I had no real intention to play Battlefield 2, nor did I know when it was coming out, but I was given some “encouragement” and a high-speed download link for the demo and thus, after a dozen minutes, I couldn’t not install it.
I have never played the previous Battlefield games. In fact, the Battlefield 2 demo is the first PC game I have played online since, literally, the early days of Counter Strike (and the late days of Delta Force). Yet, despite all this, BF2 feels very familiar. In a good way.
Once you get past the irritating game interface (why does that feel like the standard? ARGH) and into the actual game, you pretty much know where to go, what to do, and how to do it. BF2 doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel at the macro combat level, and as such it remains (relatively) accessible at that get-in-and-mindlessly-shoot-things level.
And it does that scale of things well. The classes seem balanced, the weapons and the damage they inflict feel fair (including the not rediculously over-powered sniper rifles), the vehicles don’t dominate the game (a good infantry group can take out any ground-based vehicle pretty effectively), and the stock map seems to have many different tactical options. It does what has been previously done (and not solely in the previous Battlefield games), and it does it well.
On the micro level, the game becomes more complex. You have your commanders calling air strikes and launching UAVs and dropping supplies, enemy artillery and radar sites to destroy, the more complex air vehicles, the squads with their own unique objectives and the (rather strategic) spawn points that follow the squad leader. All these options (and more) are there, though poorly documented and explained in the demo, if you choose to get deeper into the game, but they are never essential for a quick gaming experience. They don’t ever alienate the more “casual” player.
The squad leader spawn points, in particular, are a great feature that can make an assault on a base that much more intense and strategic. However, in the hands of an incompetent leader, that spawn point can become a liability. I was playing on one server with zero spawn time — a crazy game experience on its own right — and I kept spawning in the gun turret of my commander’s attacking tank. The tank was tearing it up in the enemy base, but I kept spawning in the vulnerable turret position with a giant target on my head. I think I was killed four times in a row before I even realized (thanks to the instant respawns) that I was getting sniped. When I clued in, I immediately changed my spawn point and removed myself from that squad.
As with virtually all online games, the competence of the other players and the capabilities of the server are almost as important to the enjoyment of the game as the actual game design. If you find yourself on a server running off a 28k modem, or on a server infested with team-killing parasites, or on a server where the team balance is 32 to 20 (ARGH), or on a server full of soloing players that don’t realize that this is a team oriented game, you’re going to be more frustrated than jubilant.
But if you find yourself on that one utopian server (of death!), then Battlefield 2 can be very enjoyable. And if you find yourself consistently at the top of the scoreboards*, than that enjoyment increases ten fold. It can turn 11pm to 4am without you even realizing it.
(* <brag>Too bad that BF2 seems to have a (almost too convenient) screenshot eating bug, because then I could backup my bragging with proof. Hey, just because I don’t play PC shooters often doesn’t mean that I am an amateur! Now you’ll just have to take my word for it. </brag>)