Review: Battlefield 2 and Special Forces

A game review by Bobulous.


Battlefield 2 is a multiplayer game by DICE set in theatres of modern infantry warfare. It is a first-person shooter that rewards teamwork and combat skills.

Special Forces is an expansion pack for Battlefield 2. It features new teams, maps, vehicles, equipment and weapons.


I bought Battlefield 2 in-store at Game for £19.99 as Game's Deal Of The Week.

Special Forces was bought from a GameStation store for £19.99.


Installing Battlefield 2 was no problem, but trying to install the latest patch was a pain in the ass. The patch refused to run until I cleared more than 3GB of space on drive F even though the game is actually on drive C. This is a stupid bug that cost me twenty minutes of moving, deleting, compressing and defragmenting a drive that I shouldn't have needed to do anything to.

Installing Special Forces is easy enough, but once you've installed that you must run the latest patch installer again. At least it ran first time the second time around.


Battlefield 2

As is increasingly the way, you cannot play this game online without creating an online account. When I did this for the demo, I had real problems. I had to try several usernames and several email addresses before it accepted the new account details. When I created a new account for the full game, it worked first time. Hopefully whatever the problem was has been fixed.

screenshot: A convoy of transport vehicles heads south through Mashtuur City.

The single-player mode is probably a good place to start but, apart from the tutorial-like audio advice that guides you each time you encounter a new situation, it's not much use at all. The artifical intelligence is pretty pathetic. Once you've got the controls set to your liking, you're likely to just jump into the online game against real players.

The server browser (which you use to find online games) is pretty ropey. The list of servers is never sorted automatically, so you have to click twice to sort it every time. And the whole list disappears if you attempt to apply filters to it, after which clicking Update Server List has no effect. These are bugs that frequently irritate and surely could be easily fixed.

Perserverance with the server browser will eventually connect you to a suitable online server. The load times are fairly shocking at first, and even when you've joined the game you may suffer pauses and jerkiness while the textures and sounds continue to load into memory.

Once the game is finally running smoothly, the fun begins. Battlefield 2 is basically a capture-the-flags game writ big. At its lowest level, you can treat it like a fancy deathmatch. At its highest level, you can be part of a coordinated squad, lead a squad, or command the whole team. The aim of each army is to capture strategic points, and deplete the enemy's tickets. Holding a map-dependent number of strategic points will gradually reduce the enemy's ticket-count, and each enemy soldier killed will take another of their tickets. The losing team is the one whose ticket-count reaches zero first.

There are three armies, and each is fairly similar, having carefully balanced weapons. Much more important is that each army has seven classes of soldier:

screenshot: The spawn screen, with the choice of seven soldier classes on the left, and a map of Kubra Dam and its spawn points on the right.

All soldier kits come with a knife, pistol, grenades, and a parachute for safer descent from heights.

Apart from offering variety, these seven classes are critical for a coordinated team. A good squad will need a mix of soldier classes to achieve their aims. A good squad leader will use his squad's strengths and lead his squad accordingly. A good commander will notice what classes each squad contains, and take advantage of their special abilities.

The commander can give squads targets to attack or defend, and he can drop supply crates for squads. He can also scan for the enemy, deploy unmanned drones to show the troops where the enemy are in a combat area, and drop artillery on enemy concentrations.

A team that is organised into well-chosen squads and is led by a dedicated commander ought to always trounce a team that is made up of lone wolves who roam around according to whim. What most usually happens is that the team will have squads that are loosely organised, and a commander that cannot persuade his troops to follow his orders. Being commander of such an army is like playing Command & Conquer and hearing the units say "No, sir!" instead of rushing to their new objective. Even though the commander can see the big picture, squad leaders are not forced to obey their army leader.

When you first play, though, you'll be too overwhelmed to care about team coordination. The screen is awash with information, most of which is not obvious in meaning. It takes time, and you will feel completely lost, but you do gradually work out what every last feature of the interface means. The bewilderment doesn't stop you from enjoying the game, though. Even a bewildered soldier can find his way to enemy flags, fire at enemy soldiers, and act as driver for an APC full of troops.

screenshot: The view through the scope of a sniper rifle. A lone enemy soldier is located right under the crosshair of the L96A1 rifle, barely visible through the dusty atmosphere of the Strike At Karkand map, he is unaware of the sniper.

