It's no exaggeration to say that Battlefield 1942's release back in 2002 heralded the emergence of a new form of online multiplayer experience. Developer Digital Illusions created seamless war-torn environments for up to 64 players at a time, founded on an ambitious amalgam of first-person shooting, simplified strategy and driving over land, air and sea.
So the sequel, Battlefield 2, has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, it has superb physics and special effects, a brand-new game engine and much enhanced co-operative team-based strategy. This is a spanking, action-tastic winner - although some of the small problems that plagued the original remain unsolved.
Like its predecessor, Battlefield 2 doesn't supply you with a narrative arc. The only plot is the backdrop of a 21st-century war fought between America, the People's Liberation Army of China and the Middle East Coalition - it's about as politically correct as a Roy ‘Chubby' Brown gig.
The single player mode lets you choose from a number of environments with some set objectives. But even with the improved AI (artificial intelligence), this is a wash-out - think of it as a practice run for the real thing. Battlefield 2 is all about trying to outwit and work with other human players online. And in this regard it succeeds emphatically.
Loading times on Battlefield 2 are horrendous - even on a high-end system. But once you've found a decent server you're unlikely to leave the game for the rest of the night.
When you've decided what team you're going to bat for you're offered seven classes of infantry, each with a different kit and role to play in the Battlefield arena. This time around the kits are much better balanced.
The enhanced teamplay, with points now awarded for helping others, means playing as a medic or engineer - and being able to mend vehicles and resuscitate humans just by being near them - is worth doing. It's great to have a benevolent team player bring you round when you're lying near death.
Digital Illusions has done a brilliant job of organising the chaos of fighting by introducing squad-based play and Commander mode. Squad play allows you to start or join a squad, issuing or receiving objectives. This adds a superb twist to the gameplay. Once you've aligned yourself with a squad, Battlefield 2 reaches peaks of gameplay never hit before.
Commander turns the game into a top-down real-time strategy game like Sudden Strike. You can send in supplies, issue orders to squad leaders and set up air strikes. But you need to practise on single player - if you apply to be a Commander and get accepted, only to run it badly, other players
can call a mutiny.
The 5.1 channel audio sound effects are some of the best I've heard in a game - I found myself physically ducking to avoid the ricocheting bullets. Graphics are brilliant, with great attention to detail and realistic explosions. Vehicle control is beautiful and easy to get to grips with.
With such beautiful gameplay at your fingertips it would be nice to see more than one game mode, and the 12 maps don't open up as many play options as Battlefield 1942. But we're sure the modding community will soon create add-one to sort that out.