The threat of war lingers precariously at the borders of Kazakhstan. NATO and Chinese forces face each other beneath a collapsing umbrella of propaganda as the prospect of conflict looms ever closer. Sound familiar in terms of generic first-person shooter plotlines? It is. However, the genuine appeal of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat exists on two plains. Firstly, the central campaignâ€™s missions unfold from differing narrative viewpoints as the player embarks on set levels as both a NATO and Chinese soldierâ€”before eventually choosing which side to lead toward victory. And secondly, the instant squad access afforded by the gameâ€™s â€˜Hotswapâ€™ function means players can directly assume control of any on-screen allies with the simple push of a button.
Absorbing the game from dual standpoints is certainly an intriguing aspect, though in actuality its power is lost somewhat by the storyâ€™s fairly lacklustre delivery, hilariously bad Chinese accents and, more importantly, a definite sense of confusion where player loyalty is concerned. Itâ€™s an oddly disconcerting feeling to adopt the NATO mission directives and face seething Chinese forces, only to be abruptly battling NATO troops a few missions down the line with faithful Chinese comrades at your back. Indeed, a true sense of loyalty and belief in a specific cause is never really captured, which does detract from the overall inventiveness of the twin narrative.
The squad â€˜Hotswapâ€™ function ends up feeling similar to the dual viewpoints in terms of fracturing the core gameplay, though itâ€™s undoubtedly an excellent interaction mechanic. The player starts a mission in first-person perspective as a default trooper, with all other playable units presented onscreen with a blue disc above their heads. Each soldierâ€™s disc contains an icon that denotes the soldierâ€™s predefined abilities: Assault, Sniper, Special Ops, Engineer, and Support. When the player centres a disc with the targeting reticule, it turns white if the selected trooper is within range for â€˜Hotswapping,â€™ and a single press of â€˜Yâ€™ sees the current first-person view spirited across vast distance and placed suddenly behind the eyes of the new unit. Basically, this means instant control over whichever squad member best fits immediate need. If you want to rain down a mortar strike to clear some gun emplacementsâ€”then Hotswap to a Support soldier. If you need to quickly repair a damaged tank, unload a rocket at attacking helicopters, or plant some anti-vehicle minesâ€”then eyeball an Engineer and Hotswap to his location. Hotswapping is easily executed and always tactically necessary to complete missions well enough to garner rank progression in the gameâ€™s reward sections. Plus, the campaign missions swiftly grow exceedingly difficult, and soldiering solo to achieve mission objectives is all but impossible. Yet, as with the story, the on-screen squad members within every mission (easily 10-20 and more) are soulless, characterless, and generic. The Hotswap function promotes a genuinely intuitive strategic approach, but by so doing it also sacrifices all sense of player-character relationship used so effectively in the likes of Brothers in Arms, Ghost Recon, and even the classic Cannon Fodder.
Graphically, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat is gloriously realized, with every detail from the grandiose and sprawling environments to weapon models and atmospherics beautifully created. Transcending its genre brethren with easy elegance and crushing realism, the visuals instantly draw you in before being almost unbearably pushed aside by the shockingly frantic gameplay. Thatâ€™s not to say the graphics ever drop in qualityâ€”they donâ€™tâ€”but the sheer player commitment demanded by Modern Combat means that aesthetic appreciation must, quite rightly, become a secondary concern. Beyond the obvious visceral pizzazz of the in-game visuals, the NATO and Chinese news-report cut sequences, and mission overviews are also faultlessly produced. Even the load screens contain slideshow captures of various environmental and conceptual details.
Modern Combatâ€™s music is generally reminiscent of the swelling dramatic scores found in top-tier Tom Clancy titles, such as Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six, and it certainly complements the ominous military mood laid down throughout the central campaign. Sound quality is equally as fitting and matches the visual impact of the game. Squad chatter is prevalentâ€”and can occasionally wash over actual mission guidanceâ€”but its inclusion is certainly beneficial to Modern Combatâ€™s overall authenticity. Weaponry, explosions, vehicles, ambience, and atmosphere are all extremely well crafted.
Gameplay is fast-paced from the outset, but integral controls are well explained and easily handled, keeping the gameâ€™s complexities accessible to the player. Action closely replicates the best the genre has to offer, whereas difficulty ramps up sharply when compared to other first-person shootersâ€”though this could be a result of the gameâ€™s integrated strategic requirements. Enemy and allied A.I. is fairly constant in terms of performance, but there are instances where you may find yourself unable to Hotswap thanks to the annihilation of all available troops. Again, this is usually because of an incorrect tactical approach, and can be avoided with a more active distribution of the mission workload. Various attack vehicles and static gun positions can be utilized during the game to better achieve aims, and these include tanks, hummers, choppers, gunboats, and also machine gun nests, and Stinger missile emplacements. Correct and timely usage of all the game has to offer is often vital for success, and never more so than when individual Hotswap troop choice is necessary.
The first-person genre is guilty of repetition and stagnancy through its most recent releases. No game since 2004â€™s Brothers in Arms has attempted to implement a sense of genuine evolution, albeit by combining established gameplay elements from a separate genre. Battlefield 2: Modern Combat builds on an already envied multiplayer reputation by calling forth a brave approach to the oft undervalued single-player experience. With a somewhat vacuous and overly dramatic plot, mixed with fractured gameplay loyalties and the sense of unease it creates, Modern Combat perhaps fails as much as it succeeds. However, the Hotswap squad function is an unusually appealing and vitally important inclusion, and the overall presentation and immersion easily reach to the heights occupied by the genreâ€™s top titles.