I have a sad confession to make about all Battlefield games: I'm terrible at them. The strange thing is that, although my persistent failure is as disheartening as being repeatedly beaten with the butt of a rifle while someone shouts "You're useless Devlin," I keep coming back for more. If I wanted ritual humiliation, maybe I should have joined the real army. Then again, with my Battlefield 2142 stats, it's probably better I never wield anything more dangerous than a two-button mouse.
The latest instalment in the acclaimed online multiplayer series shifts the action to the future, where a second ice age has wreaked havoc on the earth. Now the European Union (God help us!) and the newly created Pan Asian Coalition have to duke it out for control of the last resources on the planet. Fortunately, Sergeant (well, Private) Devlin is here to save the day, or at least pick off a couple of enemies from a distance and behind a sturdy wall. The truth is that Battlefield 2142 once again sticks to developer DICE's philosophy that one man alone can't win the war, which makes it particularly tough on nOObs looking for a quick cure for their itchy trigger fingers. The real glory in the game comes from joining a squad and doing your bit to help the team to victory, whereas going it alone all too often leads to a quick and humiliating death.
Obviously, the futuristic setting is squarely targeting the lucrative Halo market but this game is a very different animal to Bungie's masterpiece. My finely honed FPS skills, which have held me in a good stead online with the likes of Call of Duty and Unreal Tournament 2004, are little use to me when on the frontlines of Battlefield 2142. Instead, mastery of an arsenal of weapons, the ability to fly a drop ship under heavy enemy fire and possessing a lap dog approach to following orders are the only real keys to success. Climbing the military ranks, by killing enemies and holding key points on the map, gives you access to more weapons and tools - whereas a gung ho approach to the game will only earn you a trip home in a wooden box. In short, Battlefield 2142 sticks heavily to the war torn gameplay template of Battlefield 2, both for better and for worse.
There are 10 expansive new maps to get to grips with (most of which are set in icy landscapes or empty cities), new weapons (the EMP grenades are a great way to hinder enemies by temporarily disabling their electronics) and futuristic vehicles to drive and fly (the massive Mech-style Battle Walkers are particularly impressive) but, ultimately, many of these are just cosmetic additions. The same goes for the graphics and audio that, while still impressive on a decent rig, are not a major leap over those found in Battlefield 2. Annoyingly, there is still no widescreen support - meaning images can end up squashed and stretched on anything but a standard monitor. Instead, the main draw for players is a new play mode to try out, alongside the standard Conquest missions. Titan Mode challenges teams to defeat a massive flying warship, which is controlled by the enemy commander. By seizing control of scattered missile silos, players have to first wear down the Titan's shields before fighting through to the reactor core and detonating it from the inside. Although the largest 64-player matches appear to suffer a little from lag, the new game mode has been warmly embraced by the legions of Battlefield fans online. Matches are lengthy, strategically demanding and always end with an exhilarating, dramatic climax.
Apart from the new mode, the only other major change over Battlefield 2 comes in the player classes. These have been significantly streamlined, with Recon for example combining both the Sniper and Special Forces classes, and the overall effect is to give more breadth and freedom to your role in the war. While most players will start out as Assault soldiers, replete with a heavy machine gun and lots of ammo, once they start to experiment they will often find a more fitting role for their individual talents. Personally, my best work was in Support, where I quickly became a bit of a dab hand at defending areas from relentless enemy attacks. Battlefield 2142 is all about doing your bit and, once you get past the initial urge to run and around shooting everything in sight, this makes for a far more deep and rewarding game.
For all the new content and gameplay tweaks, however, Battlefield 2142 rarely rises above its growing reputation as an expensive mod. As I've already found, there are many hours of frantic online warfare to be wrought from this release, but veterans of other Battlefield games wanting a whole new instalment to the series are going to be left disappointed. This is definitely a case of evolution over revolution and, although the franchise makes a confident leap into the future, 2142's engine and gameplay are firmly rooted in the past. The action is still fast and frantic, the warfare is epic and exciting and the loading times remain as excruciating as ever. To misquote Mr Spock, this is Battlefield Jim, almost exactly as we know it.