This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on October 7, 2005
Tf you would have asked me a year ago if there could ever be an online combat immersion game as addictive as the "CounterStrike" mod for "Half-Life," my answer would have been a resounding "No."
But that was before I started playing BattleField 2.
The sequel to "Battlefield 1942," BattleField 2 has even less of a single-player component to it than BF 1942 did. There are bot-inhabited single-player scenarios you can play for practice or initial training, but this is a game meant to be played online with and against others.
At the heart of BF2 is the rating system every time you play on what is called a "ranked" server, you have the opportunity to earn career points. The Electronic Arts servers track all the ranked servers, and as you accumulate career points, you rise in both military rank (buck private, private first class, lance corporal, etc.) and in commander priority.
What this last part means is that when you join an online game and are assigned to one of the two teams in each game, you can apply to be your team's commander. The server then selects the applicant with the most career points. (However, if you happen to truly stink at being commander, your teammates can vote you out in a bloodless mutiny.)
Another benefit of playing online (did I mention that the online play is free?) is that you can also unlock advanced weapons as you advance in rank. (And might I point out that, as a low-ranking pfc with no unlocked weapons, some of those advanced weapons look pretty cool.)
A ton of fun
What also sets BF2 apart from other multiplayer first-person shooters is the use of vehicles. Those who played BF 1942 got used to driving tanks and jeeps and flying World War II airplanes. In BF2, it's not just tanks and planes @150; it's armored personnel carriers, mobile anti-aircraft guns, helicopters (both attack ships and transport) and one- and two-seat fighter/ground attack jets.
The beauty of the BF2 system is that even if you can't figure out for the life of you how to fly these contraptions (the rest of you line up behind me), you can still hop in one as the weapons officer. I've had some of my best scores flying alongside a talented pilot who will line up on opposing targets as I take them out. (Of course, I've also unknowingly hopped into planes with players who pilot about as well as I do and promptly died as we flew into a mountain/building/hangar.)
But beyond the game play and career ladder, what is really at the heart of BF2 is teamwork. Built around squads, BF2 awards points for capturing enemy checkpoints something done much quicker in a group. You also get points for cooperating in battle damage and killing assists.
And if you kill your own teammates too often, you'll not only lose points from your career ladder, you'll find yourself banned from certain servers.
Perhaps it shows we're still primitives at heart, but there's a definite adrenalin rush to be found when you're in a convoy of tanks rumbling up toward an enemy stronghold with helos and fighter jets battling it overhead.
The business model
So how can EA Games support all these free servers and not charge for online play?
Well, as I write this, a new BF2 add-on is being readied for release "Battlefield 2: Special Forces." So it seems EA Games intends to get us hooked on the BF2 experience, and then sell us upgrades and improvements.
And groups of friends who team up in a "clan" (a concept that first developed during Quake multiplayer play) can rent servers from EA Games. In fact, most of the servers on the 'Net are being rented by clans. But since most clans don't have enough members for a 32- or 64-player game, they open them up to the public on a first-come, first-served basis (and reserve the right to kick non-clan i.e., non-paying players off their servers.
Adding to the experience
If, like me, you have friends who are also hooked on BF2, you might want to sign up for the free community at Battlefield 2 Stats Tracker (www.bf2tracker.com/). Once you add your friends to your buddy list, you can see which servers they're playing on - and hop in to join them. It's a pretty darn cool service, apparently run by some BF2 fanatics who want to share the love.
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