So here's the thing: Modern Combat has little to do with the stellar PC game, Battlefield 2. The '2' moniker on this title seems almost accidental, since this is not a conversion of the PC game, but a from-scratch console reworking of the Battlefield idea. It has the same general theme of contemporary tanks and infantry, as encapsulated in the 'Modern Combat' subtitle, but as an experience it looks and feels rather different (and tastes, too, if you do that sort of thing). Of course this difference could be a good thing; we don't really want PC and Xbox to be inbred cousins, but instead independent and viable gaming fellows with their own individual spread of tempting DVD dishes. But, hnnngh, I can't help but make comparisons between the glorious fire-fights on my PC, and what's on my TV. No, no! Must... push... thoughts... aside...
So: staying consistent with its forefathers, Modern Combat is a class-based FPS in which your combat kit defines your abilities. It's also a distinct brand of vehicular combat with a strong theme of multiplayer action. Click your way through to Xbox Live and you'll discover each of the dozen battlefields to be littered with swearing men and armoured vehicles. The vehicles can be commandeered for quick transport and the people can be shot for even quicker 'deaths' of up to twenty-four other human beings. You can choose between assault (nice big gun), sniper (long range, with smaller gun), support (medic and average gun) and engineer (hey, bazooka!). Thus equipped, troops must use the tools at their disposal to aid their comrades, healing the wounded, transporting the tardy, and exploding the enemy.
Interestingly Modern Combat doesn't feel like a 'keep your fxxkin head down!' type soldier sim, instead it's much closer to the less constricted deathmatch games we're all-too familiar with. (Lots of running, some jumping.) The pace is pretty fast, and although you can crawl or crouch, you're generally going to be legging it between bits of cover and squeezing out as many bullets as you can before death. The weapons too feel simple and solid. Better still, the ragdoll deaths are a delight, especially when someone gets shot up by two or three people at the same time. Bodies go flying, dead limbs whirling, it's beautiful in a hideously morbid way.
Anyway, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat doesn't rely solely on online play, it also delivers a single-player campaign of vaguely interlinked missions. This is a brief objective-based affair in which you fight alongside multiple troopers whom you can swap between if they are in line-of-sight of your current charge. This 'hot-swapping' is an interesting idea, and comes with its own snappy 'zoom' effect as you fly between the perspectives of different people. But it doesn't just look good: it also encourages you to keep friendlies in sight, therefore curbing those loner tendencies that army folk really worry about. Hot-swapping allows for some great on-the-spot killing tricks and traps, but it's also often accompanied by confusion and death.
Nevertheless the finest moments in Modern Combat's single-player emerge from judicious use of the hot-swap. You're not just one sniper on the roof, you're a bunch of them across the whole town, and you can leap between them to get that vital shot in. Although actually the sniper mission is a bit annoying. Here's a better example: early on in the campaign I was pinned down by an enemy tank (which, for some reason, occasionally disappeared through the floor) and was able to zwoosh to an AI engineer who, at his own automagical initiative, had scaled a nearby rooftop. Unholstering my enormous bazooka (missus) I was able to kill the tank and his nearby friend in just a couple of shots.
The hot-swap is the standout idea in Modern Combat's otherwise fairly bland single-player campaign. The missions are all fairly predictable, although racing about in armoured vehicles with .50 calibre machineguns strapped to the top doesn't lose its appeal all that quickly. Hot-swapping, though, gives it the sense of being something new: even when it doesn't always work, it gives Modern Combat's single-player a unique and startling feel.
Perhaps our love of mounted machineguns is the reason why the vehicular combat sub-genre is growing so dangerously fast. Ever since Battlefield 1942 the idea of fighting in a camouflaged arena with tanks, flying things and infantry has only been accelerating in popularity. It's in a mid-period of difficulty maturation now: there are going to be low points, high points, and those middle points that no one knows what to do with. Modern Combat is one of those. It adopts the idea of accessibility, making sure to plot a route away from PC-style complexities and towards Halo-style intuitive play. But it doesn't quite work. Such design decisions quite often leave games stranded somewhere in between two good places. As a result Modern Combat simply isn't going to drive a piece of hot shrapnel through your gaming glands in the way that a dozen other classic soldier games might have done. It's without the best kind of vibrant excitement, and simply lacks the battle-intensity that the best of these kind of games can get so right. There's a measure of international-standard fun in here, especially in the online modes, where real-time chat always comes into its own. Yes, it does have jeeps and bazookas of a kind that force a smile to flicker across our cold, dead faces, but sometimes that's not enough.
Ultimately, if you're unfair enough to want to compare this with Battlefield 2 on the PC you'll see that Modern Combat is a weaker, uglier imitation that lacks the detail and versatility that the original game wields with such ease. It doesn't make you fear the shriek and boom of lead because everything has been turned down a notch. Fun, yes, but not exhilarating in the way that the best games should be. It also lacks the painterly detail of Battlefield 2's levels, which seem so natural in the density of their trash-strewn details. As such Modern Combat fails to clinch greatness, but it's a moderate amusement anyway. Maybe it's the way those Humvees bounce...