Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: June 23, 2008
The Battlefield series has come a long away from its Battlefield 1942 roots. From Tiger tanks to flying carriers, DICE's gameplay has lived up to the promise of providing a battlefield for players to wage war via land, sea and air. With Battlefield: Bad Company, DICE raises the stakes with the ability to remodel buildings on the fly in order to get to the enemy, complemented by a story of opportunity, greed, and the accidental one-man invasion of a neutral country.
The single-player campaign drafts you as Preston Marlowe, a new arrival to the 222nd Army battalion, B-company, which is also known as "Bad Company." It's where the Army sends all of the rejects that couldn't fit in anywhere else, and the squad to which Preston is assigned wears that as a badge of honor. There's Haggard, the demolitions expert whose country-boy, devil-may-care attitude has been put to use in making things blow up real good, even if it's just a joke. Sweetwater is the technical guy with the smarts and has apparently ended up in Bad Company by mistake. And the Sarge? He's the only thing keeping these two alive long enough to play rock-paper-scissors between missions while he waits for the end of his tour of duty.
Bad Company is used by the Army to take on missions that are too dangerous to spend real soldiers on. They'll fight the forces to help a medal-wearing, tin-pot dictator hold onto power in a fictional Eastern European country. The bad news is that a soldier's life expectancy in Bad Company is pretty low. The good news is that this particular dictator has hired mercenaries to help him hold the country — mercenaries that are paid in gold bars. These guys may not be "Kelly's Heroes," but they know an opportunity when they see one, and those gold bars have to come from somewhere. You can guess where this is going.
Haggard, Sweetwater and the Sarge are a lot of fun to be around, and hearing their chatter on the battlefield never gets old, thanks to great voice acting and excellent writing of the comedic dialogue. As for the story that they support, it's pretty much window dressing to the action; the plot has more holes than a used flak jacket, but the characters keep it interesting. Thumping explosions and staccato gunfire ripped through my speakers, but the music comes off as a mismatched mix of styles. A bombastic war-themed orchestra fills the opening cinematic, solo violin pieces play during the menu, and funky guitar twangs are heard when more bad luck hits the team. I like violin music myself, but the sleep-inducing pieces during the menu weren't exactly what I expected to get me pumped up for the game.
The main campaign occurs across several large maps that can take an hour or so to actually play through, starting off with a few basics to get you acclimated to the controls. The left shoulder button controls your alternate tools, such as a health-restoring shot that never runs out to whatever else you might find, such as a power drill. The right shoulder button allows you to switch weapon modes or swap out to another weapon if possible, such as a standard pistol when you have a sniper rifle. Driving is easy enough, although the vehicle handling leaves something to be desired. Newcomers won't have much of a learning curve to fight through, and gaming veterans will feel right at home.
Each map in Battlefield: Bad Company is divided into several missions, with large sections blocked off by "red" areas that keep you heading toward each objective by killing you with precision artillery if you happen to wander into the forbidden areas. That doesn't mean that the game is linear, though. You still have a lot of options — and area to cover — in approaching your objectives, but don't expect to wander to the edge of the map just because you want to.
DICE's new Frostbite engine powers the destruction that you'll be leaving in your wake, and it's also responsible for generating the lush green fields through which you roam. It's not total destruction, though; hitting a building with repeated mortar strikes will usually result in all of its walls coming apart, although the support beams, staircase, floors, and ceiling are left in place. (They're apparently made of unobtainium.) Hitting it with more ordnance won't do any good, and if you're coming in from Call of Duty 4, you'll miss the ability of your bullets passing through thin wooden fences and walls, unless it's meant to come apart.
Enemy soldiers are smart enough to hide behind cover and reposition themselves if they see you coming to get them, but they can also be amazingly dense. If I'm far away enough, I've managed to snipe soldiers who were standing next to each other, and the partner didn't react even though there was a corpse right next to him. I've also sniped patrols and watched as a soldier kept walking, thinking that his partner was simply taking a nap. On the other end of this spectrum, they're also pretty single-minded in aiming for you, to the point where they'll ignore everything else — including your teammates.
