Have you ever been run over by a tank?
Go on. Be honest. Don't woooorry, we wont tell anyone if you've been hit by a real tank. Chances are if you've suffered that indignity any concerns have long since passed away. But if you've had the glory-cum-humiliation of seeing a large virtual US Army steamroller toward you, only to realise it was your own team-mate driving, there will be a special warmth in your heart right now. If you haven't enjoyed that experience, then the chance is coming. Soon.
And if you're still wondering what we're blathering on about, welcome the wonderful world of Battlefield: Modern Combat. Where all your tank dreams can come true. Especially the one where you repeatedly drive over your 'ally' in a fit of revenge. Oh yes.
Onwards to Battle
Of course, petty vengeance and large armoured vehicles are not the only things Digital Illusions' modern war title is about. But, as it arrives in the console world, fresh from the still-smoking and successful franchise run on PC, the preview version we enjoyed naturally raked its crosshairs across some of the more obvious stuff the non-WASD brigade may be missing if they haven't played the originals.
So for the uninitiated, a Battlefield primer is simple. You pick a side from a choice of the United States, China and the Middle East Coalition; choose your class (fancy being a sniper? Or maybe artillery? Or...); get dropped into a map with your team; and set out to insert lots of bullets/shells/tank treads into the opposition. Nuts, meet bolts.
The more rounded description starts giving you a better idea of where the fun starts, though. Yes, you get fired into typical war-torn map, but from the spacious selection of 13 that will appear in the final game, there's a vast multitude of environmental details and factors. Desert plains are cursed with sandstorms but blessed with small water troughs that can be used to you tactical advantage (or the less advantageous use: drowning). Russian borders are full of mountains and slight snowdrifts. Urban areas are littered with huts and abandoned cars, handy for taking fire and driving around. In fact, there are over 30 beloved vehicles dotted around the large landscapes to help out, with the likes of helicopters and Hummers clear favourites for grazing the killing fields. Oh, and tanks. They're popular too. Ahem.
Ever thought about joining the Armed Forces, son?
Should you want to dispatch your foes the more traditional way, there's a selection of around 70 weapons to cock, lock and drop. That's a lot of pain to dispatch, and the usual suspects in the shape of assault rifles, rockets, shotguns and sniper rifles are joined with high tech, like heat-seeking missiles and laser designated bombs to keep things interesting. There are slight variations depending on which team you choose, but the results are effectively the same; hurt or be hurt, kill or be killed.
Ack, there's that issue of over-simplifying again. Okay, here's another layer to the cake: 24 players simultaneously, online, with voiceover communication - even on the PlayStation 2 version. Yum. The hall EA set up for us to play naturally didn't need headsets given that you could hear the screams of anguish from your friends and foes mere meters away, but in a game like this, the more the merrier.
The single multiplayer map with several other gamers roaming the landscapes gave a lot of scope for exploration, and to truly enjoy the scale offered by Battlefield. We walked around a gorgeous, sand-strewn town during sunset, taking in the marvels of the well-crafted environments that boast size and detail. In its nearly complete form, both Xbox and PS2 versions were looking amazing. Crisp, colourful and fast-paced, keeping a nice even frame rate for most of the time. It was a sight to behold, almost mesmerising for a while - to the point where we had to stop and take it all in for a moment. And that's when we were run over. By that tank. Dash it!
Respawning for another go (and more importantly, ready for team-mates who kill without prejudice) we found Battlefield to be just as engaging as its PC counterpart, even in the limited (single map, less than 10 players) conditions of the playtest. Digital Illusions has obviously had to take into consideration the lack of keyboard and mouse control, but it felt more than smooth enough a transition to keep all but the most finicky hardcore happy.
There's a definite arcade immediacy to it which was possibly due to the confines imposed compared to what would be expected for the full game come its autumn/winter release, but what was accentuated by the play was the sheer amount of fun to be had. Make no mistake, neophytes and hardened veterans alike offered very few negative takes on the day. It was instantly engaging and extremely playable.
A substantial amount of fun was had working as a team (a team, dammit, not some wretched mercenary with a vehicle fetish... grrr) and making your way around the various obstacles, spying enemies from a distance and wiping out a batch of them with one well-aimed shot. Virtual war zones become action movie settings, complete with salty language for taste. Assaults are planned with the expert precision of a well-oiled team or, in some unnamed cases, with the expert precision of a lobotomised chimp. Either way, it reminds you of some of the best reasons online multiplayer gaming exists - random causality, unpredictability and talking points for after.
Tanked up and ready to roll
Sadly, the little time spent with the single-player didn't reveal too much of what to expect by comparison, but enough to keep it promising for those without the ability to link up with some friends. The level of detail was increased somewhat, as to be expected, although it consequently meant the frame rate dropped a little to compensate. Having said that, given the time left for the game's completion and the complaints about the relatively sparse solitary campaign in the PC original, we have hopes for this to be rectified along with some extras to add a little more longevity for single gamers.
So, all in all, things are looking pretty sure-fire for Battlefield: Modern Combat in the coming months. It was certainly impressive enough to take praise as one of EA's more potent showings, with its slick gameplay, proud PC roots and lush presentation.
But when you get around to playing, please remember for everyone's sake: while it's fine to love the tank, we don't want to be one with it. Especially when we're on the same muthaloving side. Over and out.