As a special treat on the final day of E3, Nick Vlamakis and I were fortunate enough to be blindfolded and led into a secret room deep within EA's booth. The reason? Upon answering three riddles and working together to solve a puzzle involving a sundial, a glass daisy, and a bust of Will Wright, we discovered that we'd been invited to sit in on a showing of EA Games and Digital Illusion CE's Battlefield 2, the true followup to 2002's game of the year and one of the most prominent and promising titles of the coming year.
Despite the fact that it's still very much a newborn game, Battlefield 2 is already showing some strong legs. People who felt that Battlefield: Vietnam wasn't enough of a step up from the first game and its expansions will be writing "DICE" surrounded by hearts on the inside of their notebooks when they see what the developers have already done. You say you want a step up? Looks like you're going to get it.
As the lights dimmed and the gentleman from DICE started the demo, we knew right away that they had finally decided to make a new game. The interface for Battlefield games has always been accused of being uninspired. The whole point was to jump on a server with some friends, so the menus and profile options were completely stripped down. Already, Battlefield 2 has an deeper and easier-to-use menu interface and a detailed profile system that's full of customization options, right down, we were told, to the patches on your soldier's sleeves.
Because we live in a very visual society, I'd be betraying America itself if I didn't mention the graphics. Battlefield 2 looks nothing like its parents. The shadowing and lighting have been drastically improved and the character models already look as good as anything currently out there. Rag doll physics have finally made their way to the battlefield, so riddling someone with bullets already looks to be more satisfying, in addition to solving the problem in the earlier games of not really knowing where or if your bullet made contact. There will be no more taking cover behind a canvas tent this time either. Now, bullets will pass through any material that you'd expect them to.
The setting in the demo level was a seemingly modern city that displayed as much in the way of detail as the entire 1942 game did, from the bills hanging on the concrete-and-brick walls to the lines in the roads. If there was any initial doubt about the setting, the super tanks with heat-seeking missiles erased it. The tank was the only vehicle shown in the demonstration, and it was enough. These tanks are nearly three times bigger than any previous tanks and are used as anti-aircraft defense. Once in the tank, one simply has to move the cross-hairs over an enemy helicopter for a few seconds and the target is locked on. The missiles are fired and whoever's unlucky enough to be sitting in the pilot's seat if and when the missiles hit had better call the kids and tell them that he loves them. That sounds like a balance nightmare waiting to happen, but fortunately if you happen to be the one in the helicopter, you have the technology to know when you've been locked onto, and are able to drop flares that will lead the missiles away from you and into the ground.
Aside from the changes to time frame and the pretty new graphics engine, DICE is putting a lot of emphasis on team play this time around. Unlike games like Counterstrike, where your success or failure depends almost completely on your team, the two previous Battlefield games depend more on individuals playing well and don't offer a lot of incentive to play as a unit. As a way to fix that, DICE has added a ranking system that not only rewards you for kills, but also for things like driving vehicles for teammates and healing your fellow man. In this vein, we were shown a new support soldier class which allows you to provide your teammates in the field with health and ammo, and both of those acts will not only help you in the worldwide rankings, but also help you move up in military rank. You'll start as a private and anything and everything you do from there to help the team will help you move onward and upward.
As if all that weren't enough, the already acclaimed multiplayer aspect of the Battlefield games is being improved on. One of the problems with the other games is that if you were playing with friends and one of you died, you had to respawn at one of your bases, which might or might not have been anywhere near where you and your buddies were. Imagine then how much it warmed my heart to see a soldier struck down and then brought back to life where he fell by a defribulator. Yes, a defribulator. A new system lets you form a squad with members of your team, and if you do you can always bring them back to life, so there's no more trying to wait for a plane to respawn while your team is having all the fun all the way on the other side of the map.
As the squad leader, you can order the rest of the squad to different points on the map simply by bringing it up and clicking on where you want them to go or use the new, simpler order/request interface to have them do your dirty work. Rather than the F-key system of old, hitting Q brings up a group of different available commands which are always context sensitive, so that the commands you get when looking at a tank will only be ones useful in that situation. Add all of that to the fact that DICE is attempting to bring the number of players per game from 64 to 100 and you have the answer to a lot of Battlefield fans' prayers.
The demo didn't last for much longer than maybe ten minutes, but it was one of, if not the most impressive of the entire show. Although it's early, EA and DICE are already looking to have a contender for PC game of the year for 2005. They've fixed most of the issues that people had with the first two already amazing games, so it's scary to think exactly how much fun they can pack into this game in the year that they have left before release. Enjoy your free time while you still have it. Go hug your mom, pet your dog, and write your free time a "Dear John" letter. Battlefield 2 is coming.