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The Battlefield franchise has been unrivalled in PC FPS gaming. On its first appearance in 2002 it became hugely popular, with gamers creating online communities dedicated to long-running campaigns between the Allies and Axis powers. Even from the beginning it had more going for it than its competitors, incorporating naval vessels and landing craft, aircraft and land vehicles, and played with a distinct amount of tactical realism. As the franchise continued, this became a unique feature. Where we have been stuck following linear plot-lines in Half Life and Call of Duty, Battlefield has always offered more open gameplay than its rivals.
On its removal from PC, however, with Battlefield Bad Company, gamers had feared that the franchise may be on the decline. This article introduces you to the series’ unique elements, and discusses whether or not the franchise has suffered from its move onto console
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Battlefield 1942, the first game in the series, was released in 2002. It offers online and LAN multiplayer and a one-player campaign mode in which gamers can fight battles in four different theatres of WWII in chronological order. The player can choose to fight on the side of the Allies (UK, US and Russian forces, dependent on the game-map) to defeat the Axis powers or to fight on the Axis side (Germans, Japanese and Italians) to change the course of the war. Somewhat realistically portrayed, the battles have no linear objectives other than to capture strategic flag points and wipe the enemy off the battlefield.
BF1942 established the series’ unique style of gameplay. More co-operative than any other FPS for PC at that time and still only surpassed in this way by its successors, the aim of each round is to decrease the enemy’s number of tickets automatically by holding more than half of the “control points” on the map, or decrease the number by one for each enemy killed. In this way the game awards players for a more realistic approach to war, an element which would remain important throughout the series on PC, rewarding players not only for their effective fighting but also for their grasp of strategy and their dedication to defending strongholds.
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Battlefield 1942’s graphics are obviously quite dated, and it is in this way that its main competitor of the time, Half Life Counter Strike, trumps it. As dated as they are, though, the landscapes and locations are still unbeatably large and impressive, if at close range a little “blocky”. The weapons too, may not look as realistic as they do in Counter Strike, but none of these graphical handicaps effect the aiming. For its time, too, the quality of gun control is excellent, with rifle kicks and automatic burst inaccuracies all playing a part.
Apart from the graphical letdown the game still plays, impressively, in pretty much the same way its successors do, if a little more loose and slow. As a fan of WWII FPS on the PC, this is one you can go back to and enjoy. However, servers began to close down and gamers moved, for online multiplayer at least, to Counter Strike, which still remains popular, and the makers of the franchise knew they needed a sequel to beat the inevitable competitors.
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BF1942 won four awards at the annual Interactive Achievement Awards, one of them in online gameplay. The mix of first-person action and strategy made for an excellent co-operative experience, and the levels were certainly big enough with enough flash-points of action to not feel crowded with big numbers. This was an element which Digital Illusions and EA were keeping in mind as pivotal to the success of a sequel, a certain realism with an element of arcade.
BF2 greatly improved on the elements that were lacking in its predecessor. Graphics became more detailed both at long and short range. More complex gameplay was introduced too, with sprint bars being introduced which would be affected by a players choice of weapons kit. While these elements improved, the unique parts of the game remained, with the open gameplay allowing for a more unpredictable gaming experience. Even more than in BF1942, in B2 gamers can see the benefit of the lack of linear objectives. Rounds are never played out in the same way, even when the same gamers take part, and much like on the real battlefield superior tactics and co-operation with a touch of luck wins the day.
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Battlefield 2 re-established the series as the leader in the genre. While Call of Duty remained more famous and popular, it also remained arcady and gratingly unrealistic (already establishing its nature as one perfect for the so-called “hardcore” gamers of xbox). Battlefield had improved on the first game and was expanding on some of its best elements. For example, the importance of an effective medic can not be overstated on the battlefield, and while they tried in BF1942 to make the role a unique one it only became so in BF2. Medics have extended sprint bars, lighter armour, and are given defibrillation paddles with which to revive fallen team mates. While the way in which you revive team mates may be simplistic, the makers have recognised the importance of the role in effective war-waging.
In B2’s main competitor CoD3, “team battles” and “capture the flags” keep things feeling like an arcade game in which players run around believing, were they really fighting the Nazis, they would be invincible and a one man army. If you dare to go it alone in B2 you had better do it stealthily, and even then without some help from your commander you haven’t a snowball's chance.
