Now, I know DICE wanted to reward loyal players and make Battlefield 2142 as engrossing and addictive an experience as World of Warcraft, but if so I think the basic concept is mistaken. World of Warcraft isn’t necessarily competitive; Battlefield 2142 is, and the effect of the rank system may well be to alienate new players – who are going to have an even tougher time fighting established veterans as time goes on – and spoil the game for more casual players who haven’t got the hours to unlock each and every upgrade before they start really having fun. The hardcore fans will love it, but didn’t I also read DICE saying that Battlefield 2142 was meant to be a populist, mainstream sort of game?
Still, DICE might need all the help they can get with the hardcore, because veterans might be disappointed to find that Battlefield 2142 is closer to Battlefield 2 than the sci-fi setting might have you imagine. Forget combat evolved, this is in many respects modern combat in a near-future radiation suit, with similar landscapes, similar weapons, similar objectives and, in general, very similar gameplay. The guns and the outfits have changed to match the setting – EU forces against a Pan Asian Coalition in a resource-starved future Earth – but at a glance you might be hard pushed to distinguish 2142 from its illustrious predecessor. The game looks great, with the same attention to detail, lush lighting and atmospheric scenery as before, and there are some wonderful weather effects at work, but does it look much better than Battlefield 2? Not really. And when it comes to it, capturing and defending control points feels pretty much like it did last time around. The Internet voices complaining that 2142 is essentially a new skin on an old game do kind of have a point.
Of course, it’s not a totally fair point, and there are some real differences if you care to look for them. Firstly, after the slight confusion of classes added with the Special Forces mission pack, Battlefield 2142 has streamlined the kit system, rolling together some troop types and augmenting others so that, for instance, the general purpose Assault troop now doubles as a medic provided you give him the right upgrade. What’s more, the game is stacked with new vehicles, and while some are essentially augmented jeeps or tanks, others, like the hover-tank or the game’s signature Mech-like walkers have a radically different feel and demand new tactics, both offensive and defensive. Arguably, some maps suffer from having too much heavy artillery. At times, moving without armour feels a lot like suicide – though you can argue that this encourages teams to think more carefully about how they use their resources, and gives the new Recon class (part scout, part sniper) more of a battlefield role.
The biggest change, of course, is the addition of the new Titan missions. Here each team has one floating battle-cruiser to protect and a rival cruiser to obliterate, and doing so means occupying automated missile silos so that they can fire off strikes and run down the enemy Titan’s shields. Once that’s done you can either send off more salvos and wreck the Titan’s hull, or – more daringly – land on the Titan by air and attack vital controls from the inside.