The worst that the AI has to offer is packed neatly inside the heads of your fellow soldiers, which took me back to Battlefield 1942 and had me wishing that four way co-op, or any co-op, was included. As much as I liked them, I wouldn't want them watching my back. You can't ask them to help cover you; you can only hope that they will actually shoot back at whatever is shooting at you and hit it. They'll often stand on the sidelines while a soldier who's a foot away from them fills you with lead. Sometimes they'll fire back from behind cover, only to have their shots hit that instead of moving around it for a better shot. It's a good thing that you've got a limitless supply of health needles and respawns. More importantly, though, your friends are indestructible, which helps when you bring down a mortar strike on their position to kill the soldiers standing toe-to-toe with them. Their pathfinding isn't the best, either, but at least the Battlefield: Bad Company will magically teleport them to you if you leave any one of them too far behind.
The true strength of Battlefield has always been its multiplayer mode, and Bad Company is no exception. The interface linking you to the war at large has been streamlined to nearly think for itself. This leaves you, as the player, to simply click on two or three options and head in with guns blazing. The Spartan aesthetics aren't much to look at, and players who miss having an actual lobby for server selection won't find it here, even though it isn't really necessary, given the few available options. The Gold Edition of the game comes with a few multiplayer videos that provide tips for each map (although it is a lot more fun to simply jump in and start playing), and it also makes available a set of weapons that you normally have to attain a rank of 25 to get.
Offering only one multiplayer game type and eight dedicated maps seems like a beggar's sum of options, with only the promise of more downloadable content later on, but Bad Company makes the most of what it has. Battlefield veterans will find themselves working with EA's online unlocks once again, earning ranks and trophies that depend on combat performance. Earning promotions will also help to earn credits that can be used to unlock additional weapons and special options, such as the laser designator or mortar strike ability for use by the Support class. However, you have to play ranked games in order to earn these; playing on the unranked ones simply pits you against other players with no progression, which can come as a surprise since this isn't made clear by the 10-page leaflet masquerading as a manual.
Classes will also determine your weapons loadout, along with extras such as healing needles or medical packs. There's a variety of loadouts to choose from to fit your play style, and you can do some crazy things on the battlefield. For instance, Support class soldiers can fix vehicles on the field and provide first aid, but they can also call down mortar strikes once the ability is unlocked, or chase down an enemy tank and destroy it with a power drill.
In multiplayer's only mode so far, Gold Rush, players are divided into Attackers and Defenders. Crates filled with gold bars are the objectives in both, replacing the need for capture points. Attackers are supposed to "blow up" the crates to deny their use by their foes, while Defenders do their best to protect their paychecks. Attackers are also on the clock with every soldier killed, as they only have so many reserves before ultimately failing the objectives, while Defenders must defend the crates to hold their position or be forced to retreat to another base. Victory occurs only when either the Attackers run out of reinforcement points or if they succeed in pushing the enemy back to their final position and destroying the last pair of crates.
Gold Rush is a blast to play on a full server maxed out with 24 players, quickly turning a serene countryside into a twisted, flaming wreckage with shattered buildings. Unfortunately, you're also at the mercy of whatever side you happen to get stuck on; there's no way to switch teams if you hate being an Attacker or a Defender, and there's also no skill matching to try and balance the teams. You can easily find yourself on a team that is just starting out versus a veteran squad that has been in the game since the demo. The good news is that there's no noticeable lag, and there are plenty of games out there if you decide to bail and try your luck with another crew.
Battlefield: Bad Company is a decent change of pace for the series. DICE's newest take on the virtual battlefield does a lot of things right, despite firing a few blanks along the way, such as the lack of a co-op mode in the main campaign. Going solo is still a lot of fun, thanks to the company that you'll be keeping throughout your AWOL adventure, but the multiplayer is where the real action will be for many players who take the chance of signing up for a stint with Bad Company.
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