War is hell, but not so much if you’re playing a video game. Thankfully, instead of churning out another World War II shooter from the assembly line to be stacked among the piles and piles of similar shooters based on the exploits of the “greatest generation”, the developers at DICE and publisher EA (egregious in its continuous production of Medal of Honor games whether anyone wants them or not) decided to update the formula to include modern weaponry. Battlefield 2: Modern Combat has everything from heat-seeking missiles to fully-loaded assault helicopters. Despite the disappointing turn this title made on the current-gen consoles, Battlefield 2 is another welcome diversion on the Xbox 360. It may not capture the attentions of PC gamers playing the title on their tricked out boxes, but the online capabilities of Xbox Live and the quantity of things to do (if not always quality) certainly makes this a worthwhile shooter.
The first thing that I noticed when finally getting into the game was the heft and depth of the graphics. They may not have blown me away with overwhelming detail or shocking light schemes, but the weight of the game was interesting. The previous Battlefield games always felt like cheap, plastic toys on some giant gaming board were hurling themselves against each other. Now, shooting an opponent or blowing up his precious equipment felt more real and rooted in an actual war zone setting. The explosion effects, the white hot tracer bullets and the clouds of dust all worked as well, it just seemed more fitting for an excellent Xbox game, as opposed to the wow-factor everyone is expecting from the next-gen systems.
However, looks aren’t everything. They happen to be damned important, just not everything. The bloody and terrifying action is what keeps the players coming to the Battlefield. Now, as is customary in the Battlefield series and it’s sci-fi clone, Star Wars: Battlefront, the single-player mode is pretty much there to give beginners a chance to try a few things before logging onto the multiplayer action. I don’t know if DICE was planning on making an aggressive attempt to create a robust single-player campaign, but it definitely doesn’t show. It is not that the single-player stuff is all that horrible, but basically the generic storyline of unrest in a former Soviet republic (in this case, starting in Kazakhstan) with the added chaos of Chinese interference means absolutely nothing as you plug along from escort to tactical sabotage missions while clicking off objectives on your virtual checklist.
Now, to help you along in this monotonous trek across a failing, war-torn state, the campaign contains a body-swapping mechanism allowing you to Switch bodies with AI teammates. All you have to do is look at one of your computer-controlled compadres (even at a long distance) and hit the ‘X’ button and a whooshing blur picks you up into the air and slams you into the perspective of the other guy. It’s a neat trick, and it does keep boredom at bay when you can be firing a heavy machine gun from a sand bag nest one second and then plugging an ensconced enemy from a sniping position the next second. Strangely, this feature is a bit of a double-edged sword, basically adding to the sense of being alone. You can’t get too attached to a bunch of no-name soldiers you can possess at any time. Sure, having 40 unlockable achievements helps, but this is a game to take online.
The multiplayer action pulls this game up from a mere “mediocre” to “very good”. The fact that you can easily jump into a punishing cauldron of seething violence with up to 24 of your closest friends, cronies, acquaintances or well-wishers, really ratchets up the intensity. Strategy really comes into play in a multiplayer map. Do you call in the air strikes? Should you take the docks by the river to prevent an enemy foothold? Will you be able to avoid enemy anti-aircraft fire? All great questions, and much more difficult to answer when fighting a thinking, breathing, nacho-chip-eating human being on the other end of the line. You can feel the terror of trying to hold your position while enemies hiding in shattered ruins of an urban environment fire the most technologically advanced weapons known to man. And it happens without too much lag! Plus, the Xbox Live custom matching allows for an easy, hassle-free way of finding an online match.
The audio actually shines in the 360 version of the game as well. War never sounded so good as bullets scream by with accurate whining noises and bombs rumble softly from a great distance, while roaring when the explosions take place nearby. The nerve-wracking moments come from being on the defensive. When opponents are lobbing RPGs at your position and sniping from some hidden place, the noises and the shouts of your teammates can seem like the only information your brain is receiving. The worst feeling is when you hear the low whirring of helicopter motors, or the whining of jet engines telling you that death is coming from above. If you think it’s easy taking out a low-flying helicopter with a shoulder-mounted, rocket launcher, you’re dead wrong. Especially when bullets thud into the concrete around you.
I can honestly say that I’m not very good at soldiering, but I still had fun. Starting out with a variety of classes, I can see that I have to work a little harder at being a Sniper even if I am able to take a brief assessment of enemy locations through the use of a handheld computer. Right now, I’m more suited to Assault, working my way from street to street laying down suppressing small arms fire. Spec Ops, Engineering and Support require a little more thinking as well, so getting better at the different combat styles really gives you a dangling carrot to chase. With sixteen maps, multiple play strategies and additional downloadable map content more than likely coming along down the pike, the replayability appeal is undeniable.
Battlefield 2: Modern Combat isn’t the spectacular next-gen title one could hope for, but it does deliver a communal online experience bar none and a decent enough single-player campaign to plod through when you want to be anti-social. Though Microsoft may not need any more first-person shooters on their shooter/racer heavy console, Battlefield 2 does nothing to really detract from the stable of quality gun games currently available, or on the way, for the Xbox 360. If playing online isn’t your thing, you probably won’t need to get this game, but if you have Xbox Live, that’s a good enough excuse for you to take a good, long look at why war can be cool when only your pride may get hurt.