Unlike with many online shooters, which thrive on their pick up and play appeal, there is definitely something intimidating about returning to a Battlefield game after a prolonged absence. There is the fear that everyone else will have surpassed your skills and you will be left out of the action, like some gawky draftee who doesn't know which end of the rifle to point at the enemy. But the lure of new maps, vehicles and gameplay tweaks offered by EA's first booster pack for Battlefield 2142 was a strong one and so I once again found myself embroiled in a titanic struggle across the game's icy, futuristic landscapes.
As you might recall from my review, I was rather partial to a spot of Battlefield 2142 but was quick to admit it's no place for n00bs to get their blasting fix. As was to be expected, the hardcore very quickly embraced the game and only the most proficient of new recruits could earn enough stripes to get the most out of the experience. This remained true on first launching this closed beta test for Northern Strike, where I discovered battles already raging with the same intensity on the new maps as on those from the original game. People sure catch on fast where Battlefield is concerned.
There are three new locations to get to grips with in this booster pack, each one set in mainland Europe where the Pan-Asian Coalition (PAC) has established new strongholds in a desperate attempt to gain superiority over the European Union. The Bridge at Remagen echoes a historic battle from World War II, with EU forces launching a bold attack across ice fields to try and establish a foothold on the slopes of the frozen Rhine. It's a sprawling level set in a crumbling cityscape, although the bridge creates an ideal choke point for the giant Battle Walkers to duke it out as soldiers scurry around between their legs.
Developer DICE's skill at crafting initially daunting but quickly familiar scenarios extends to the other two maps included in this pack. Port Bavaria offers a scenic spot for a scrap at a Titan docking harbour and the Liberation of Leipzig serves as a frantic assault and defence level, designed to be a climactic showdown between the two opposing forces. With so many opportunities for cover afforded by the city, the latter level provides the most immediate thrills for infantry players - while the other pair are arguably more suited to vehicular combat due to the longer distances needing to be traversed. Along with support for Titan missions (where you have to destroy Battlefield 2142's showcase motherships by seizing missile silos) on two of the maps, with Remagen being the first in an urban setting, a new Conquest mode has been added too. Assault Lines challenges opposing forces to seize all of the map's control points before they can take on the enemy base. This certainly ramps up the tension and makes being involved in the final assault all the more sweet.
It's not just maps that you get with this pack though, as there are also two new vehicles included to add an extra element of strategy to the proceedings. Designed to work as perfect foils to one another on the battlefield, the EU's Goliath is a huge, slow-moving firing platform that can provide cover and health/ammo for nearby infantry, while the PAC's considerably lighter Hachimoto serves as an invaluable vehicle destroyer that zips around the levels. Both were being put to good use during my test session and there was a real sense of fear whenever the Goliath approached your area, although that could just be my natural cowardice talking.
Players who take the game seriously, rather than just running around scattering bullets at anything that moves, should be pleased with the 10 new unlocks and awards that can be earned by progressing steadily through the ranks. Battlefield has always been a series that encourages persistence and it's good to see real devotees will be suitably rewarded for their efforts, even if my personal medal cabinet remains pretty bare.
The big question remains though; is Northern Strike worth splashing out a further £5.99 on? Based on the few hours I got to spend with the beta, the three maps alone offer a worthy amount of content and the new vehicles and conquest mode certainly bolster the appeal of the package. I doubt the additions will be enough to recruit many newcomers to the game but the hardcore faithful, who are still playing in their droves, won't be able to resist the lure of having new battlefields to once again prove their skills on.