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Sunday, August 19 2018 @ 07:14 PM -08

Battlefield 2 vs. Battlefield 1942

I've played more hours of Battlefield 1942 than any other game on any platform. I even run a Battlefield 1942 co-op server called Tanks 'n' Planes Unlimited. But as good as BF42 is, BF2 is better in almost every way. Keep reading to find out how.

First, let's dispense with the obvious: BF2 uses modern weapons. That means tank guns are stabilized, missiles are heat-seeking and choppers are everywhere. Communications and intelligence are improved, through the use of radar, satellite views and UAVs. It's not fair to compare these things with BF1942. So we won't. But they are darn cool.

One of the key improvements to the user interface in BF2 is the radial menu. I don't know why more games don't use this technique - especially first person shooters. In BF42, all commands require two function key presses, which means you have to move one of your hands to the function key row, then hunt for the first key and press it, then hunt for the second key and press it. Using BF2's radial menu involves moving the finger already poised over the A key (for stepping sideways to the left) slightly upwards to the Q key, and holding that key down while you move the mouse slightly in a specific direction and left-click, aided by the circular menu that pops up in the center of your view. This keeps your eyes centered and involves very little movement of your hands and fingers from where they would normally be during play. You can spot, identify and broadcast the location of an enemy unit by aiming at it and pressing Q and clicking without moving the mouse. In other words, it's the radial menu default.

BF2 includes many improvements of interest to co-operative players. What do I mean by co-operative? A co-op game is one in which human players team up against computer-controlled players. I get into a lot more detail in What's co-op gaming?

In co-op gaming, it's all about the bots. If they're too stupid, it's not much fun to kill them. Bots in BF42 are very very good at some things, but just awful at others. Specifically, their use of most weapons is both fast and accurate, while their movement is often haphazard. BF42 bot vehicle driving skills are notoriously terrible. But the movement and driving problems are funny as often as they are annoying, which tends to even things out somewhat. No, the real problems with bot behaviour in BF42 are things like:

  • Once they get in a vehicle, getting them out is often impossible. They may decide to sit there, doing nothing and wasting a perfectly good tank.
  • They don't follow orders. Occasionally they will follow an order to bail out of a vehicle or move forward, but this is rare.
  • They don't use their available skills. Medics don't heal injured soldiers, Engineers don't fix tanks or emplacements, and so on. [Update: It seems I was wrong about this! I was playing BF42 this morning and a bot spent a few seconds repairing my tank. He didn't fix it completely (or even very much at all) and it hasn't happened again since, but it did happen. Also of course when he ran away without fixing my tank completely, he was unresponsive to my pleas for more repairs. I'm still waiting to see a bot medic heal me.]

In BF2, on the other hand, bots are generally more intelligent. They are much better drivers. They get out of vehicles when you tell them to or when you get in a vehicle if there are no empty seats. Bots also switch seats with you if you give the command to switch seats. If you ask for a medic, nearby medics will light up on your map, and if there's one nearby, he will come to you and heal you. If you ask for ammo, a bot with ammo will bring you some. If you ask for a ride and there's a bot in a vehicle nearby, he will come and pick you up. This even works with choppers if they have just lifted off.

Any one of those changes is enough to put a smile on a co-op gamer's face, but taken as a whole they are nothing short of miraculous. When I tell BF42 gamers about these things, they get all bug-eyed, and I know exactly how they feel.

A few more goodies worth mentioning:

  • If you are an engineer in a vehicle, you will repair nearby vehicles. So if you and your buddy jump into two M1 tanks and move to attack an enemy base, as long as you stay fairly close together, you will repair each other's tanks - and you don't even need to exit your tanks to do so!
  • If you are in the machine gunner position in a tank (or certain other vehicles) you can now duck, thereby taking cover and avoiding enemy small arms fire. In BF42, manning the machine gunner position on top of a tank is a swift death sentence.

Finally, soldiers in BF2 are now grouped into squads, with a squad leader for each squad and an overall commander. Use of the squad and commander structure is not required; you are free to act on your own, as if you're a special forces loner. But when you use squads and the commander, a whole bunch of new features become available:

  • Once you're in a squad, you can respawn to the squad leader. If the squad leader is in a tank, chopper, or any other vehicle with more than one seat, you spawn into the vehicle.
  • Squad leaders and the commander have access to a special map of the battlefield, with which they can issue orders, call in an artillery strike, call in a supply drop or air-dropped vehicle, scan the battlefild with radar or request a UAV flyover.
  • Squad leaders receive orders from the commander to attack or defend a position. Orders can be accepted or rejected by the squad leader. If they are accepted, they are passed to the squad members. Current orders and their targets are clearly visible on the main and mini maps.
  • The map view can be zoomed in and out. When zoomed in all the way, the map becomes a satellite view, showing live overhead video of the battle.
  • Enemy units seen by friendlies, radar or UAV appear on everyone's maps

All in all, BF2 is like a love letter to BF42 players. It sometimes amazes me that people still play BF42 when BF2 is available. But some of us still enjoy BF42's WWII context and weapons; BF42's hardware requirements are less extreme; BF42 is easier to set up in a LAN environment; BF2 has fewer built in maps; there seems to be a smaller modding community for BF2; much of BF2's content is locked up behind online-only achievements; and server management tools for BF2 are clunky at best. But maybe if I keep bugging the TPU regulars, they will eventually give BF2 a try. I know they'll love it.