the Support class has this stuff rolled up). Nor is there an Anti-tank class, as the Engineer has the anti-tank abilities instead. Finally, the multiple versions of maps in the original BF2 that allowed for different numbers of players, and a larger number of players overall, is not seen on the 360 at all. If EA had taken the time to put any of this stuff in, then maybe we could say that there'd be at least more than a graphics update on this next-gen port, but they didn't bother. This is a current-gen game with only barely-next-gen graphics.

Despite the game's problems, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is still fun if you play online and don't need any real depth in your first person shooters. Those who want a large battlefield with plenty of vehicles interacting won't find any better game currently on the 360, and while the graphics have been improved over current-gen versions, to some they still won't warrant the painful $60 price tag. If you're sick of trying to find an online game where you can just go blow people up without all the sitting around in lobbies, though, then Modern Combat is definitely for you.

Overall: 77%



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