Battlefield 2042 Review: "A Real Low Point In The Franchise"
For the longest time, there have been a few multiplayer first-person shooters going head-to-head, each focusing on a different element. Call of Duty has always been known for arcade-esque, close-quarters combat. Halo foregoes any sense of realism in favour of battles set on alien planets and a high time to kill. Meanwhile, Battlefield has always offered war on a larger scale with tanks, choppers, and jets playing a key role in the epic-scale conflicts.
Battlefield 2042 takes this flagship offering one step further with 128-player matches. The largest number of players in one match the series has seen so far, it's evident the goal was to create huge, sprawling matches that make you feel like you're actually in a war. After playing since the early access launch however, more isn't always better, and even though there are moments of brilliance, Battlefield 2042 is a little too ambitious for its own good.
War, War Never Changes
Back in the days of Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3, the series had a winning formula. Bigger matches than anything Call of Duty could offer, but still manageable in that you could work together as a team and see the results of your actions on the… battlefield. Rivalries were easily forged as you saw the wrong end of a bullet from the same player too many times over, and even though the action could get chaotic, it was easy to see at a glance what was happening.
The series has slowly been leaning into much larger battles for a while now though, and while Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 1 were somewhat decent (as an aside, please fix the naming strategy EA), it's safe to say it has gone too far. Battlefield 2042 is nothing short of a mess in the two flagship gamemodes, Conquest and Breakthrough.
With 64 players on each team, every map is utterly gargantuan, with far too many open spaces and little cover. Such a wide open space means players on the enemy team can set up wherever they like, and vice versa, picking off stragglers on foot with snipers before leaving their own spawn, even if the battle tide is ebbing and flowing evenly. Not having a squadmate to spawn on in the thick of the action means you're left crossing your fingers for a vehicle, and if there's not one available? Unlucky, you've got a long trek ahead of you.
This isn't a new mechanic of course, but it was never this much of an issue in earlier titles because maps were smaller and matches were more linear in where players could explore. You'd rarely find an enemy strolling around near your spawn, but in 2042 it feels like there are always foes posted up around every corner.
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Fleeting Moments Of Brilliance
It's not all doom and gloom because there are fleeting moments that showcase how much potential Battlefield 2042 has, hidden like a ghillie suit sniper amongst the chaos. Hopping into a jet or chopper and raining pain on enemies grouped up on an objective will never stop being delightful, nor will managing to flank behind the row of snipers keeping your teammates pinned in spawn. Since both of the "all out warfare" modes suffer from the same problem of being too chaotic with no structure though, it makes these highlights few and far between.
While aerial vehicles can provide these Michael Bay-esque moments of glory, and also be vulnerable to being taken down from anti-air missiles, tanks, and the already-infamous hovercrafts are much more overpowered. Having a single tank roll through and clear all your allies attempting to take an objective is frequent, while the hovercraft is broken beyond belief. A staggering amount of health and speed means it can plough through enemies, as long as someone is in the gunner seat. Not to mention the ability to somehow scale vertical walls.
A note needs to be made about how buggy it is right now too. Playing on PC, there have been numerous times I've been stuck after dying, unable to respawn, countless others where the hit registration decides to go on holiday and I shoot straight at someone only for every bullet to phase through them, and more. Battlefield 2042 is a game made during the recent pandemic, but it should've been delayed accordingly to fix things like these.
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Battlefield Spec Ops
While the carnage found in All Out Warfare is certainly Battlefield 2042's primary offering, it isn't the only one. There's also Hazard Zone, which is described as "Squad Operations" as opposed to the "Epic Battles" of the former. This is somewhat similar to Escape From Tarkov in that you drop into a match with three squadmates and you need to locate, secure, and extract some data drives. Squads of other players will be hunting for the same drives, while groups of AI soldiers lurk nearby.
While the mode itself feels half-baked because there isn't much variety, it's clear to see this is where Battlefield can truly shine. These gunfights with smaller squads taking on one another, without being shot in the side from a tank across a desolate wasteland, help the refined gunplay and movement to really shine. Teamwork can prove crucial here too, whereas when you've got 63 teammates in the standard modes, you stand no chance of co-ordinating a strategic attack.
Hazard Zone is much more tactical, although the aspect that will divide most players is that you don't get to choose a standard loadout before going in. Extracting with data drives and killing enemies will earn you credits which persist across matches, and you can spend these credits before each match on the equipment you want to drop in with. Die too many times in a row after spending all your money? You're stuck with the basic factory issued equipment until you build up some bank again.
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The Classics Are The Best
Finally, there's Portal. Without a shadow of a doubt the shining star of Battlefield 2042, but the problem is the most impressive aspects of Portal are the remastered versions of Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3. If you played those games, you can experience parts of them all over again in the 2042 engine. EA has really shot itself in the foot here though, because what Portal does is showcase just how ridiculously enjoyable the older Battlefield games are compared to the simply frustrating entry Portal is tagged onto.
Take Battlefield 1942 for instance - whipping out the Kar98k and picking foes off from a distance on El Alamein and Battle of the Bulge isn't only more fun, it's much easier to digest too. It's not chaotic, you know what's happening at all times, tanks and planes can run the show, but with such a limited number of players in comparison, it's much easier to stomach. Bad Company 2 is the same, bringing back the iconic Rush mode to Arica Harbor and Valparaiso, while Battlefield 3 offers the all-time favourite Caspian Border alongside Noshahr Canals.
Battlefield Portal is how we can get remastered versions of the classic titles without them actually being re-released, but the only downside is that these aren't the full experiences. Each one has just one mode and two maps, so while Portal is far and away the stand-out aspect of Battlefield 2042, there's not enough here to keep players engaged - or make it worth the full price purchase. Other community creations are available like a classic infected mode or "VIP Fiesta" which is similar to an escort mode, but 2042 is not worth it just for those.
Lofty Ambitions That Fail On All Fronts
Battlefield 2042 is a game with some seriously lofty ambitions, because destruction and warfare on a scale we've never seen before is always going to grab the headlines. Unfortunately, more effort has gone into those jaw-dropping moments, like seeing huge buildings topple to the ground, than it has into making the game fun and balanced. There's a solid foundation here, but this entry needed a lot longer in the oven to iron out the main modes and provide some more variety into Hazard Zone, because the result is a real low point in the franchise.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.