With the role of the Commander in B2, the developers picked up on the main feature of the franchise and ran with it. While playing online one gamer must take up the role of Commander and direct his sergeants, who in turn lead their squads on the ground. Tactics then, are paramount, and again, just like on the real battlefield, there are many issues to consider. How much, as Commander, do you take control of your squads’ positions? Do you order Charlie Squad’s sergeant to approach one position, hold it, and wait until a pathway is cleared of enemies by artillery or do you give your sergeant free reign to attack your chosen target in the way he sees fit? The developers grasped prefectly the complexity of strategy here and each gamer will experience different fortunes, in both attack and defence, in every round.
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While the makers of CoD3 grasped the importance of good defence their game doesn’t encourage a collaborative spread across the battlefield and the strategic taking and holding of ground. It doesn’t come close to B2 in recognizing how the most effective squadrons will be the most well balanced. In B2, a good commander will assign each sergeant at least one medic, three infantry men (from assault troops and special forces) and an engineer, and in this way effective assaults can be carried out.
The collaborative side is what makes the Battlefield franchise unbeatable. Even when playing offline, gamers are encouraged to carry things out in the way they would online. In a map with 32 players online, let alone 64, you cannot afford to go off alone and pretend to be James Bond. In this way, chart leaders Call of Duty have never yet beaten Battlefield 2, and for online gameplay it remains unrivaled.
It is just unfortunate, then, that EA saw fit to remove the franchise from PC. With Battlefield Bad Company it moved on to the PS3 and Xbox 360. Have the makers of these classic games undone all their good work?
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Battlefield Bad Company
A new element to BF: BC is the offline story mode. This campaign mode revolves around a four-man military squad gone AWOL during a fictional war between the US army and the Russian federation, in a plot slightly reminiscent of the 1970 WWII movie starring Clint Eastwood, Kelly Heroes. Sent ahead of special forces, B Company (or “Bad Company”) are considered expendable renegades by their army leaders. Attracted by the promise of gold they follow enemies into a neutral country and are cut loose, eventually to be given unofficial orders to wage war on their own.
The single-player, offline, element is indeed enjoyable, but what about the series’ biggest selling point, its online multiplayer? At first Gold Rush was the only mode available online, in which the defensive team must deplete the enemy’s respawn count and defend crates of gold, while the attacking team must destroy these crates. Due to overwhelming amounts of requests from players during beta testing, though, the prevalent mode from the earlier games in the series, Conquest, became available.
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In Conquest mode both teams start with a certain amount of tickets, and by capturing strategic positions and killing enemies teams can deplete the enemy’s amount of these tickets. This tried, tested, and much loved mode of play was almost left out when EA DICE pandered to the calls to make Battlefield available on console. With it, the soul of the game and its unique feel would have been lost. Battlefield was, in Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2, an open, strategic game which immersed gamers in the art of warfare. It is not about endless waves of assault on one area and one-man armies, but about collaboration and unpredictable hiccoughs in the plan. With the loss of Conquest the makers almost lost the one thing that made Battlefield so much better than its competitors Call of Duty and Far Cry, the tactical element to war.
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It wouldn’t be a Battlefield game without it and, thankfully, the developers saw sense. In their desire to incorporate new elements into the game they almost forgot why people played Battlefield, but, when you see all the extra elements they put into Bad Company, for this they can be forgiven. The story mode is great fun and the new destructible architecture makes online play incredibly interesting, with players able to blow snipers out of their cover and make things tricky for tanks.
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The game plays like an arcade game on the console, though, and the realism we so loved in the series seems to have been lost. Plus, fictional armies fight against you in made-up countries, slightly taking the edge off gameplay too. In saying that, though, the very reason they have made these changes is in pursuit of added gameplay elements which not only make things more entertaining but a little more like a real environment. Where once you could run past a tank in the safe cover of a building now you will be hindered and injured when he decides to bring the building down on your fleeing head. Snipers are not safe from assault troops, keeping alive the element of surprise so brilliantly established in Battlefield 2 in the use of artillery barrages to keep snipers out of prime locations. Now a well placed impact-grenade will bring further realism to the game, in that not only will the environment be destroyed, but the sniper must keep moving.
Although BF: BC doesn’t quite feel the same as its predecessors, the franchise’s move into the realm of console FPS is an admirable one. It plays excellently and while having kept most of the series’ unique elements it has incorporated a lot more, not least the story mode which will please most gamers. Our fears, then, that the Battlefield franchise was on the decline after having moved to console, though not entirely unfounded, have thankfully been kept at bay so far. There is hope, too, that the games will continue to improve, when Bad Company’s sequel is released with the best of both worlds; on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Lets just hope that they continue to remember what makes Battlefield unique in its genre, and it will remain at the top.