Review By: Andrew Joy
|Developer:||Digital Illusions CE|
|# Of Players:||1 (2-24 online)|
|Accessories:||Xbox Live (online play)|
Until recently, I was far from what you might call a fan of first person shooters. Oh, there remain exceptions of course – Goldeneye 007 and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter from my Nintendo 64 days are among my favorites even today – but on the whole, the genre seemed to exist solely to send players on a mindless, panicked run from one end of a level to the other. Even though my opinion may have evolved into a more honest and educated estimation, I am still a discerning gamer and it takes something truly special to catch my attention and make me want to actually seek out and play one of them. For Battlefield: Bad Company, I’d have to say it was the trailers. Rather than the shock and awe a lot of FPSes try to impart on you with their glimpses of intense action and overwhelming firefights, Bad Company’s trailers (while also including a fair amount of that) were...funny. If you haven’t seen them yet – in which case you really should check them out – they consist mostly of a series of short teasers mocking other popular franchises in or near the genre, from squad-based tactical shooters like Rainbow Six to third-person action games like Gears of War to stealth-titles like Metal Gear Solid 4. Now mind you, I don’t go out and buy every product who’s commercial makes me chuckle – after all, I don’t own a single pair of Reeboks, no matter how much I love Terry Tate: Office Linebacker – but something about this title just struck me.
When I first heard Battlefield: Bad Company’s premise – a group of soldiers trying to steal gold during the middle of a war they don’t want to fight – it reminded me a lot of the movie Three Kings. After actually playing through it, I realized the concepts actually have quite a few differences, with each story nuanced in its own way. However, the comparison still works for the storytelling, which is an elegant mix of action and humor (though this game lacks the more dramatic elements of that film). In the game, you play as Preston Marlowe, a soldier in the U.S. Army who took a helicopter for a joyride and has now been sent to finish up his term in “B” Company, where the military keeps all their other screw-ups and miscreants. Just like Marlowe, each member of his hilariously opinionated squad is there for their own reasons: Sarge is getting a reduced jail sentence, Sweetwater infected a military computer with a virus and Haggard blew up an Army latrine. While they may not be the best of the best, the Army has still found a use for these outcasts, and it usually involves going in first, making insurmountable a bit more surmountable and, in all other ways, making the regular Army look good. But, when their own government abandons them, the group decides they won’t be leaving the war empty handed and decide to steal the gold the Russian Federation is using to employ the fabled Legionnaires mercenaries.
Given that, the story does add a bit of a twist to the gameplay. In addition to gunning down waves of enemies and completing your various objectives, you have an optional side goal of tracking down the crates of gold hidden in each level. It may not seem to change things much, but if you’re the sort of gamer who likes to complete every aspect of a game, you may find yourself taking a new approach than you might normally, which is especially easy since the game is very sandbox-like – you can storm into an area, guns blazing or snipe everyone from a distance or, if you like, even roll on in by way of tank, jeep or golf cart. There’s a lot of freedom to the game, but it is still a shooter at heart, something that is hurt by the game’s watered-down difficulty. In addition to the lightheartedness provided by your fellow soldiers’ running commentary and, say, unique assessment of the situation, the game loses a bit of excitement thanks to a quickly-refilling adrenaline shot that, with one simple dose, can restore your character to perfect health. At one point in the game, when facing off against a helicopter – the sort of thing that acts like a boss in this game – I managed to keep myself alive with shot after shot as I ran through a series of fields to better arm myself. Of course, since each of the seven chapters will only take you about an hour to be (depending on your own skill and the difficulty), the game is already a short-lived experience and this doesn’t help matters.
Unlike most FPSes, multiplayer isn’t the draw here – it should absolutely be the story that attracts you – but the online play will keep this game on your shelf. They say there are two sides to every story and I suppose that is just as true in war as it is anywhere else, and now you’ll not only be able to see both, but also write them as well. When you first enter a Gold Rush match (which use the same weapons, vehicles and half-dozen or so maps from the main game), you’re tossed into the mix as either an attacker or a defender. As an attacker, you’re goal is to seek out and destroy a series of gold crates and, in doing so, take over the enemy’s bases. As a defender, your goal is naturally the opposite and you must defend those crates and, in order to win the match, keep killing the enemy until they have no more lives. Of course, while your opponents may be looking to kill you without prejudice, it is slightly amusing that your own team members pose the biggest threat, and each in their own way depending on their class: Assault are the self-explanatory fellows tossing grenades around like they’re playing fetch with an army of invisible dogs; Specialists have quick and powerful weapons, a favorite of TKers...’nuff said; Demolition are the guys everyone hides behind when they’re being chased by a tank; Recon are the snipers who’ll gladly slit your throat to get a better vantage point; and, finally, Support will heal, fix and inevitably have a helicopter crash on them.
