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Battlefield 2: Special Forces Review

Battlefield 2: Special Forces Box art
Developer:Digital Illusions CE (DiCE)
Publisher:Electronic Arts
Genre:FPS
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://www.ea.com/official/battlefield/specialforces/
Release Date:November 25th, (UK)
Reviewers:Craig Dudley (Mani) & Paul Cutts (SENT)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

An expansion pack for such a popular game so soon after it's release, just five months in this case, certainly has the potential to alienate your hard core fans, particularly when there has been but one extra official map released since the game shipped. Still some would argue it's about time for some extra Battlefield 2 content and all those game servers can't be cheap to run. Battlefield 2 is still selling well however.

Special Forces tries to bring more of a "covert ops" feel to the Battlefield line of games with the introduction of night vision and obviously maps set in the dark, flash bangs, tear gas and best of all grappling hooks and zip lines. Gone are the jet aircraft and back from Desert Combat are the HIND and Apache attack choppers with 10 new vehicles and more new guns than an Afghan bazaar.

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Graphics

With this being a mission pack, we won't go over the general look and feel, but rather quickly mention the differences from Battlefield 2. The two most obvious additions are tear gas and the flash bang, tear gas makes your vision blurred and for want or a better word "swirly", of course that's only the case if you get caught without your gas mask on. Flash bangs have the expected white out effect, but it's not 100% white out, just incredibly blurred and bright. Other than that there isn't a whole lot of difference other than the addition of a number of new vehicles which all live up to the already high standard set by Battlefield 2. Tracer does looks great in the dark however. The one slight downer is that with the addition of night maps and tighter, smaller maps, performance is now slightly more of an issue.

Sound

Likewise with sound, if you've played Battlefield 2 there isn't much to report. All the new weapons sound great, just as the old ones do. You can still hear the difference between each weapon group fairly easily, each of those weapons is still clear and realistic sounding and there still isn't whole lot of music to talk about. But I will say that I'm still waiting to hear that thumping BF1942 music again. Just like in BF2, we get a mere hint of it at the start of the intro movie and that's that. Bloody teasing that is.

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Special Forces adds a number of new civilian vehicles that have been modified, Technicals I think they are called by military folk. Basically a pickup truck with a 50 cal on the back is a good example. The reason I mention such vehicles here is that their associated sound effects are seriously flawed. If your'e driving they are mostly ok, but should you be a passenger or a nearby soldier, they are pretty much inaudible even from 6 feet which to be honest isn't great. It's not a huge spoiler though, it's just annoying and a bit poor considering the quality of the rest of the experience.

With the addition of new teams to play, there had to be lots of new voices, Russian and British in particular stand out. While I don't speak Russian and can't comment on the accents, I will say that the British accents are just daft, which as an Englishmen it certainly does grate a little, they do have a certain comedic value but it would have been nice not to have gamers all round the world think we Brits all sound like Biggles, "Chocks Away Ginger!".

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Gameplay

In Special Forces you get to play a number of the Worlds Elite Special Forces soldiers – Navy SEALs, British SAS and Russian Spetznas as well as the mostly fictional MEC Special Forces, rebel groups and insurgents. As you can imagine this brings with it a number of new weapons and vehicles, most of you Battlefield 2 players will have seen a number of the new Special Forces weapons being used in the vanilla game, but not all! The Russian and Rebel anti tank weapon is now a dumb fire RPG-7, while it isn't steerable it is still just as powerful the other AT weapons in the game and no less fun to use. Generally there's a new weapon for each class but load outs are not quite as simple as they were. The SAS and SEAL teams for example get a mixture of each others weapons with some unique ones too.

There's still a simple single player game if you wish to practice alone, but as with Battlefield 2, it's only much use for learning the maps or practicing in the choppers. That isn't a criticism, this game was designed to be played online against other humans.