Perserverance is rewarded if you play on ranked game servers. Every shot you fire, every hit and miss, every kill and death, every victory and loss, and just about everything in the game, is recorded by ranked game servers and reported back to a central records server. This allows you to check how you're doing and compare yourself to other players. It also allows you to earn medals, badges and ribbons for your performance. To earn the Basic Assault Combat Badge, you have to score five kills in one round on a ranked game server while wearing the Assault kit. More tricky is the Basic Knife Combat Badge, which requires that you score seven knife kills in one round.

You may find yourself very conscious of these awards. If you're close to getting an award as a Sniper, you'll usually stay in the Sniper kit all through the round, trying to complete the requirements to get the award. What's odd is that I find it much more satisfying to be submerged in frenzied battle and then to be surprised by a new award when you weren't aiming for one. Beware, though. The first medal I won was lost by the game server I was playing on. It never reported the new award to the central server. This happens occasionally, but not often.

As your ranked score increases, your rank increases. Rank superiority gives you a better chance of winning commander elections, and some ranks also allow you to unlock new weapons. Most of these weapons are fairly similar to the standard weapons. This is understandable, because any other way would give veteran players too much advantage over new players. But it does make the weapon unlocks less compelling.

screenshot: A helicopter hovers low to help capture the oil cisterns control point in the Daqing Oilfields. On the ground, tanks fend off enemy infantry.

The game does have some bugs, even in version 1.12. Clicking buttons on the interface often has no effect until you click a second time. Another frequent irritation is that it's possible to get caught on edges. A small edge is often enough to stop you crawling, even if the edge would be less than ten centimetres is real life. And once I got caught on a handrail. The edge detection seems slightly faulty. I've also been jettisoned several times from jet planes when the plane was in the non-combat zone, even though I am certain that my fingers were nowhere near the exit-vehicle button. (I think the talk buffer and the command buffer get mixed up sometimes.)

A serious irritation is the Play Now button. This tries to connect you to a suitable game without you having to look through the server browser. But it takes an age to do anything, doesn't tell you what's going on, and unforgiveably does not offer a cancel option. So if you click it by accident, you'll be swearing out loud for five minutes before your machine becomes usable again.

These bugs aren't enough to ruin the game, and the software does have a couple of features that most games don't. For me, the keyboard layout handling is important. I use the Dvorak layout whereas most people use QWERTY, but the game's controls still work by default, without me having to reconfigure them. Best of all, when I use the chat feature, I can type using my layout, and the text appears properly. This thoughtful coding impresses me greatly. The last time I saw keyboard layout consideration in a game was in Max Payne.

Another bit of good coding is the way ladders are dealt with. In most games, including hits such as Half-Life, ladders are a nightmare. Usually you fall to your death trying to get on and off them, and you end up climbing up them just when you don't want to. In Battlefield 2, they almost always just work. Getting onto and off of roofs is easy. Well, easy until a sniper spots you.

Special Forces

Special Forces is very similar to Battlefield 2. It's played on new maps that feature new vehicles, with new armies that use new weapons. Rather than open warfare, though, the theme in Special Forces is secret operations with elite troops.

screenshot: A Hind helicopter engaged in a close-up gun battle with an Apache gunship helicopter on the Iron Gator map. Missile smoke streaks the sky around the duelling choppers.

The soldier classes are the same, but feature these new additions:

screenshot: A night-vision view of the grappling hook, ready to be thrown onto the gate wall of the asylum on Devil's Perch.

Also, all soldier classes are equipped with night vision for maps that feature night fighting, and with a gas mask to defend against tear gas. Note that these extra items of equipment cannot be used in Battlefield 2 maps, but Special Forces weapon unlocks can be used in Battlefield 2 maps.

