Battlefield 2: Special Forces
When It launched, Battlefield 2 proved to be both the most excitingly enjoyable online squad shooter ever devised from a gaming standpoint, and the most frustrating from a technical standpoint Problems with particular brands of graphics cards, a hog on your system hardware, an online ranking system prone to hackable abuse - any ordinary publisher would have thrown in the towel long ago and started again. But then EA is no ordinary publisher and Battlefield is no ordinary franchise. Hence less than half a year later: the Special Forces expansion pack. We were given access to three of the planned eight maps, specially designed for the titular forces to battle across. Russian Spetsnaz, Navy SEALs, the good old SAS and three variations of insurgent groups fight across a chemical weapons factory, an east European rocket pad and a darkened airbase, all bristling with new vehicles to play with.
Ups And Downs
These maps all conform to the usual BF2 parameters - plenty of chokepoints, siege areas and widespread flag bases to capture. The main difference between these and traditional BF2 maps is the sense of focus each has. Environmental triggers (lift switches and the like) add a touch more interaction and vertically to things, showing how tiny little touches can make a lot of difference to otherwise static map environments, adding a sense of purpose to them. These no longer feel like generic war zones but real working locations with actual reasons for your squads to be there (again, in keeping with the special forces nature of the pack).
That said, the code wasn't working too well at the time of writing as lifts designed to take you to the top of a rocket pad or a cliff-side control centre would just shoot off into the heavens leaving you at ground level, staring up at the rapidly disappearing platform like something out of a Road Runner cartoon. I'm sure it'll all be operational on the night, though.
Then, of course, there are the zip lines. Everybody loves zip lines. When Special Forces was first revealed to us, it was the thought of sliding from rooftop to rooftop that had us most excited. Next to parachutes, zip lines are perhaps the finest innovation ever to hit the world of shooters and Special Forces has them in spades.
That is, snipers and special forces classes have them. Everyone else will have to get their rope-sliding kicks down the gym like everyone else. Simply fire your new crossbow weapon at the surface of your choice and a handy-dandy super-fun slide appears, ready to take you to the lower level location of your dreams.
Zippy And Bungle
But will zip lines change the dynamic of the base game in a major way? Probably not too much, although it does provide a hefty boon for the busy sniper on the go. In fact, it's the sneaky element of society that will get most practical use out of them -the rest of us most likely enjoying the novelty factor of impromptu sliding races from atop tall buildings.
Yes, snipers can now add to their already burgeoning survival prospects. Previously, once installed at the top of your giant crane/tower/chimney stack and having mined all the access points with claymores to prevent people sneaking up the ladders to end your reign of sniping terror, you were sorted for life. At least until the enemy commander got a fix on your position and dropped ten tons of artillery on your head.
Tlianks to the manually created zip lines, you can now give yourself an instant escape route out of the path of fiery barrage death, sliding Janies Bondstyle from your rooftop idyll as it explodes behind you.
Hook, Line And Sinker
I know what you're thinking. Great, snipers are now even harder to kill. Just what we needed. Luckily there's an extra gadget in the non-sniping arsenal, designed to provide additional rooftop access for regular troops. The grappling hook. This little beauty is carried by the assault and anti-tank classes and does exactly what you'd expect of it - you chuck it over a wall or onto a roof and climb the rope it tails behind. Handy for avoiding the sniper's booby traps.
A small annoyance with both grappling hooks and zip lines is that they appear (at present anyway) to be one-shot deals. Shoot your bolt or toss your length once and you'll have to rest up before you can have another go. Understandable for the zip line as it creates an intricate-looking construction that would be unrecoverable once you've taken the ride, but I can't see any realism-based reason not to let your soldier pick up his line once climbed, other than to avoid turning all the players into wall-scaling monkeys, barely ever touching the floor during an entire round.
Something we weren't able to experiment too much with (annoyingly, the current build hadn't properly activated it) was night-vision. However, from what we've seen in earlier demonstrations it's a dynamic thing, providing substantial illumination in darkened areas ' but proving to be detrimental if a light source is viewed (something that the new flashbang grenades have been designed to counter). It's probably shaping up to be a nice touch, but hardly one that's going to be the key selling point for the pack.
So how much will Special Forces alter the overall BF2 experience? Not significantly, it would seem. The core of the game remains the same (it is, after all, beyond the purview of an expansion pack to make any wholesale changes), and all the new additions would seem to be limited to the Special Forces maps anyway. This isn't likely to be a different-feeling game, just a different spin on the existing one. The weapon, vehicle and gadget enhancements all look like being novel, but easily assimilated add-ons, and there are barely any changes being made to the command modes - other than providing night-vision filters to help see what's going on.
