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Tycho / on Mon, Jun 13 2005 at 4:30 am

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Gaze Ye Upon It, And Be Amazed

So now I’ve gone from nothing I’m really playing consistently to trying to manage World of Goddamn Warcraft, Guild Wars, Freedom Force Vs The Third Reich, and now that Battlefield 2 demo.  Like the mortar between them, any spare second is occupied by El Grande, which as you all know is the strategische Brettspiel von Wolfgang Kramer für den PC.  I mean, obviously.

Let’s go into this Battlefield demo for a bit.

Usually when (cables firmly attached) I ease myself down into some fevered game enthusiast forum, no sooner have I entered in than I give the signal to ascend and be done with it.  All conversations in asymmetrical mediums eventually crack and spill out an equal measure of malefactors and sycophants, but Battlefield 2 is the one time where everyone is actually right.  Outside of the player models and animations themselves, I’m comfortable calling the overall improvement from Desert Combat incremental.  The on foot, infantry experience still feels somewhat loose and ethereal compared to even the least of the available vehicles.  The system requirements are such that many people who might be easy converts simply aren’t able to run the application - or, in running it, learn that it may be time once again to spend a nonsensical amount of money on a new video card, perhaps four times what a console gamer might pay for their entire system.  If that person is considering a Gamecube, six.  Some people have other reasons for not being able to run the software in question, shameful reasons, and it’s best if we never speak of it again.

This is all for an experience that, at least initially, plays identically to a game you probably have installed already and may play with no fee.  For me, when any game since Halo doesn’t have an animation for your character getting in the vehicle they lose like ten points, and the scale only goes up to ten.  So the game started at zero. 

There are features like the Commander Screen I can’t speak about with much authority, because I’ve only felt the secondary effects of the position - like being pulverized by our own Artillery after we’ve secured a victory location or dropping valuable supplies behind enemy lines.  There’s a new interface for communicating with the team that is much improved:  I appreciate that spotting enemy vehicles and so forth is a lot easier now and can be a genuine part of play.  If your class has a special feature - such as the ability to heal, dispense ammunition, or repair - your teammates feel the effects of this ability any time you have your medical kit (or what have you) in hand.  It’s a passive thing, and it occurs in a radius.  What’s more, anytime you jump in a vehicle, that vehicle then gives off a radius of that effect - and a plainly displayed icon lets compatriots know where they can get what they need.  The ability of medics to use shock paddles and bring back players is nice, but the infantry game in Battlefield has always been so lethal that I haven’t seen it unbalance things yet.   

The main feature, the thing that really elevates things, is the Squad system.  You have read the same FAQs I have, I have absolute faith in this, so you know the basic idea.  It adds a subtext to the larger conflict that allows for (it sounds odd to say it) intimacy, even on a gigantic map full of players.   

You join squads on the same screen you use to choose spawns and class loadouts.  Each squad has their own voice channel, and since the person in charge of a squad can kick and lock access to the group, these bodies have a marvelous capacity for self-regulation.  When I play, we typically use our own VoIP method - but the built-in solution isn’t bad, and slightly lowers the volume while people are talking.  It did screw up my Skype somehow.  Anyway, I got sidetracked.   

The biggest problem I have with Battlefield is that it’s hard to keep track of where my friends are.  There’s just no excuse for it in any game, but when the maps escalate to the size these do - and the version in the demo isn’t as large as it will be in the final - simply spawning at the same point they did is insufficient.  Desert Combat (and Battlefield expansions) allowed spawning into certain moving vehicles, which was a great step, but the Squad system does it properly - by making the squad leader a spawn point for their hand-selected group of soldiers.  So if the squad leader is in a vehicle, that vehicle becomes a spawn.  It creates tug-of-war situations with great frequency, where enemy forces will push on a position and deal casualties, and the squad leader tries to survive just long enough to bring in another group.  I was in teams with complete strangers my first couple games where an odd but automatic sort of deference was paid to the squad leader, a layer I did not expect.  Your crew is designated as separate from other teammates, in your view and on the map, and when you’re engaged in some “maneuver” you really feel like a distinct group with your own objectives.   

So, yes.  It’s a lot of fun if you can run it.

(CW)TB out.

just scream it from the wall

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