Learning Curve: About a half hour
It's fair to note, however, that your online experience with Battlefield 2 is completely dependent on the nature of your fellow players. And yes, it can be frustrating if you find yourself on a team that doesn't organize into squads or doesn't work together. This frustration is doubled if you find yourself facing a team that is organized and coordinated. With the powerful team tools in the game, it's quite easy for a completely outnumbered but coordinated team to defeat a far larger and unorganized force. The game does come with tools designed to get you familiar with the controls, but you still rely on the willingness of your teammates to work together. If anything, we wish for some kind of option that requires you to join a squad when you enter a game, and if you fail to do this you'll be kicked off, since players who play outside the command and squad system remain outside the loop. (The game could use a better auto-balancing system, as well, as far too many matches become lopsided affairs because one team has twice as many players as the other.)
Though you don't get to run around a lot as the commander, you can still inflict a lot of damage upon the enemy by reporting enemy movements and raining artillery down on their heads.
Of course, all it takes are a handful of anarchic team killers to throw a wrench into your experience, as well. In that case, you can try to vote someone off a server if he or she proves annoying enough, or the server can boot players who team-kill too often. In addition, Battlefield 2 introduces the concept of persistent identity. When you log onto Battlefield 2 for the first time, you'll create a unique account that will follow you throughout your online adventures, keeping track of your rank, your statistics, and much more. The better you play, the higher in rank you will rise, and you can eventually unlock alternate weapons. A higher rank also means that you will be given higher priority to assume the commander role in a match, so hopefully this will let the serious players gain control of such a potent position.
We should note that Battlefield 2 keeps track of an astonishing number of statistics, such as the number of kills you make with each weapon, your favorite kit, the map you play the most on, and more. You can also collect dozens of different types of medals by doing certain tasks. Medics are rewarded for reviving fallen soldiers, engineers are rewarded for repairing vehicles, and so on. Collecting these medals proves to be a reward in and of itself. However, as much as we like this system, we must admit that the game's main menu/server browser, where you access your personal statistics, feels needlessly confusing at times. The server browser itself is slow and clunky, which makes it annoying at times when you're trying to find a game. Since this is the third Battlefield game, you'd expect that the designers would have figured out how to create a decent server browser by now. Meanwhile, trying to rebind the many different keyboard settings can be like pulling teeth at times, as you have to sort through different pages to unbind a key before you can bind it to another command.
If you're not feeling like playing with fellow humans, the good news is that the much-maligned bots from Battlefields 1942 and Vietnam are history. In those games, the computer-controlled bots were just a hair better than brain-dead, but not by much (they literally ran in circles most of the time). The new bots in Battlefield 2 are relative Einsteins compared to the old ones, and while they still make a few stupid errors every now and then, they can be downright ruthless and cunning. We've seen bots do things that we wish human players would do. In one case, a bot in a tank actually waited for infantry support before entering the crowded confines of an enemy village. In another, the bots threw grenades onto the rooftop we were sniping from to flush us out. These bots will also go after objectives with a vengeance. It's ironic that DICE nixed the cooperative gameplay mode featured in earlier Battlefield games just when it finally developed decent bots. To be fair, the bots can get confused, and we suspect that some maps may be too complex for their pathfinding, as they tend to do better on maps with fewer natural choke points, such as bridges and rivers.
Battlefield 2 ships with 12 levels, and while that seems like a small number, the fact that each level comes in three different sizes adds some variety. The nature of the game can change dramatically depending on the size of the map and the number of players involved. Small, 16-player games on the smallest map offer a Counter-Strike-like atmosphere, with a limited number of control points and a few vehicles. The 32- and 64-player maps are downright huge in comparison, and they offer plenty of room to maneuver around. The level design itself has evolved quite a bit from earlier games, as the designers have eliminated the huge distances that separated control points. These new levels are an interesting mix of different settings, including cities, mountains, valleys, and swamps. They're also packed with all sorts of specific, distinct areas, such as villages, hotels, construction areas, oil refineries, and more.
Yes, attack helicopters can ruin your day, but instead of whining about it, you should find antiaircraft defenses, or jump in a helicopter or fighter, and shoot them down.
There are seven different kits, or basically character class types, to play as in Battlefield 2, and these kits are essentially identical across all three nations. There aren't the weird variations that occurred in Battlefield Vietnam, where the US engineer kit would get completely different weapon types from the North Vietnamese engineer kit. And for the most part, the kits are fairly well balanced. There's no superkit (like the M-60/LAW combination in Vietnam) this time around. And while there will be advocates for and against certain kits, the balance on a whole is excellent right out of the gate for Battlefield 2. For example, the support kit seems a bit overpowering at first, since it gets a light machine gun capable of firing long bursts from huge magazines, but it is tempered by the fact that it's only suitable at short and medium ranges. Try to engage anyone from a long distance, and they'll simply drop down and snipe you with carefully aimed shots. The sniper kit, usually the most overpowering weapon in these kinds of games, no longer features a one-shot, one-kill capability. However, this relegates snipers to their proper (and accurate) role of supporting the infantry and reporting the location of enemy units and vehicles.
There's a definite rock-paper-scissors nature to the different kits. The special forces kit is ideal for planting plastic explosive charges and destroying enemy infrastructure, from bridge crossings to radar stations that allow enemy commanders to conduct satellite scans of the battlefield. In fact, for balancing purposes, it's the only kit able to really do so effectively. Blow up enemy artillery, and the enemy commander can't drop artillery barrages on your team's head until the guns are repaired. The engineer kit can repair such damage and patch up vehicles, and so engineers are worth their weight in gold. Meanwhile, the engineer and medic kits are even more powerful than ever by being able to project an area-of-affect radius around them if they're riding in a vehicle, which is a big incentive for players to take up support roles in a game.