However the really wonderful thing is that, at its best, Battlefield 2 makes you feel like part of an ensemble cast in the best war movie ever made. The new graphics engine certainly helps, and if the concrete installations, ruined buildings, massive hangers and sinister silos get samey, you can never say the same about the game’s wide rivers, rolling hills, dusty streets, or towering bridges. With an equally impressive physics engine, superb character models, and incredible EAX surround sound effects, the whole experience is simply breathtaking. Every Battlefield 2 player will have his favourite moments, but if there’s anything more thrilling than that last ditch defence as the tanks and helicopters roll in, that race to heal a fallen comrade under sniper fire, or that lunatic assault on a badly-defended enemy base, then it’s not in any other online game I’ve played.
So why not the perfect ten? Well, Battlefield has three major problems. The first is system requirements. The game will run on a mid-range Pentium 4 with 512Mb of RAM and a GeForce 5600/Radeon 9600, but you may need to switch to a lower resolution and medium to low detail settings to make it playable (don’t worry, it still looks good). Secondly, it doesn’t seem all that stable, and it definitely suffers from lag. Settling for a 32 player server certainly helps – and the game arguably plays better in the more concentrated 32 player maps – but mid-game crashes and occasional chug-a-thons are to be expected until the inevitable workarounds and patches emerge. At the moment, playing Battlefield 2 isn’t always the seamless experience it should be.
The third problem? Well, it’s not DICE’s fault – it’s us. Even though we have a game that goes out of its way to encourage team play and provides sophisticated means of communication, an awful lot of us aren’t taking full advantage. Squads are often dysfunctional or practically non-existent, VoIP is barely used. Commanders seem to exist primarily so there is someone to vote out when the team starts losing. Vehicles which could be used to ferry a whole squad into battle are grabbed by the first player that comes along and driven into the heart of an enemy camp (where they’re promptly blown up). It’s all mildly depressing.
Still, given time we might grow out of it. Remember playground football? How initially everyone wanted to attack, nobody wanted to defend, and even the goalie rushed out to have a shot at scoring? Didn’t we eventually find it a waste of time and learn how to play properly, using whatever talent we had and working as a team? Well, it’s probably the same here. At the moment, DICE has given us an amazing online action game to enjoy. One day, we might actually discover how to play it.
The next leap forward in online warfare, bogged down slightly by stability issues and the fact that hardly anyone plays it as it should be played. Give it time, and it’s going to be essential.