As I’m stuck in a meat grinder, surrounded by explosions, medkits, and ammo boxes, I finally start to get that classic Battlefield feeling. The problem is, I had to rummage through a box of shattered nostalgia and questionable design choices to get there. Battlefield 2042 is a fragmented game. Like you’re trying to stick a load of jumbled pieces together to form something recognisable. You can tell this is DICE’s most ambitious game yet, because it gets up in your face and shouts it at you, except its speech is slurred, and it’s mumbling something about 1942.
If it was just about the new content – all of the new maps, Specialists, and weapons – presented on their own, I wouldn’t recommend 2042 at full price. The game is barebones in its current state. At launch, there are ten Specialists, a handful of maps, and a back-alley selection of generic ‘modern’ weapons and gadgets that have silly names like ‘C5’ and ‘AK24’. 2042 is clearly set up to be a live-service game. Take that as you will – we’ve all seen how DICE handles live service in the past.
The problems grow more unwieldy the more you play. The audio is terrible. How has this happened? I’ve already written about why Battlefield 1 is one of the most immersive shooters ever made, and that was largely thanks to its incredible audio design. Battlefield 2042’s footsteps, explosions, and general ambient soundscapes are all over the place. Hildur Guðnadóttir and Sam Slater composed the soundtrack – they are Oscar-award-winning composers. And yet, the ethereal, glitchy, sometimes oddly out-of-place (especially in Hazard Zone) music is a hard sell. It is perfect to summarize the “Wow, the entire planet is doomed” vibe that 2042 gives off, but at the same time, doesn’t provide that same atmospheric power of the classic dun-dun-dun Battlefield theme.
This lack of atmosphere translates over to Breakthrough and Conquest, two of the game’s core modes. Breakthrough is designed as an homage to Rush and Grand Operations, but it felt like little more than 128 players clashing together in some sort of mad chaos. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but the feeling of cohesion and teamwork is vanished and is replaced by Specialists swinging from buildings like Spider-Man and spotting you through walls. Stick 128 players in any game with vehicles and weapons and you’re going to have fun, but it’s not Battlefield.
The Specialists are largely to blame. Despite the increased roster of ten Specialists, you miss a lot of what has made the series tick for the last 20 years. You don’t need a Support character carrying ammo boxes because everyone can carry one if they want. This is the same for the medics, engineers, snipers, whatever. In 2042 you’re a kitted-out super-soldier with the capability of soloing the entire team. Again, I have to stress – THIS IS FUN. But it’s not Battlefield. It’s not even close.
I also have to point out some sad changes to multiplayer. There is no scoreboard, and there is no Global game chat. I asked about the lack of a scoreboard and the general response was “It’s hard to fit 128 players on a scoreboard.” Even Battlefield 3 had a scrolling leaderboard on the Xbox 360. How am I meant to form a nemesis on the other team without a scoreboard? How can I track my progress? Combined with a lack of Global chat, my tinfoil hat is firmly on – this is a sanitized version of Battlefield. Everyone’s a winner, and you can’t say “haha” to the enemy players you just destroyed with a jeep covered in C4.
This is all fairly negative, but before you get too upset, there is some classic Battlefield goodness to be found in 2042. You just need to play a 20-year-old game to experience it. Portal is one of the best things to have happened to the series for several years. It is the game’s major redeeming factor. The part that makes me say, “Yeah, you should probably buy this game.” Portal allows players to create their own experiences across multiple games, pitting 1942 weaponry against modern weapons, or introducing unique rulesets for totally customizable play. Returning to Battlefield 1942 in the 2042 engine was one of those crowning moments – the music, the rolling sand dunes of El Alamein, and the spiraling Messerschmitt exploding in a glorious fireball.
Then, in a heady rush (everyone else in the Discord is getting giddy, and there are murmurings of, “Oh, so this is Battlefield.”) we move into Bad Company 2. You can’t side strafe. You can’t prone. The Recon class has my beloved spotter-ball. I finished the game with 65 assists. I just love throwing that ball. Medics rush down the line, support LMGs tear up windows, and snipers glint from a distant ridge. We conquer the streets of Arica Harbor and pat each other on the back. I’ve been playing 2042 for three days at this point, and this is the first time it’s felt like Battlefield.
So buy 2042, if only for the Portal mode. You’ve got 13 playable maps at launch, including maps from 1942, Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3, and weapons, gadgets, and vehicles from all three games, too. It’s a great time – especially if you’ve played any of those games before. Portal is the future of the Battlefield series. The potential is huge, and I hope that the mode is supported throughout the game’s lifecycle, and then carried onto the next Battlefield, on and on, until you have this enormous playable database of 20 years of games. I’m getting woozy just thinking about it.
This is a review in progress following the three-day review event hosted by DICE. We played through several game modes, but always under DICE’s direct supervision, so I didn’t feel like this was enough time to fairly give a score for 2042. Take this as my first impression of the game, and I will update this after the first week of early access with a score.
NEXT: Battlefield 2042: Everything We Know So Far
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