EA Games Battlefield 2142
You shouldn't look a gift hovertank in the mouth
- Jittery vehicle controls, awkward, slow-loading menu interface, wonky physics
It's too bad 2142 isn't a major evolution over the titles that came before it but it's entertaining enough, and as the old saying goes, you shouldn't look a gift hovertank in the mouth.
Price$ 69.95 (AUD)
Post-apocalyptic online shooters are all the rage these days. 2007's Enemy Territory: Quake Wars will pit scrappy humans against vicious cyborg invaders; Frontlines: Fuel of War, meanwhile, envisions a resource-starved planet struggling over the last remaining drops of oil.
Those titles will have some catching up to do because Battlefield 2142 is first to the fight. The game is like a shot of adrenaline when compared to last year's sleepy Battlefield 2, but it doesn't leverage its futuristic setting to maximum effect. In short, it's a good game, but not a great one.
The Day After The Day After Tomorrow
Though it might sound a little pretentious, the Battlefield series belongs in a separate class all by itself. The first game, Battlefield 1942, pioneered early online combat shooters by introducing massive 64-player warzones complete with drivable tanks, planes, and APCs, with appropriately explosive results. Later iterations changed the setting (Battlefield: Vietnam) and the presentation (Battlefield 2), but the FPS-meets-MMO spirit remained firmly intact.
This spirit remains true for Battlefield 2142, a game that takes only modest steps towards differentiating itself from its predecessors. It whisks gamers into a future world where war has put civilisation on the brink of self-annihilation. Global warming has triggered a rapid-onset ice age that will quickly swallow the last few acres of farmable land.
Unsurprisingly, war breaks out over control of the precious temperate zones, though the major players have changed: the European Union, (Western countries like the US and much of Europe) clashes with the Pan Asian Coalition (most of Eurasia teamed with the Middle East). The scope of war has changed, too, with monstrous hovering Titan bases now darkening the skies of almost every battlefield.
It's an intriguing premise, but the developers were surprisingly timid when it came to inventing futuristic hardware. The game is set almost 150 years into the future but most of these weapons are just flashier variations of current-gen killing tech like machine guns and pistols. Sure, some guns fire cool dart-like flechettes or tungsten-core slugs, and muzzle flashes are now a brilliant blue (as opposed to a brilliant yellow), but on a fundamental level they work and feel just like modern-day conventional weapons. Where are the smart guns, the vehicle-mounted lasers, and the skull-exploding acoustic cannons? If this is the best weaponry the future can come up with, maybe they deserve to freeze.
Thankfully, Battlefield 2142 continues the series' tradition of excellent visuals, but that edge is slowly dulling with time. Though 2142 puts on a sturdy show, it's a cautionary tale concerning the critical role of art direction. On an artistic design level, the game is boring, boring, boring. The future, it seems, is painted in nothing but dirty browns and grimy blues, with an occasional smear of dull red. You'll need to go watch some Saturday morning cartoons after playing to recharge your rods and cones.
While it's true that 2142's visual style is shooting for that cool David Fincher/Nine Inch Nails rust-and-disuse vibe, the sameness of the environments (icy tundras, dusty desert dives, snow-logged city limits) quickly grows thematically tiresome. The designers should have looked to films such as Terminator 2 or Blade Runner to for inspiration on how to pull off a unique vision of the future.
On the technical side, though, the game pumps out some pretty pixels, complete with heat haze effects, volumetric explosions (blooming clouds, showering debris), and distortion effects that telegraph shellshock and EMP blasts. You won't see the raw level of visual detail you'd find in say F.E.A.R or Oblivion, but considering the fact that 2142 is basically an MMO game, it looks just fine.
There are some visual problems, too, like wonky physics that make bodies bounce like Superballs, or the way objects shimmer and swim at a distance. There's also noticeable draw-in on some maps, which isn't a terrible surprise given the enormity of the levels. And unless you've got a top of the line video card, don't expect to play the game with anything approaching the highest settings.
Our more than capable test rig, which was equipped with a 3.4 Ghz Pentium 4, 2 gigs of RAM and a Radeon X800 XT Platinum, delivered super-solid frame rates only after we set the game to "medium" visual settings and the resolution to 1024 x 768. On the plus side, the game scales quite nicely to accommodate lesser machines, so our MacBook Pro (via Boot Camp) was able to power through big battles on low-to-medium settings, which still provided a pleasing visual experience.
The audio is also strong and does a great job of bringing 2142's dystopian future alive. The sound of deafening explosions, whizzing projectiles, and screaming aircraft engines are everywhere and they make you believe that you are in the middle of a warzone. Even the game's stomping title song sounds appropriately urgent and bloodthirsty. We also like the ethnic mish-mash voice transmissions of the PAC forces, which adds a dash of flair to the straight-laced war talk.
Visuals aside, 2142's gameplay is still fundamentally the same. Its Conquest mode is the same variation of capture the flag that we've been playing for years. Its new Titan mode, however, gently pushes the formula to new heights, literally. These giant hovering warships act as respawn and resupply posts; it's up to each team to sabotage the other's Titan using ground-based rocket attacks or infiltrating the craft and detonating its central core. When you're stubbornly defending a Titan core against enemy invaders, it's hard not to reminisce about the early days of Starsiege: Tribes. In fact, you'll find parallels between Tribes and 2142 everywhere: fleets of powerful vehicles, vulnerable high-tech bases, and multiple player classes. That alone might be enough to convince veterans to give 2142 a shot.
You should also forget about the so-called "single-player" mode, as it's rubbish. The bot A.I. has seen only a slight boost from previous games, and it's still routine to see enemy soldiers running in mindless circles or guiding Battle Walkers straight into barriers. But that hardly matters anyway, as the game is laser-focused on its online experience. And what an experience it is.
The new unlockable equipment (anti-tank rifles, optical camouflage, and anti-vehicle mines, to name just a few) keeps interest high and play sessions long as you try to earn your way to a better arsenal. And with some 40 pieces of unlockable equipment across four character classes, plus assorted medals, badges, and honorifics, you'll be kept plenty busy. Generally, online performance is good for a game that boasts a massive 64-player game limit (only 48 are supported in the new Titan mode, though). Needless to say, a high-speed internet connection is mandatory.
Fighting the (Pretty) Good Fight
It won't blow your mind, but Battlefield 2142 is a solid online shooter with an enormous fan base and plenty of servers. So what's not to like? The lack of major gameplay evolution, for one. Jittery vehicle controls (why can't Battle Walkers strafe?) and an awkward, slow-loading menu interface are others gripes that spring to mind. We're also hoping that EA and DICE will release more maps soon to boost the ones already available.
But these imperfections won't stop most online warriors from logging on. That's because Battlefield, in its best moments, is one of the most perfect and pure online experiences around.
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