The Battlefield 2: Special Forces expansion takes EA’s online multiplayer combat series into a new dimension: the vertical one. Grappling hooks allow soldiers to take rooftops and assault from above, or merely scout from the high ground. When you need to get down, you'll fly into the action on your zip line. In addition to upgraded weapons for nearly every class, the new flashbang grenades and teargas canisters come in handy when assaulting enemy strongholds or flushing out pesky squads. Operatives will also be issued a gas mask and night vision goggles, tools of the trade for modern-day ninjas.
The eight new maps clearly steal the show; dramatic environments dense with foliage and concealment set a new high-water mark in ultra-realistic terrain. Special Forces offers day and nighttime missions in wickedly tactical warehouses, palaces and forests. The nighttime missions have plenty of light and dark areas: you'll need to toggle the night vision often. This forces taut, electric transitions as you blindly emerge from the shadows. With more places to hide than ever, sneaky players will relish setting up ambushes at chokepoints and defending control points from darkened corners.
But if Special Forces has a major flaw, it's that you never end up doing anything particularly special. This is a military shooter that ignores standard game types, yet serves up nothing new. You’ll never rescue hostages, sabotage weapons depots or defend strategic objectives. Even "Capture-the-Flag" would be a welcome shift away from the tired Conquest: Assault mode. The only time that you’ll feel “special” is when you take all of your fancy new toys from the expansion pack and carry them into battle against your (former) buddies in standard BF2 games. However, you may find your teammates like the Special Forces upgrades so much that they'll filch them from your dead body; after "accidentally" teamkilling you. That's right: vanilla BF2 players can see the new weapons (from the wrong end), but will only have access to them if they purchase the SF expansion ... or, rather, extortion pack. It's a balancing nightmare borne from a marketing dream gone sour.
Eight new vehicle types await you, but that number includes "civilian car" and "pickup truck." But if you found that the armored vehicles in the original Battlefield 2 were so untouchable that tanks waltzed into your neighborhood like they were ice cream trucks, SF’s emphasis on the ground game will be welcome. Ground-pounders have more power than before, but Special Forces tips the balance too far in favor of infantry. Players who've enjoyed the Battlefield franchise for its signature rollicking vehicular combat can skip this expansion altogether.