The new vehicles can be quite a bit of fun. Jet Ski's are great to ride but do sound like lawn mowers, quad bikes too are great fun but be advised that you are totally exposed while riding them and can be easily shot off. The Russian APC is the BMP-3 which while being slow and lightly armoured has a tank weapon, your passengers can't fire out of this vehicle either. One slight thing that military officianados will notice is that the SAS get american armour and not British, which is a bit odd but not beyond the stretches of imagination I guess. There are also two new choppers in Special Forces, the Russian HIND and the Apache Longbow, both of these vehicles are a bit harder to fly than their vanilla BF2 counterparts, the TV missile in each is also harder to use as it's camera is now positioned right underneath the helicopter meaning you have to be quite high and much closer than usual to use it properly, this makes you a bigger and easier AA target.

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We are also treated to eight new maps, as you might expect these are mostly smaller and tighter, meaning much more infantry combat in urban areas, that will please a lot of you no doubt. It's also a good idea to try and remember that with the addition of the grappling hook and zip line, your enemy could be on any roof or ledge at any time, you simply have to be more aware. There are notable high points in the map cycle, my personal urban favorites, Ghost Town and Warlord stand out with at least one map which just doesn't work for me, Iron Gator, a map set entirely on board the USS Essex is not the best in my opinion. However that's always going to happen, nobody is ever going to like every map in an FPS game. Overall we get a solid collection of new maps in which infantry combat is more or less king. We also get a liberal selection of both day and night maps in which night vision can play a huge role. But don't wear it all the time, it's great for hiding in dark corners and sneaking about, but most of the night maps are just about light enough for you not to need the goggles at all. Unless you want to pretend to be Sam Fisher and bore all your squad mates to death.

Perhaps the most important change to BF2's gameplay comes with two new rope kits, the grappling hook and the zip line. It's hard to over estimate what a change this can make to gameplay. Now your enemies can be pretty much anywhere, on any roof, on any ledge. The grappling hook will let you throw up a rope on to all small and medium height buildings, up to two maybe three stories anyway, you can then pick it back up and start again. If you're lucky enough to have a squad mate with a zip line, he can fire it into a concrete wall and you can slide down the line to just about anywhere, it does seem to have quite a long range. As you can imagine this makes attacking and defending a whole different story on urban maps, hopefully this has your tactical mind whirring and you're beginning to see the potential for clan competition.

The final gameplay elements to talk about are tear gas and the flash bang. Tear gas is only available in the support kit, and while it can be a useful, the inclusion of a gas mask in everyone's kit renders it an occasional surprise tactic at best, not that you can wear your gas mask all the time, you'll soon run out of stamina if you do. Flash bangs however can be a real help, turning away from the canister can help, just like Counter-Strike, but should you get one in the face, you'll be more or less blind for what seems like an age, very useful for mopping up a group of enemy soldiers in a confined street or room.

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Summary

DiCE made some bold decisions with the rope kits and losing the jets but we think they have paid off in a big way, this game is very well balanced and lots of fun. If you like the maps Strike at Karkand or Sharqi Peninsula in BF2, you’ll be bowled over with most of the maps and the infantry oriented gameplay in Special Forces. The whole experience is only slightly let down by a few irritating sound issues and a couple of maps that a lot of people won't like.

I was also very wary of EA and DiCE cashing in the Battlefield 2 community by releasing an expansion pack so soon after BF2 itself, five months is a very short gap. However this is a fine addition the Battlefield series, teamwork and squad play is now at an even higher premium, the loss of jets and the baggage that comes with them (planes campers, team killers, spawn bombers etc) will not be mourned by me, the choppers too are now much less maneuverable and therefore easier to shoot. Special Forces is great fun, playing Battlefield on a public server just became fun again, that is if you have the machine to run it well. In my opinion this is a nicely refined version of what is already the best online PC FPS.

Good stuff

  • Lots of new vehicles and toys
  • Loads of new guns
  • Six new teams to play
  • Looks great
  • Sounds great
  • Well balanced

Not so good stuff

  • One or two maps won't be to everyone's liking
  • A bit slower than BF2
  • Some of the British accents are silly

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