The grappling hook and the zip line are a great idea, but they don't work reliably. The grappling hook gets onto a roof no problem, but its attached rope doesn't act naturally. It doesn't let gravity straighten it out, so kinks often appear that will throw you off of the rope halfway up the side of a high wall. So you get injured badly, then have to try with the grappling hook a second time. The zip line is similarly irritating at times.

screenshot: Suffering from the effects of tear gas in the Ghost Town. The view has become warped and blurred.

The flashbangs are an understandable additon, but I've seen them used very little. The problem with hand-thrown grenades in almost all first-person shooters is that bad programming means that the bloody things never go where you intended them to. The tear gas launcher gets used more often because it fires in a predictable arc and because the thick cloud chokes everyone not wearing their gas mask, causing coughing and blurred vision which are a serious impediment to combat performance.

The maps that Special Forces is played on are very different to those in Battlefield 2. The Special Forces maps are mostly smaller, more claustrophobic. Several take place at night, so night-vision is necessary. Which is a problem if you're using an ATI graphics card, because a driver bug means that the night-vision effect is heavily ghosted.

Special Forces maps are much less balanced than Battlefield 2 maps. Leadership and teamwork are much more important in Special Forces. Milling about will get you pwned by a disciplined team that is coordinated by squad leaders and a dedicated commander, and once the map is dominated by one team it seems much harder for the losing team to find its feet than in Battlefield 2.

screenshot: A view of the Warlord palace from the point of view of a player travelling down a zipline.

Almost all of the game servers running Special Forces maps are empty. I don't have too much trouble finding a game with players, but the selection on offer is much slimmer than with standard Battlefield 2 servers. There are forum debates about whether or not people only buy Special Forces to get the extra weapon unlocks. The unlockable weapons that come with Special Forces are, like the Battlefield 2 unlocks, not hugely different from the default weapons. What's weird is that you cannot always choose to use these very same unlocked weapons in Special Forces.

Something else weird is that performance in Special Forces is, on my machine, much worse than in Battlefield 2. Even though most Special Forces maps are smaller. It takes longer for the game to load, and once it does there's much more disk thrashing. Occasionally the game just feels unplayably jerky. Someone with a high-end machine may not have any problem, but my 512MiB of RDRAM is just not enough for gaming anymore.

One final note about Special Forces: the voice acting for the SAS team is awful. It sounds like American actors trying to sound like a fifties stereotype. If the next game needs English vocals, I'll do them for free. Just please don't subject us to any more tea-and-scones-in-the-village English imitations.


Battlefield 2 is an excellent team-based multiplayer game. There's a huge amount to it, and a huge variety of ways you can play in the game. I've seen nothing that resembles cheating, which is a refreshing change from Counter-Strike: Source. While the game does have glitches, and needs a well-specified machine to run smoothly, it's an excellent product overall. Recommended for anyone who likes the idea of online, team-based combat over large maps.

Special Forces adds some decent maps, and some interesting new equipment. But some of the new equipment doesn't work reliably, and performance is worse on my machine than in Battlefield 2. A patch might improve the quirks, but if you don't get flawless performance from Battlefield 2, I recommend giving the Special Forces expansion pack a miss.

Tips for Battlefield 2

UBAR, The Unofficial Battlefield 2 Awards and Ranks Guide.

BF2S Wiki, a lot of information about Battlefield 2 and Special Forces.

Battlefield2 Stats Tracker, for checking out your stats and your global ranking.

Battlefield 2 Tweak Guide, with tips on getting the best performance out of the game.

Playing to Win, which could be titled: "Screw fun, I came here to kick ass."


15th October 2006

Almost a year after buying the game, and after nearly 350 hours of online gameplay, I've run out of patience with Battlefield 2. The niggling bugs, connection problems, and the difficulty in employing teamwork with total strangers has finally worn me down, and I've uninstalled the game. But nothing lasts forever, and 350 hours of gameplay makes Battlefield 2 one of the best value games that I've ever owned. Working out at twelve pence per hour of gameplay, that's pretty difficult to beat.

DICE and EA are soon to release a modified version of Battlefield 2, called Battlefield 2142, but initial reports suggest that the game does not have the quality or balance of BF2.

1st September 2010

Take a look at my review of the Novint Falcon, a unique game controller which has had support in Battlefield 2 since version 1.5.