Los Angeles (CA) - What game designers have learned over the past decade of perfecting the network gaming model is that games you play in groups don’t have to be terribly complex to be enjoyable. The first networked games were online add-ons to programs with extensively detailed mission scenarios. In the 22nd century, as depicted in Electronic Arts’ Battlefield : 2142 (or 2142 Battlefield, depending upon how you read the title), there’s no desolation or vast wasteland, but instead a very simplified office complex which serves as a missile silo. The battle, which can take place between as many as 32 contestants, 16 per side, is more of a skirmish between heavily suited super commandos, with no more strategic depth than a raid on a campus dorm.
The mission is afoot to re-take the missile silo/temporary office complex in EA’s Battlefield : 2142.
Still, it’s an engaging enough concept if you’re playing it with several other people, never mind whether or not you can actually see them. At E3 this week, Microsoft had set up an area for Battlefield gaming that was linked to other PCs in the area, including at EA’s own booth, and as we also discovered, someplace in the Nvidia complex. Just during the half-hour we visited Battlefield at the Microsoft exhibit on Thursday, we noticed that designers from Ubisoft, Paragon Five, and Rockstar had all come over to spend 10 minutes blasting away at well-armed classmates. While none of them had actually seen the game before, none of them needed coaching. The era of exclusive keyboard layouts is almost history, as nearly everyone immediately got the hang of what the left hand was supposed to do, and how the mouse moved the soldier. Discovering how the mouse wheel changed over one’s armament was also a pleasant surprise for most.
Since Battlefield : 2142 is more of a paintball party than a mission, it’s nice that the party organizers have left out a whole lot of fun weapons to partake in, including a nicely-placed helicopter on a launch pad, fully fueled, suspended in space by an invading mothership. There’s no simulation involved in the flying, although it does feel at times like you’re trying to shoot cannonballs into a convenience store from a floating rubber duck.
A serious strategy session - at least, as serious as it gets for this game.
"Strategy" for this game is something of a comforting illusion. Players are given a nicely detailed overview of the terrain, which is about as helpful as having the blueprints of a sorority house you’re about to go raid with toilet paper. Most of the time, the experienced gamers we saw basically needed to know which keys dropped them down, and which ones deployed the parachutes as they jumped willy-nilly off of the invading deployment platforms or the sides of buildings.
Customizing one’s own internal warrior - something we all should do, if not for ourselves, than for the people who depend on us.
If there is any rocket science to this game at all, it is in customizing the look and feel of your own personal player, whom other players in the network will get to see for 0.36 seconds before either a) you blow them away, or b) they blow you away. But if you have to go out, at least your doing it with your choice of gun in your hand, and a perfect enamel paint job for your camouflage suit and helmet. Inevitably, someone will concoct the Dale Earnhardt "Intimidator Special" design, complete with a "Goodwrench" logo and a big "3."
There doesn’t really have to be much backstory in a party game these days, and that’s not altogether a bad thing. What professional gamers we saw liked about Battlefield : 2142 was how easily they could join up and play a part, and join in the sprit of friendship with dozens of others they’ve never met, in the mutual act of blowing stuff up. There’s hope for our future yet.