You can almost imagine the meeting: the bigwigs from EA and the guys at DICE getting together to discuss how to follow up Battlefield 2. “Hey”, says one of the money men, “Let’s make this the most controversial Battlefield ever.” “How?” replies a DICE dude, “Do you want us to get edgy? Have the troops shooting up with performance-enhancing drugs, or blowing up civilians willy-nilly? Shall we up the overt political content? Set it in North Korea? Have the US troops sticking it to Kim Jong-Il?” “Nope” the suit replies, “That’s not the sort of controversy we have in mind. We were thinking spyware, in-game advertising, poor security practice, patches and a game that has the hardcore fans practically screaming ‘glorified mod’.” “Great!”, says a DICE designer “we’ve got plenty of ideas in that direction.”
Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. In truth the spyware thing has been blown out of all proportion. Yes, EA is using your IP address to bombard you with vaguely relevant in-game advertising, but it’s not watching your browsing habits and squirrelling the information away on its world-domination ready servers. Admittedly, there is an argument that a) we don’t want in-game advertising, b) it’s not as if EA is making Battlefield 2142 cheaper as a direct result and b) it’s not as if EA needs the money. It’s also slightly odd to want to advertise in a game set after an environmental crisis and the end of civilization as we know it. Who wants to be the biggest name in street fashion or the automobile industry in a clutch of war-torn cities on a mutilated planet?
And while we’re moaning, let’s just say that Battlefield 2142 doesn’t exactly have the best ‘out of the box’ experience. Firstly, you have to install a patch within days of the game shipping – doesn’t exactly scream quality control, does it? Secondly, actually getting the game to connect to the main EA server can involve opening more ports on your firewalls than anything I’ve ever seen. Thanks guys. Nothing makes my morning like a trip through my router’s configuration menus and with malware proliferating and getting ever more intelligent, I really want to open a big enough hole in my security for the hacker equivalent of the Spanish Armada to sail through. I’d excuse the hassle if Battlefield 2142 was the smoothest online experience of all time, but amazingly it’s even more tetchy about connections than the notoriously sulky Battlefield 2. I’m sure all will be resolved with time, but don’t be surprised if you’re booted off servers or face intermittent connection failures quite a bit, in the early days at least.
However, I think all the above issues will be forgotten about after a couple of months. What won’t be is the game itself; Battlefield 2142 is as good as Battlefield gets, but your appreciation of it will be either hampered or enhanced by factors which could easily have you swinging either way.
The first is the decision to include an MMORPG-style levelling system. As you fight (online and on ranked servers only) your soldier earns points for kills, assists, neutralisation and capture of control points, etc, etc. Earn enough points, and you graduate to the next rank. This in itself is fine, but DICE has linked ranking-up to a series of unlockable soldier upgrades, affecting either individual classes or global abilities.