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Battlefield: Bad Company 2 PC Review

By Jeff Buckland, 3/3/2010

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Millions of people are still playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 online, racking up killstreaks and punking each other with noob tubes constantly. It was the biggest entertainment launch in history, with well over a billion dollars in sales so far. And maybe it's still good enough to enamor a few gamers, but discerning fans of team-based shooters have finally gotten sick of it. When it comes to multiplayer action, Modern Warfare 2 didn't push the genre forward - and in some ways, it pulled it back.

Developer DICE did seem to forget about PC gaming for a while there. Battlefield 2142 was released years ago to only mild acclaim and mediocre sales, and most hardcore fans of the series stuck with Battlefield 2 instead. Now, after numerous starts and stops on consoles, they've finally got their new Frostbite engine working just right on PC just in time for Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

Not only is this the first Battlefield game to hit the PC with a true single player story-based mode, but it's also the PC game to use the new Frostbite tech. This is a sequel to what was a console-only game; the campaign continues the story of our four guys in Bad Company - Sarge, Marlowe, Sweetwater, and Haggard - as they traipse across Alaska and into several unique environments in South America. Hell, there's even a prologue mission taking place in the Pacific theater of World War II, and the whole thing is about some experimental weapon technology the Japanese were testing before the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

That weapon is still very relevant in the modern day, and during your time playing as Marlowe in the squad, you'll be trying to track down the tech and make sure it doesn't get into enemy hands. Your enemies are of course the Russians, the perennial villain that FPS developers often use when they don't want to have to deal with the Middle East as a setting or a source for bad guys. The game completely ignores the politics and pretty much makes the Russians out to be the old Soviets of decades past, and for a game that's playing so fast and loose with so many other bits of history, well, hell with it.

The campaign has you switching roles often, from assaulting a village to firing grenades out of the back of a truck, on to driving tanks and piloting a remote-controlled helicopter that spots targets for some high-powered missiles. You'll attack, defend, and scramble to survive as the enemies often find some devious spots to fire from, and while the AI doesn't always hold up when you find an alternate route or figure out some way to fight that the developers haven't thought of, it's still damn good. And the squad's bickering and joking back and forth poke fun at Infinity Ward's games as well as each other, adding some much-needed comedy to the experience.

But there are a couple of ways that the illusion Bad Company 2 creates doesn't quite hold up. The building destruction technology is fantastic, but it really only works when you specifically blow up buildings' external walls; hitting ceilings, internal walls, or the roof doesn't really have an effect. Simply put, this isn't Red Faction: Guerrilla's GeoMod tech, and while it's reasonably close, it's not quite there. Beyond that, many of the houses you enter - ones that should look lived-in - are entirely empty, making the game feel like a big movie setpiece that falls apart as soon as you leave the beaten path.

Not that you can get far off of that path, either, because despite the huge, open maps that Frostbite can support, your "operational area" - in both solo and online play - is almost always limited to specific paths through these environments. There are a few sections that let you pick multiple paths or come up with your own plan of attack, but you don't get the openness of Crytek's games. The campaign lasts long enough to make for a satisfying single player experience, and while the action is great and the setpieces appropriately epic enough for a first person shooter released in 2010, the story is very simple and lacks pretty much any kind of ambition. At least the plot doesn't have the number of ridiculous holes that Modern Warfare 2 did.

Online play is the make-or-break part of Bad Company 2 for PC gamers, and luckily for us, DICE is not only supporting PC gamers in just about every way that Infinity Ward didn't, but they also put most of their attention towards teamwork and on keeping the 32-player fights focused in smaller areas to keep online games chaotic and action-packed. In this game, joining a squad and helping them out will win you the battle, get you points, and keep everyone on your team happy - and unlike with MW2, trying to rank up your soldier and trying to win the battle for the team are not mutually exclusive.

There are ten multiplayer maps in all, some of which can be played in both of the gameplay modes in Bad Company 2. The new Rush mode that has the attackers, with a limited number of spawn tickets, planting C4 at a pair of points on a map before moving on to the next pair - there are usually three or four sets before they can claim victory, and the defenders simply have unlimited spawn tickets and must run the attackers out. The classic Conquest mode is now back as well, and while the maps are pretty wide open, the capture points are often closer together, making for some very hectic fights.

While the limited operational areas may make the campaign feel linear and restricted, they do wonders for the Rush mode, because now you'll see all 32 players on a server converging on one area of the map and fighting over either one or two objectives in that space. It does mean that lone wolves and those looking solely to maximize their kill/death ratio will be less effective (and will likely complain loudly about it), but the increased teamwork you get on almost any server is easily worth snubbing them. And it also means that if there's a squad full of clanmates that work really well together, they will be near the rest of the team and helping them win, not just flying around on their own away from most of the fighting.

Throw in attack choppers, tanks, APCs, ATVs, boats, and other vehicles, and the online play could have easily been thrown off balance, but the right weapon installation and opposing-side vehicles have been added to make the whole thing generally very well-balanced and fun. Hell, the personal weapon and gadget unlocks are great, too, as they make your soldier more versatile and powerful without making everyone else feel completely left behind in the "level curve".

This is definitely a return to form for DICE, but that's both the good and the bad. The game's gotten off to a rocky start, with Punkbuster issues appearing, EA's online system going down, servers themselves often kicking everyone right when the server fills up, and quite a few other problems that didn't happen in Beta but are kind of ruining the experience. There are other oddities, like the lack of ability to toggle crouch (you've got to hold the key) or, for some reason, being unable to use text chat in any capacity while waiting to spawn. Or about the profanity filter in an M-rated game that has recorded voice lines including profanity, made just for the multiplayer mode? Some of these are nitpicks, but some will wear on gamers over time, and DICE has shown in the past that majority doesn't rule, and that often the most important changes aren't made for a while - sometimes years, even. I really hope that DICE finds themselves a little more open and ready to fix both the acute and the chronic issues found so far.

There's one thing that DICE did an amazing job on, and that's the sound. This is the best-sounding first person shooter I've ever played, both in single player (the way your sniper rifle shots crack and echo off of nearby cliffs is amazing) and in online play, where the cacophony of shouts, gunfire, explosions, and vehicles is nearly deafening - in a wonderful, chaotic, and entirely unique way. The sound goes a long way to making Bad Company 2's 32-player servers feel like war is going on all around you, and the best part is that as far as I can tell, none of it is canned "ambient" sound at all. It's just that when a tank takes out a building a quarter mile away, you're going to hear it.

When you add up the sum of the parts, it may seem at first like Bad Company 2 isn't really worth all that much. Veterans of the classics might be upset at the lack of AI-based squadmates to use in a single player variation of the game's multiplayer maps, but the true story-based campaign is a far better substitute and does a great job of getting you ready for the multiplayer - and it even sets up the story behind the two forces fighting in the multiplayer mode. The teamplay here is exquisite and the basic rules and systems are refined. While the online play still has a number of technical issues to iron out and a few interface problems need to be work on, I'd say they've mostly gotten off on the right foot. Even with its problems, Bad Company 2 on the PC is the real deal, and it's definitely worth the money for anyone that has been a fan of Battlefield games in the past.

Overall: 91%



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