This landmine is your landmine.
The first sign that Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is a Battlefield game is its oddly numbered title. It's actually the first Battlefield game for the consoles, while Battlefield 2 for the PC was really Battlefield 3. Apparently the guys at DICE don't know how to count, but they do know how to make kickass video games.
Besides, Modern Combat really is Battlefield 2 for your home console, so the name is appropriate. Just like the PC version, the game pits American Forces against China and a Middle Eastern coalition on large maps full of vehicles with all the same classes, and tops everything off with riotous gameplay. This is not an impersonation of Battlefield 2 - this is it, making Modern Combat one of the best online shooters available for any console.
DICE has done such a good job emulating the experience that they even included the series' signature flaws. The single-player game is awful, so you shouldn't look twice if you don't have broadband access, and the selection of match types is limited to two – Conquest and Capture the Flag. Modern Combat also introduces some issues of its own, and while few, they're significant. The game isn't perfect, it's Battlefield.
The online content is what matters most, so we'll start there. The front end is smooth and streamlined, making it easy to jump into a quick match or set filters and search for a game that suits your fancy. There's a leaderboard, friends list, in-game clan option, medal scheme and plenty of tracked stats, pretty much everything you'd need in an online shooter.
When you jump into a game, you'll spawn at your team's base and scramble to capture victory points while fending off the other team. Once a Victory Point is captured, your players can spawn there when killed, and if you control a majority of the points on the field your opponents' reinforcements (a point value displayed on the screen) will begin to deplete until they run out and you win the match. Dubbed Conquest mode, this has always been the basis of the Battlefield series; if you aren't familiar with it read some of our other Battlefield reviews here and here.
Modern Combat maps are usually situated with a base at each end and some huge feature like a Middle-Eastern city or dam in the middle that includes three or four capture points. The map design, from one end of the field to the other, is excellent. Outlying areas are full of trees and tall grasses, and the central areas usually contain bombed-out buildings, alleyways, avenues, multi-leveled terraces and gardens for close-quarters skirmishes. Even maps that seem practically designed for snipers, like the awesome Bridge Too Far, feature all sorts of cover for other classes, plus an elevated freeway system and awesome jumps for the vehicles. Maps like this one are why the game is called Battlefield.
Humping around these large maps is slow on foot, which is why they're littered with all manner of regularly spawning vehicles, including cars, trucks, APCs, tanks, boats, and choppers. Ground vehicles are fast, physically accurate and easy to handle using only the left analog stick, while helicopters are much more difficult to control, albeit lethal in the hands of a skilled pilot. The vehicles are fun to drive and make getting from one place to another much easier, but their usefulness doesn't end with their mobility. For instance, you can load a dune buggy with C4, haul ass towards an enemy base, jump out and serve your foes with a high-speed car bomb.
Such antics could prove overpowered were it not for the well-balanced classes. Snipers, Assault troops, Special Forces operatives, Engineers and Support troops all play critical roles, and each is capable of dispatching a wide array of unit types with little trouble. Helicopter giving you a hard time? Switch to a Sniper and paint it with your laser for a lethal guided missile strike. Tank killing all your homies? Sneak around behind and plant some C4 on its butt, then blow it to smithereens as a Spec Op. Every class comes with an assortment of weapons and tools, from rifles, SMGs and pistols to grenades, land mines, and proximity detectors to ensure a good time regardless of your class du jour.
And they all control wonderfully thanks to a sensible control scheme and cool engine. Players can run like Michael Johnson, jump, crouch, lie prone and quickly switch to any weapon in their arsenal by simply holding a button and flicking the R-stick in the appropriate direction. Firing the various weapons feels great, and thrown grenades follow a sensible arc, bouncing the way they should. Plus, all units come with parachutes, so base jumping and leaping from helicopters into Victory Points is safe and easy.
The kits and vehicles are good for more mayhem than you can shake a nuke at, but shall flee in the face of the series' signature weapon of mass destruction – the artillery strike. Every map contains a computer terminal that periodically comes online, granting you a look at an overhead map of the field - complete with the location of every unit - as well as the ability to rain fiery destruction down on any point you choose. You simply move a targeting reticule over an area, press the shiny red button and Halle-falujah! It's raining bombs.
While the Battlefield series has always been decorated as hardcore, DICE evidently thought its reassignment to consoles called for a slightly softer core interface. This is most clearly evident in the way enemies that should be visible are marked by a red diamond, even if they're hiding in the grass. Seeing and being seen by enemies has never been easier, somewhat undermining the whole point of the grass. Aside from that, Modern Combat just feels a little easier than its PC comrades.
But it's still really hard. Everything in this game – the maps, the troops, the vehicles, the way troops interact with vehicles – is filled with tons of nuances, and until you've got a grip on the game's millions of little details, you'll burn in random death hell. The flipside of this, of course, is that when you learn this game you will become a master of evil. The devil is definitely in the details.
And so are Modern Combat's major problems. Our biggest gripe is the fact that online players can't create their own games. Want to get together with some friends in a room of your own? Forget it. There are loads of dedicated servers and one of them is probably running a game you want to play, but you'll always be a guest.
Another issue is the low player cap - both console versions max out at twenty-four players. This is forgivable on the PS2, where only SOCOM 3 has broken the thirty player mark, but Xbox owners should rightfully feel gypped. If the PS2 version can support twenty-four players, the Xbox version should support thirty-six, and that should mean even bigger maps. This is still the most exciting online multiplayer game for either system since Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, but it should be better on the Xbox.
Even though both versions are called Battlefield 2, neither one benefits from the PC version's one major innovation – the Commander scheme. This wasn't even a graphically intensive feature; it was organizational and would have worked well here. Guess this game isn't so modern after all.
But at least, with its god-awful single-player campaign, it's contemporary. Here is told an obtuse tale of conflict in Kazakhstan, with the U.S. entering the region for - what else – oil, and China getting frisky over so many foreign troops near their borders. But instead of telling an actual story, every three missions or so you play from the other side. Meant to highlight the moral ambiguity of war and the propagandizing that takes place on both sides of the field, this just serves to confuse you.
You won't feel confused or ambiguous about the quality of the actual missions, however. These try to emulate the online battles, but without any means of coordinating or ordering your troops, they quickly dissolve into an infuriating mess. In an effort to solve this, the game lets you "hot swap" between squadmates, but that only goes for troops you can see and when you die you have no control over who you come back as. In some linear levels, you'll get to the end and die, only to be teleported into the body of some dumb private who was hiding at the very beginning of the level. Argh!
While we'd love to see a game with big, awesome online content deliver a good single-player campaign, none of the recent entries (SOCOM 3 and Star Wars Battlefront II) have been able to pull it off, so EA's offline double-bogie is still par for the course.
Besides, Modern Combat's presentation is its ace in the hole. Everything about this game is crisp, clean and geared toward completely immersing you in outlandish violence. The framerate is consistent, the draw distance is impressively long (even on the PS2) and the explosions are out of control. While the PS2 version has no business looking as good as it does, the Xbox version (finally) benefits from its burlier hardware, featuring lots of neat visual effects for a decisive graphical edge.
While neither version features the evocative sound effects and score of the Star Wars universe, neither suffers from SOCOM 3's horrible, aural diarrhea, either. The guns sound like guns, the explosions sound like explosions, and the whole package sounds a lot like war.
And if war is hell, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is fun as hell. It suffers from several obvious shortcomings, but accomplishes what only a week ago seemed impossible by providing console gamers with the full Battlefield experience. You've heard our call, now get out there and fight.