Looking more like a Pop Idol contestant than the person responsible for a multi-million dollar franchise of sanctioned murder simulations, Marcus Nilsson, the senior producer for Battlefield 2142, is not your typical high-ranking game developer. Despite seeming slightly uncomfortable at having to enthuse in front of a bunch of dour UK journalists, he talks a lot and at pace. He's also very apologetic and aware of the minor, though not insignificant, flaws that have coloured expectations of the Battlefield series as it enters its fourth iteration. Though it's slightly tricky to follow what he's talking about - he veers from Star Wars to server code in one breath - (thank the lord for recording devices), it's clear he isn't one to paper over cracks. "I'm sorry about the carpet," he says out of the blue, moving all eyes to witness the scuffed wooden floor. "We're moving office."
To a nicer part of town, obviously, since Digital Illusions are awash with cash after selling 300 billion copies, more or less, of Battlefield product. Pretty much entirely owned (some might say 'p4wned') by EA, Digital Illusions are no longer the little-guy developer the hardcore used to rally around. Instead, they have slowly become a developer to be reviled by corporate loathing EA-phobes for pumping out sequels, wafer-thin (albeit cheap) mini expansions and recycling old technology. Young Will Porter said as much a while ago; that 2142, the futuristic sequel to BF2's contemporary vision, was a kind of updated mod - as was Battlefield Vietnam to BF1942. It's a comparison that's perhaps unfair, since Vietnam was, relative to its predecessor, reliably off kilter. Here in 2006, having played the latest Battlefield shortly after having to sit through a series of 'we're doing this better' presentations from various Digital Illusions luminaries, we can confidently predict that players will be enjoying not just a vastly improved game, but a more polished and smoother Battlefield experience - just as soon as the carpets go down in the new DICE HQ.
LET THEM EAT QUAKE
As is the tendency with most sequels, Battlefield 2142 offers an evolutionary advance, where gameplay has been refined and the scale expanded since the original BF1942. Maps have become more elaborate; vehicles more varied and having exhausted all previous wars that would reliably fit the template, it seemed obvious that the future was the way to go.
This time however, Digital Illusions will have quite a fight for the market share. By making the game faster-paced - or rather, by helping players stay alive longer - and with vehicles edging closer to the Aliens/ Starship Troopers mould, the game seems to be encroaching on enemy territory, in a very literal sense. Quake Wars looks to be doing much the same thing and, of course, Unreal pitched its flag in this future arena years ago. Both games would on first impressions appear to be offering a more focused and accessible FPS experience. Battlefield's trump card, however, is its scale. Its go-anywhere, do-anything (within reason) approach has always been initially frustrating, increasingly so with each passing game, but that's countered by the many and varied approaches to victory that can be discovered and perfected. As bewilderment turns to mild addiction, each Battlefield has become a behemoth of replayability that no other FPS can touch.
MECH IT SO
Nowhere is the scale of 2142 bettered than in the much trumpeted Titan mode, where two hovering gargantua must be taken down by the opposing sides, by controlling missile silos on the surface below. With shields down the Titans can be boarded, from which should spring tense firefights down sinuous corridors, until eventually the flying brick erupts and heralds victory for its attackers. Nilsson enthusiastically equates Titan assaults with the memorable boarding scene from Star Wars: A New Hope, where the rebels waited for the stormtroopers to pour in.