Battlefield: Bad Company Review
I'm not sure why Battlefield: Bad Company is only being released on consoles, as the series was born on the PC and this game could have worked just fine on its home platform. Many PC gamers are feeling a bit betrayed, but console gamers who have been unimpressed with EA's half-hearted attempts to bring Battlefield to Sony and Microsoft platforms finally have something to look forward to. Battlefield: Bad Company, riding high on an impressive new game engine, tried and true gameplay, and sprinkles of half-decent comedy, really is the first console game in the series to seem like it really belongs.
The first thing to mention about Bad Company is that this is the first Battlefield game to include a real, honest, entertaining single player mode. Farting around with bots in the previous PC games was mildly amusing for a half hour at the most, and a couple of console iterations made failed attempts at campaigns that were more tedium than fun to get through. Here, you'll play as Private Marlowe who has been reassigned, due to some kind of serious offense, to the B Company of the 222nd Battalion - otherwise known as Bad Company. These guys are the whipping boys of the US Army, sent in as the most expendable troops when the brass doesn't want to risk more skilled soldiers to random fire from the enemies in the Russian Army. But with the help of Marlowe, you'll quickly find out that Bad Company is sometimes exactly what's needed, as their "screw it, let's just do this" attitude often winds up getting them some unexpected positive results.
And your playing style should reflect that, too. Go in storming the place and just keep on stabbing yourself with your needle whenever you're low on health (more on this soon), and you'll find yourself taking less damage and leveling whole villages and buildings with surprising efficiency. This isn't to say that you need to go in shooting wildly, because that most certainly will get you killed. But try shooting a couple of explosive barrels to blow open whole walls and expose hidden enemies, then just drive right in. And speaking of explosives just sitting out in the environment, this is pretty much the culmination of 15 years of first person shooters trying to do fun and useful things with exploding barrels. In DOOM, we baited demons to get close to barrels for a quick kill. In Deus Ex, we moved explosive barrels and TNT crates around to take out enemy robots and even shortcut our way past a door whose lock we couldn't pick. Here, we use the game's many barrels, fuel tanks, and launched grenades to take out whole sections of buildings at once along with soldiers, too. It's like the exploding barrel finally grew up.
While DICE's new Frostbite engine is certainly good at making pieces of buildings go bye-bye, it's still not quite the fully destructible system you likely have been wishing for over the last decade. Crates can take rocket launcher hits without a scratch and the ground simply cannot be disturbed, and while walls can be torn off of buildings easily, you simply can't take out floors/ceilings or cause a whole building to actually collapse. Still, the rest of the engine is impressive, with solid frame rates even in the 24-player online modes. The graphics and art style aren't quite at the highest of the top notch, but they're still generally well-done with few rough spots.
But before we go hog-wild on the multiplayer action, let's stick with the campaign for a bit. As Bad Company (well, four guys in it, I guess - I understand the name of the game must be catchy, but this is more like "Bad Squad"), you'll raise hell pretty often and look good doing it. Your three squad members can't be ordered around, but I found that they generally do pretty well and covered my backside on quite a few occasions. That being said, they still screw up now and then, but hell, my squad did stupid things just as often in Gears of War and I didn't complain much then. When you get low on health, it won't automatically regenerate for you like you might be used to by now with today's shooters. Instead, Marlowe always has his trusty needle which he's happy to stab himself with almost as often as you can press the button, and since there's a short recharge timer on it, you'll find out quickly that it's almost like having a recharging health bar. Plus, there are many checkpoints throughout each level so you won't have to ever redo more than maybe one or two minutes of fighting at the absolute most.
The general game structure is to drop you on a map with a specific objective and only the area required to complete that mission will be open to you - straying from the mission area for more than a rather un-generous five seconds will magically cause artillery to rain down directly on your position, instantly killing you. That's annoying, but if you just consider the red zone on your map to be lava, then it's easier to deal with. Once you finish the objective, new territory opens up along with a new mission, which can repeat itself a number of times on a single map.
Most of these objectives involve taking out between five to ten soldiers with a mix of weapons and possibly some tougher gun emplacements or vehicles to back them up, and you may have to destroy some kind of equipment as well. This rather un-original mission structure will start to get dull quickly, but DICE does mix up the experience with surprise tank attacks and other bits and pieces that change the pacing and give you a somewhat refreshing objective now and then.
Another element to Bad Company would be the many attempts at humor throughout the game, mostly inside of cutscenes and mostly between Sweetwater and Haggard. These will wear thin on you quickly, but I do have to say that I at least enjoy seeing some real character with the squadmates, something that the Call of Duty games (but not the parts as an SAS soldier in COD4 - those were great) and many other military FPS games have lacked. Still, the laughs come rarely and are pretty much just recycled jokes from elsewhere. It's really difficult to be funny in a game, so I can't fault EA and DICE too much for failing on this one.
The multiplayer action is definitely an important part of Bad Company. The 24-player online game carries over the environmental destruction from the campaign and gives you new strategies to use online, especially when you're using something powerful like a tank. Now, some guy with a rocket launcher is going to have a much tougher time popping out from cover to hit you with multiple RPGs in a row, as you'll just destoy the wall he's hiding behind and take him out from there. The full complement of vehicles, classes, weapons, and aircraft you expect from a good Battlefield game are all here, and the multiplayer action so far has been smooth and worry-free. Sure, the learning curve is steep; kills will seem cheap early on and you'll be tempted to throw your controller at the TV or out of a window at times, but if you can get a handle on how to take people out quickly, I think you'll find Bad Company's online play to be some of the best out there on the 360.
Unfortunately, the only online mode is Gold Rush, and the venerable Conquest mode from classic Battlefield games isn't here (it's slated to come as a free download later, but having it at launch would have been a much better idea). But at least Gold Rush does funnel players into a small general area and cause massive firefights with tons of explosions going off everywhere, while Conquest mode on the PC seemed to do all it could to spread people out on a map and create only small skirmishes instead of one gratifyingly large battle.
I want to specifically point out the sound in Bad Company. It's excellent. The voice acting is good and while the comedy will evoke a groan more often than a laugh, that's the fault of the writers rather than the damn fine voice actors. But moreimportantly, the sounds of battle are superb here. The deep bass of explosions will challenge a subwoofer in ways that no 360 game has yet, and the rattle of your rifle giving it all it's got is very satisfying. This is one of the few games that create a war zone just with sound, something that even the most epic of war games don't always succeed at and rarely do as well as this one does. If you've just bought a sound system and really want to stretch out its capabilities with a new game, make it this one.
Battlefield: Bad Company doesn't do everything, but what it does, it does right. The campaign is a lot of fun and the mixed-bag of comedy at least livens things up a bit, while the multiplayer is a full-fledged Battlefield experience with all of the depth you'd expect out of a serious PC shooter. There's no cooperative play, online or off, and the unlockables won't take you far, so you'll likely need to get into the competitive online play to really get your money's worth out of it. But in this summer, with mediocre Hollywood games that are boring after 45 minutes (yet still have the same $60 price tag as everything else), Bad Company should definitely be a breath of fresh air for you. It's got some kinks and quirks, but I think any console FPS fan will have a great time with this one.