Is that a good thing? It's no secret that EA and DICE haven't managed to create the all-encompassing, smoother than Kilroy, online war experience that we'd all hoped for with BF2, not through faults within the game, but because of bad server management and administration processes. Special Forces doesn't do anything to address the myriad problems players are having with the existing game (even the now admittedly ugly front-end has been left untouched), and it's likely to take more than just some new maps, gadgets and x balaclavas to win back the hearts of the notoriously fickle online gaming crowd. Even if the balaclavas are made from 100 percent real virtual wool.
Download Battlefield 2: Special Forces
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
It Was Quite a surprise that after playing Special Forces for just a few hours, I'd already had a gaming experience to rival my infamous "flying through the chimneys" tale from the original game. This time yet more aerobatics were involved as I navigated my trusty Mi-24 Hind helichopper around to the blindside of the USS Essex aircraft carrier, before swiftly and surgically piloting the massive aircraft into the relatively small below-deck hangar and unloading a barrage of rockets at friend and foe alike. It was always going to be a suicide mission, and like a small dog who runs down a rabbit hole only to realise he can't turn around, I had no choice but to flip upside-down and explode, killing anybody who'd survived my initial onslaught.
Let it be known that I'm a big Battlefield fan, and I'm by no means disappointed with Battlefield2, insofar as the gameplay is far and away the most fun and intense online shooting-people-in-the-head experience you could hope to have. The subtle blend of teamplay and strategy, the thrill of having a premeditated scheme come together perfectly, the balanced scoring system that makes typically 'boring' classes like medics and engineers far more rewarding, the vehicles, the weighty and substantial feel to the weapons - it all hangs together perfectly. The problem I and possibly every single person who's played the game has is with the interface, the inexcusably long loading times and the bugs - when Battlefield 2 doesn't work, it doesn't work with style, crashing to your Jennifer Lopez desktop, reducing your Alienware to a stuttering, quivering wreck and generally cocking up in weird and wonderful ways. Special Forces does nothing to remedy this, and if you were hoping EA would treat the expansion pack as a mega fix-all patcheroo you will be sorely disappointed. You'll still have a front-end that's as ugly as it is awkward and loading times ample enough to allow you to write a short novel while you wait - it feels like EA is building a new conservatory before finishing the house and then making the fans foot the bill.
Cast those problems to the back of your mind for a moment though, because as with the original, once you get yourself into a game and everything's firing on all cylinders (without exploding or performing illegal operations) you're in for a treat. Special Forces supplies you with eight new maps, some of which are shrouded in a sort of mysterious darkness and require you to use the all-new (and sadly graphically underwhelming) night-vision goggles to see what you're doing. Other maps include The Iron Gator, a fantastic environment featuring the aforementioned USS Essex getting overrun by MEC Special Forces and defended by a skeleton crew of Navy SEALs. Far more comprehensive than the carrier in the original game and boasting no less than six control points, the USS Essex is the crux of the map, balanced in such a way that it's nearly always being defended and causing the two forces to fight in tight, indoor environments. It's definitely the highlight of the expansion, and feels quite removed from anything seen in the original.
Other additions include the already highly anticipated zip-lines and grappling hooks, both of which are hugely versatile and quite useful, especially for snipers looking to get into the perfect positions. Grappling hooks can hook onto almost any ledge and allow for a lot of freedom, though, as we noted in our earlier hands-on with the game, it's still not possible to pick up a grappling hook once used and go on a ninja wallclimbing rampage.
Zip-lines are great fun too, making you feel like a special agent every time you use them to escape danger and making for a much more dynamic, unpredictable game. To round things out, ten new vehicles have been included as well, from hovering doom-bringer Apache helicopters to dinky jet skis, along with new weapons such as tear gas and flashbangs.
Forcing The Point Home
In essence, Special Forces does for Battlefield 2 what Road To Rome did for Battlefield 1942, adding new content (more so than RTR in fact) and simply offering more scope for enjoyment, with tighter, more focused maps. Mercifully, the parts of the game that worked just fine the first time around, such as the commander and ranking systems, have been left untouched, meaning all your finely-honed skills and strategies can be carried over. The fact that Special Forces doesn't fix the problems of the original game is forgivable, as they're just that, problems with the original game -as far as expansions go, Special Forces doesn't disappoint.