Since it's roots in Codename Eagle, Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE)'s Battlefield series has been a pillar of online multiplayer gaming on the PC. Focusing on large scale combat with high player numbers and combining traditional first person shooter infantry skirmishes with vehicular combat. While this formula was hugely successful on the desktop platform, the series first foray onto consoles, Battlefield: Modern Combat didn't really have the same impact. Despite mostly positive reviews and its famous name, Modern Combat won't be remembered like the Halo and Call of Duty titles of the same era.
Enter Battlefield Bad Company, EA DICE's second attempt at the console space, this time with a couple of features that could make all the difference – arcade-style action and a scripted storyline. Bad Company's tale puts you in the body of one Private Preston Marlowe, the newest addition to 222nd Army Battalion's B Company – a squad of trouble-making soldiers, distanced from the rest of the Army like a misfit school detention class. Technology wise, the game is set in present day with mostly real-world weapons and vehicles but the plot and locales are purely fictional. The United States and Russia are at war and the story takes you through some imagined Eastern European and Middle-Eastern countries.
Things are a lot less serious than they might sound though; the game takes a very light-hearted approach to story-telling. Your rag-tag cohorts are the colourful characters Private Sweetwater
, Private Haggard
and Sergeant Redford
- three strong personalities that will serve as your support and comic entertainment for the duration of the singleplayer campaign.
Most of the humour isn't terribly sophisticated but it does wonders for keeping the game fun as you make your way through the levels, leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. Without spoiling too much, the quest to serve your time and get back home turns into a hunt for gold bullion. Hardly original but they make no attempt to hide the obvious inspiration from films like Three Kings and the classic Kelly's Heroes.
The narrative and characters, as rich as they are however, take a back seat to the main feature – blowing stuff up. The developers boast that 90% of the game is destructible and I'd say that's not much of an exaggeration. Walls on buildings crumble from grenades, trees wilt under the weight of rolling tanks and mortar fire leaves pock-mark craters in the earth. Almost anything your enemies (and you for that matter) can hide behind can be destroyed, making for wonderfully action packed firefights. Additionally, exploding barrels - everyone's favorite videogame cliché – are stashed in every truck and next to almost every building, so even when you don't have any explosive weapons, a calculated shot is all you need.
For anyone that played Criterion Games' Black
, Bad Company has a very similar feel, like being in an over-the-top action movie - bullets blazing, debris flying and a near-invincible hero. There's no health-pack pickups, recharging shields or a regenerating life-bar, instead you get the health injector – a trusty syringe-type device that you stab yourself with seppuku-style for instant rejuvenation. Like the other items in the game, the health-injector functions on a timer so you can't just keep mashing it but the recharge is generous enough that you're never low on health for long. This, coupled with an aggressive auto-save checkpoint system means you can blast your way through the game with little frustration.
The interface and control method is about as simple as it gets in first person shooters. My only complaint would be the lack of alternate button configs for on foot combat. Players ingrained with Halo or Call of Duty button layouts will take a little readjusting but it's all simple enough - perhaps a little too simple in some respects. The game only lets you carry one weapon type with grenade and your health kit with one special item at a time, meaning if you want to switch between a sniper-rifle and an assault rifle, you'll have to keep dropping and swapping. The missions are designed in a way that the type of gun you need will generally be laying around somewhere (pickups are also marked as an X on your radar) but would it really have hurt to let you carry 2 weapons at once?
Vehicles are also easy to master; armoured cars, tanks, boats and even helicopters all maneuverer with ease thanks to the game's very arcade-style handling. Don't worry about oversteering, changing gears or any of that boring simulation stuff – just plant your foot and run people over; line-up your sights and blow things up.
Visually, the game lacks the immediate wow factor and fidelity of its main competitors, the lighting and palette of the game come off as slightly drab, but this is mostly forgivable when you take into account the environment's destructibility. There's also a kind of film-grain look to everything in the game that while not completely horrible, would probably have been better left disabled. The music is ultimately forgettable but the sound effects, particularly the disorientation caused by nearby explosions, supplement the game's hectic atmosphere superbly.
Although there's no cooperative play option, the singleplayer game flows nicely into the online multiplayer campaign and the game's whole ease of use vibe continues there too. Bad Company's multiplayer mode only serves up one game-type out of the box, the aptly named Gold Rush – an attack and defend scenario revolving around one team having crates of gold that the other team wants. Another mode 'conquest' that was originally slated for release is due within the next month, however in this case the delay may have worked in the game's favour.
You might compare Bad Company with other shooters and wonder how the game can possibly be worthwhile with only one limited game-type, but the strength here really is in it's simplicity. Where multiplayer console shooters like Enemy Territory: Quake Wars suffer low populations because of their complexity, Bad Company is an incredibly simple pick up and play game. The match-making is a breeze; just choose whether you want ranked or unranked play and away you go. This might not be a big draw-card for those that prefer intricate strategy and a rewarding learning curve, but it sticks with the game's style of make stuff explode, ask questions later
.With so many console titles shipping with tedious matchmaking that leave you staring at a search screen for extended periods, it's a refreshing change.
For a game with such a wide variety in combat (the range of weaponry, special items and vehicles), multiplayer gameplay is surprisingly balanced. Sure, you can tear-up infantry in a tank, but it only takes a couple of explosive attacks to take you down. The different weapons are divvied up between several classes: Assault, Demolitions, Recon, Specialist, and Support - each with bonus unlocks that serve as the main reward for the game's persistent stats system.
Ranking up with play experience nets you unlock points that you can then cash-in on new items and weapons at the unlock menu. Some of these definitely offer an advantage on the battlefield, but the good news is that you can unlock them in any order, allowing you to spend your first unlock points on the ones that will be most useful to you. Additionally, EA have launched other promotional incentives such as Battlefield Veteran
and Find All Five
in an effort to encourage people to consolidate their accounts from the various Battlefield games and participate in the Battlefield community. The result is a very polished and complete title, a big surprise from a series with a PC history of heavy post-release patching.
EA and DICE have done a commendable job of compacting the best parts of the popular Battlefield series and bundling it with an entertaining narrative. Battlefield Bad Company is a much more attractive console game than any straight-up port of a PC Battlefield title could be; A worthwhile purchase for any first person shooter fan looking for a bit of light-hearted fast-paced explosive action.