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Battlefield: Bad Company Mulitplayer Preview

By Jeff Buckland, 4/7/2008

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The closed beta for the new online shooter from EA and DICE, Battlefield: Bad Company, has recently started. The game boasts destructible maps while putting together the large-scale gameplay made popular in the PC predecessors. With modern weaponry and (finally) a brand new game engine, will this console-only title pull in the gamers who are so used to Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 on their 360s?

Much of what you'd expect out of a standard Battlefield game is here in Bad Company. There are five classes (Assault, Demolition, Recon, Specialist, and Support), and each has a separate layout of different weapons, abilities, and gadgets. The one multiplayer mode that's included in this beta is called Gold Rush, where the attackers run under a limited number of collective lives ("respawn tickets") and try to place charges at two crates filled with gold. The defenders must kill the attackers and defuse the charges, and they've got infinite respawns to do it with. This gameplay mode works on two maps in the beta: Ascension and Oasis. There is a good mix of open areas as well as tight buildings, although the ability to blow open large holes in the weaker buildings can turn tight spaces into wide open ones as well.

And the ability to just bust open a wall to come for your enemy really starts to make a difference. Now, your marksmanship is still important, but you can't hide behind world geometry like many past FPS titles have allowed you to. One way to do something like this is with bullet penetration like in Call of Duty 4, but it's also really satisfying to expose an enemy sniper by simply removing the room of the house he's camped in. There are plenty of explosives for you to use, too, as all classes have the ability to throw, fire, or call in some kind of big boomy if they want. And it is pretty surprising to be sneaking through a building only to have the whole wall disappear in a fury of smoke and booming bass sound to realize that you've been found. It's like that scene in Half-Life where the air duct Gordon Freeman is sneaking through is peppered by rounds from enemy soldiers, but in this game it happens all the time and it doesn't seem like it'll lose its charm anytime soon.

One of my biggest complaints about past Battlefield games is that the Conquest gameplay mode, which had you trying to capture and hold points all over a map, seemed to purposely create a distribution of players all over the map so that there was never a big fight at a single point. The Gold Rush mode does a good job of funneling players into a smaller area on the map for fighting, even if there are two crates at a time that can be blown up so the players are still spread out a bit until one goes boom.

The beta so far is working well, and vehicles and a large number of players (well, relatively - 24 is the limit in this Xbox 360 beta) are still a key elements of Bad Company - even if only one of the two maps included so far actually features them to any decent degree. Ascension has you working through a small European village with lots of wooden houses and trees that can be taken out by explosions, but the monastery at the top of the hill - the final point of contention - is made of stone so grenades don't quite have the same effect. The Oasis map takes place in a Middle Eastern setting and includes a full complement of vehicles. One thing to note is that jets are not really a part of Battlefield: Bad Company, but considering how hard to kill and how, well, disconnected they were from the rest of the players in Battlefield 2, I don't mind that at all. People on the ground have to be able to kill the stuff in the air, not just consider it some kind of random force that could strike at any time without any possibility of retaliation. Maybe that's really how it is in war for those who don't have any aircraft, but in a video game it's better for anyone to be able to kill anyone else.

There are some bugs and issues with Battlefield: Bad Company. Stat tracking and the ability to level up are already in, but some stats aren't right while others are simply not tracked at all. The frame rates are good, but the game suffers from being too dark at times (especially indoors on the Ascension map) and the graphics options insisted I fiddle with my TV's brightness instead of allowing me to adjust it just in the game. Sorry EA, my TV doesn't detect specifically when I start up Battlefield: Bad Company, so let me change the brightness in the game's settings. The controls are just a bit wonky, too, where fiddling around to try and get out hand grenades and gadgets requires a strange sequence of buttons. Most of the basic FPS functions you expect are here, but they could use a little resorting. Finally, there is some strange bug where you can't see your own gun until about 5-10 seconds after you spawn. I'll assume that it's a well-known bug that will very likely get fixed.

The sounds in Bad Company so far are excellent. The use of bass is incredible, with it only lightly going off during the respawn screen (after you've died) but going on full-force when you're in the middle of the action. The sound comes together well to create a feel of modern warfare without needing to have pre-placed gunfire sounds placed in a map just to add to the ambiance (I'm looking at you, Call of Duty series). The Middle Eastern side on the Oasis map is also voiced by some gentlemen who, thankfully, don't sound like the hysterical zealots that you get out of games like the hugely popular Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942. Seriously, those guys would go into high-pitched screaming fits for everything that happened in the damn game.

Of course the beta is the subject of this preview, but EA has been touting that the single player mode in Bad Company is going to be the best yet in a Battlefield game. With respect, it wouldn't have to be very good for that to still be true - and this is still the original developers, DICE, so I remain a bit skeptical regarding their ability to make a compelling single player game. But from what I've seen in the beta, the whole package does have a ton of potential and could really turn out to be the game that people wanted from the lackluster Xbox (and remade Xbox 360) attempts at Battlefield 2. Maybe it'll also deliver that large-scale fun of Frontlines: Fuel of War without distilling away so much of the fun that Kaos Studios' first effort did. We'll find out soon when Bad Company is released on the PS3 and Xbox this coming June.



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