Battlefield: Bad Company
Since its inception on the PC, the Battlefield series has garnered praise from critics and PC gamers alike for its robust multiplayer trappings. Towards the end of the life of the last generation of consoles, Battlefield: Modern Combat was released for the PS2 and Xbox (a 360 version followed later) and received an approving, albeit tepid, welcome. While many agreed (or argued) that it was a shadow of the massively popular Battlefield 2 on computers, Modern Combat was accepted into the fold for its fairly unique large-scale multiplayer which had mostly unexplored on consoles, apart from games like Star Wars Battlefront. However, the singleplayer portion of the game was unanimously criticized for being shallow and short – after all, it was really the multiplayer maps dolled up with a few intro cutscenes. The new Battlefield: Bad Company, however, addresses that concern with aplomb. It also delivers a great Xbox LIVE experience. In short, it improves on Modern Combat in every way. But will it sway Battlefield 2 fans?
“Bioshock this ain’t, but it’s superbly written and is filled with some surprisingly clever humor.”Bad Company‘s story begins with the introduction of the player character – Preston Marlow, an average soldier who made some kind of mistake that could have seen him dishonorably discharged. Instead, he’s been dumped into B-Company, a rag-tag group of soldiers deemed expendable by the higher ups in the military. This company has the highest mortality rate of any army group, since they’re sent in ahead of everyone else. The other members of B-Company are a typical three man comedy troupe; there’s Sarge, the straight man, Sweetwater, the nerdy wuss, and Haggard, the arch-conservative pyromaniac. Imagine the Dirty Dozen, minus a dirty eight. These characters, along with Marlow’s narration, provide a surprisingly compelling story. The fictional war B-Company is part of is set in Russia – it’s never explained why, or how, this war started. The game is entirely an ensemble action comedy, focusing on the characters and their bumbling quest for gold. I’m not quite sure if it’s wry satire or simply saturday morning adventure story, but this disconnect is half the fun. A mercenary organization paid in gold bars is working for the Russian army, and being the upstanding military men they are, B-Company chases them around Eastern Europe to make their fortune. Along the way, they accidentally invade a neutral country, deploy on a golf course, meet a flamboyant dictator who loves bad 80s music, and crash a helicopter made out of solid gold. Bioshock this ain’t, but it’s superbly written and is filled with some surprisingly clever humor.
The actual gameplay, meanwhile, is just as fresh as the story. Rather than just plopping the player into a multiplayer map, Bad Company features sprawling levels filled with objectives to complete. Obviously, the game is linear, but the massive areas and open-ended objectives end up making the game feel bigger than it really is. In fact, it’s uncannily similar to Crysis, right down to the impressive physics. Every building can be blown apart to some degree, with walls and doors that respond to shots and explosions with impressive damage modeling. This isn’t only a visual treat; it morphs the gameplay into a very different beast. No longer can shooter veterans hide behind walls or trees; movement is a constant, and encounters with things like tanks and helicopters are extremely harrowing. With nowhere to hide, it’s difficult to predict what will happen in any given situation, but luckily Bad Company features plenty of ways to progress from point A to point B. With a massive stockpile of guns, vehicles, and fun toys like laser designators and mortar pinpoint devices, Bad Company offers an option for nearly every style of play. Will you sneak in with your knife and silenced pistol? Hide on a hill and call in a mortar strike and pick off the remaining foes? Or will you simply run in with your rifle and hope for the best?
“Some of the maps are a little unfair, giving an obvious advantage to the attacking or defending team depending on the leve.”This level of choice works beautifully in the singleplayer, and translates flawlessly into multiplayer as well. It’s a tribute to good game design when a formula can be applied to modes for one or multiple players, and Bad Company is virtually seamless in this respect. However, there are a few little niggles here and there. The multiplayer only allows squads to chat together, so the team as a whole is often flying blind. The teams are often unbalanced, meaning it’s possible to pit twelve people against three before the server intervenes. Some of the maps are a little unfair, giving an obvious advantage to the attacking or defending team depending on the level – for example, the attackers on Oasis have a whole stock of tanks. Considering the map is flat, this gives them an almost infuriating upper hand – likewise, the defenders on another map have a guided missile outpost hidden in a bush high above the rest of the map, rendering any attacker’s vehicle a sitting duck until someone actually figures out where the hell all of these rockets are coming from. Still, none of it is game breaking, and the multiplayer is definitely some of the best on Xbox LIVE.
The other thing that helps make the gameplay so impressive is the presentation. Sure, we saw this open-area buffoonery in Crysis and Red Faction, but never before has it been shown off with this level of atmosphere. In keeping with the adventure theme, a light film grain speckles the screen – conveniently distracting eyes from the jaggies that do unfortunately permeate the game. Still, it’s understandable that a game with levels this huge and graphics this detailed to leave out hardware-intensive anti-aliasing. The environments all look great, with rolling hills and little villages speckled around the map, and the guns are rendered very nicely. The characters are the best aspect of the graphics, though; all four members of B-Company and their foes are very expressive. Add some gorgeous particle effects on top of all this, and you have one hell of a looker.
The sound design is what seals the deal, though. Sound effects are tailored to fit any given setting, with faraway gunshots sounding like pops, and mortar fire giving off an ominous rumble in the distance. It’s remarkable just how detailed the sound is; given the massive scope of every level, having this elaborate sound processing simply boggles the mind. Even voices are properly enhanced – it’s quite spooky hearing all of this coming out of a video game. The gritty visuals and the realistic sound make the game feel as if it was ripped from a soldier’s camcorder, lending a level of intensity rare in video games. It’s actually quite jarring going from the laugh-a-minute moments of peace to the raucous and terrifying sounds of battle. Is this intentional? Bad Company‘s biggest flaw is that it walks the line between tasteless and satirical, and it’s hard to put a finger on just what it’s aiming for.
All in all, Bad Company is a success. As a console exclusive, it delivers a great campaign with unique features that set it apart from the majority of first-person shooters on the platform. The multiplayer is just as fantastic, although it only has one mode. (Gold Rush, a variation on attack and defend) As of this writing, a second mode has been promised for free. With great characters, solid gameplay, and jaw-dropping presentation, Bad Company provides a brilliant Battlefield game for consoles without sacrificing too much of what made the PC versions so popular.