Yes, Electronics Arts is evil, but having checked out the Battlefield 2142 demo, I caved in and bought the full game. If you’re not aware of the controversy, here’s a partial list of bugaboos:
- The game contains a mild form of targeted in-game advertising via billboards seen in the game world. So far, these billboards show a generic message, but they supposedly will soon start showing players advertisements targeted at their country of residence (determined via the player’s IP–not an exact science, really, but probably good enough for this purpose).
- Playing the game online requires making an account with EA and logging in every time. Not only is this a potential invasion of privacy, the authentication process is often buggy and not infrequently prevents a player from loading and playing the game. Last night, for instance, when testing the mod I was writing [discussed later in this post], every time I loaded the client, the game would seemingly hang for ten minutes at the log in screen before finally either succeeding or giving an error message. Other players have more serious problems involving authentication keys (a disturbingly common problem with many PC games these days).
- The “unlocks” system–wherein players gain better equipment as they earn points on “ranked” servers (servers registered with EA)–makes what is an otherwise purely skill-based game into a bit of a timesink in the vain of World of Warcraft and other MMORPG’s. Effectively, players with more skill (or at least a lot of time to play the game) get quite significant advantages over other players. This is totally backwards: better players, if anything, should get handicaps, not special advantages. Supposedly, in 2142, advancing through the unlocks is much faster than it was in Battlefield 2 (the previous installment in the series), so it should only take a month or two of regular play to get all the stuff. Still, inclusion of the unlock system is rather dumb as it simply frustrates any player coming to the game late: when a newb starts playing, most of the other players will have all the fancy unlocks already while the newb is stuck with the ineffectual and highly inaccurate starting weapons.
- This last problem aggravates the game’s already steep learning curve. Players must learn to master: four infantry classes, each with different weapons and several pieces of equipment; half a dozen land vehicles (including hover tanks, bipedal mechs, APC’s, and jeeps), each of which has multiple seating positions with different functions; four air vehicles; drop-pods; titans (giant airships on which players can walk and man various gunning positions); the team communication systems, which includes voice com and a targeting-based canned message system.
- Many hardcore fans are angry that EA has long refused to fix serious bugs in previous games, such as an infamous bug in Battlefield 2 that makes your teammates appear as enemy players at random intervals. This list of bugs is quite long.
- The game does not support widescreen resolutions. Supposedly this is to prevent players with widescreens from having a greater field-of-view compared to players with 4:3 screens, but this is a silly argument because field-of-view can easily be set independently of resolution. The game seems to compromise by using a field-of-view that is narrower than should be normal for widescreens but which is wider than should be normal for 4:3 screens: on a widescreen, things seem a bit stretched horizontally, while on a 4:3 screen, things seem a bit scrunched horizontally.
Aside from all that, my own particular peeves with the game include:
- The Battlefield series has had traditionally horrible menu screens, and Battlefield 2142 continues that tradition. The layout and organization of the screens are generally dandy; the problem has always been they’re slow. Unlike the best game menus, the Battlefield menu is not a simple overlay that is accessible while playing. Rather, hitting the ESC key triggers a few moments pause before the full screen menu appears, complete with visual effect doodads that add to an already processing and memory hungry game. (In previous installments, the menu background was even an animated video! Thankfully, that misstep has been avoided this time, but the whole thing is still sluggish.)
- Speaking of performance, the Battlefield engines–both the one used for the original, Battlefield 1942, and Battlefield Vietnam, and the engine that succeeded it for Battlefield 2 and now 2142–have always featured degraded control responsiveness when running around as an infantryman, especially when the system gets overtaxed. Most other engines, including those from id, valve, and epic, don’t have this problem until the framerate gets noticeably bad; with Battlefield, the framerate can appear fine while the controls feel like crap. My suspicion has always been that this has to do with the way vehicles and infantry are physically simulated, and it may just be a necessary sacrifice to get a good vehicle control feel (something which Battlefield does well but other engines usually haven’t).
- And speaking of aggravating menus, you’ll probably be spending a lot of time in them every time you load the game to fiddle around with your control settings. The control selection is split between three control modes–common (for infantry), land vehicles, and air vehicles–and these modes seem to overlap in surprising and inconsistent ways, e.g. selecting a button for an air vehicle control may conflict with a control used in common mode even though that control isn’t used when flying air vehicles. Worst of all, the game has a way of forgetting your control settings or not accepting the changes you make. You’ll go back to the game and find things are not as you set them.
- EA and DICE both seem convinced that players should be forced to watch 30 seconds of unskippable intro video every time the game is loaded. This will piss you off immensely if you are reloading the game for the umpteenth time after a crash. (There is a simple hack to make the videos go away: rename or delete the video files. Still, it’s outrageous that users can’t bypass the videos or set a preference to make them go away.)
- Battlefield 2 introduced a HUD system in which markers indicating the position of team mates and squad mates are superimposed over your field of vision. While occasionally useful, it’s not useful enough to justify not including any way to disable this feature. Ideally, the position markers could be shown or hidden via a hot button.
- The Battlefield 2 engine exposes modding capabilities only really for adding/modifying weapons and vehicles. On the scripting side, while the engine features a built-in Python interpreter, the functionality exposed for it is extremely limited, gameplay-wise. For the most part, script mods are limited to doing administrative things like implementing auto-team balance and sending messages to players. Even simple things, like having the server hurt or kill a player can’t be scripted (at least in a satisfactory way).
Speaking of modding, I spent all Thursday making my own mod for 2142. The idea is to change the flow of the game by allowing only certain squad leaders to neutralized and capture flags. This is a rather crude way of addressing my longstanding annoyance in the Battlefield series, a lack of team coordination and a lack of strategic cohesion (if you can take any flag at any moment and the enemy can do the same, the game mostly degrades into a glorified deathmatch). Hopefully, this mod will force/encourage players to support their squad leaders rather than run off to capture flags on their own.