Even though series favorite Conquest Mode may have been released as supposedly free DLC by the time you read this, only a single game type was available at writing. Thankfully, even with just that one event, the multiplayer was given at least a little bit of extra life by offering in-game incentives to keep you playing. Much like Achievements and Trophies – the former of which is actually supported (sorry PS3 owners), from completing levels or collecting all the gold to clearing a small forest or using the adrenaline shot 50 times – Bad Company offers a ton of in-game awards (trophies, patches, etc.) that can be earned for meeting certain criteria online, like being proficient with a mortar and heavy artillery. Of course, those are all just faceless statistics; when it comes to doling out the real humiliation, collecting dog tags off opponents you’ve knifed is without comparison. However, it is mostly like the ranks – from Private at 100 points all the way up to General of the Army at 37,000 points – that will keep people playing, even if a weekend gamer could probably be promoted to the higher echelon in about a month. (I worked my way about a third of a way through, to Master Sergeant, in only a couple of days online.) Beyond that and the added challenge of playing against actual people, the experience is still very much the same online as it is off, whether you’re pumping hot lead into an enemy or merely a health boost into your own chest.
While it may have something to do with the way stabbing your heart back to perfect health every 30 seconds takes away some of the immediacy, Bad Company isn’t as much of a twitch shooter as one might think and, as such, the gamepad controls actually work better than expected. Even in the heaviest firefights, I had no trouble picking off enemies left and right. However, just because the shooting works well, that doesn’t mean that the controls don’t have their problems. For one thing, in what may be the bane of the genre, the vehicle controls suck in this game, with the helicopter being nigh unplayable for me. Also, pressing in on the left joystick to run may be the single most annoying button function ever conceived, but it still made its way into yet another game (you can also click the right to crouch down and stand back up, but you can’t lie down, unfortunately for snipers). And, on a side note, I have to admit that a few odd design choices were made. Using the shoulder buttons to shoot and aim is nothing new, but in this game, the front right trigger fires while the back switches between your main weapon and your sub-weapon and your front left trigger aims while the back switches between your secondary weapon and your items (like the adrenaline shot). Oh, and if you want to use your knife for a melee attack, you’ll have to click on one of the face buttons (the others are used to reload, jump and interact). Pressing up on the D-pad, on the other hand, will take a multiplayer screenshot, which is a nice feature...even if you won’t want to hang it on the wall.
Battlefield: Bad Company is far from being one of the best looking games on home consoles – hell, it’s far from being one of the best looking games no matter the categorization – but I’m under no illusion that it was trying to be. Still, what it does try to do, it does so well I’m tempted to call it a poor man’s Crysis (if the few hundred needed to drop on one of the current systems can be considered “poor”). Like that game, destruction is one of the major talking points here. More than just blowing up barrels and the occasional vehicle, you can also deform the terrain and clear cut forests with heavy artillery or out a hidden sniper with a well placed explosion to one of the numerous buildings. This is thanks to the new Frostbite Engine, which DICE built from the ground up for this game, but it does have its limitations and the destruction is highly scripted. You likely won’t notice it during the campaign, but play through the maps a dozen times in multiplayer, and you’ll realize that no matter how much firepower you toss at the houses, certain walls and support beams can never be taken out, so you can rarely, if ever, completely demolish a structure. Of course, that’s more than acceptable considering what else Frostbite has to offer: the game has some truly spectacular explosions and smoke effects, the lighting (especially on water) is noteworthy and there are some interesting results from the ragdoll physics; to use an actual example, as a sniped soldier plummeted from a ladder, one of his legs got caught on a rung, leaving him to dangle there in a glimpse of sickening realism.
The Frostbite Engine also flexes its muscle in the audio. Given the attention to detail paid to their look, it is no surprise that explosions sound equally robust, but getting caught in a barrage of enemy (okay, well, and sometimes friendly) fire can reveal just how incredibly nuanced the sound effects really are. Sometimes you’ll be momentarily deafened, with everything from gunshots to the calls of your fellow soldiers drowned out, and then gradually fading back in, and on others, the audio will be overwhelmed with pops and whistles of bullets that only just missed your head. Of course, among the major players in the genre, those sort of visceral editions are just par for the course, and it is the little things that really help Battlefield: Bad Company stand out. For example, when you walk into a building, the audio completely changes. Everything gets a sort of echo effect that makes it feel like you are moving and fighting inside of a real, 3-D space and not just a bunch of pixels on the screen. Likewise, the music that plays on vehicle radios will change depending on where you are sitting, though it is a little hard to hear clearly no matter what. Apart from that, the music in the game is somewhat limited, or at least underplayed. Though you may catch the tempo rising just before you enter a skirmish in the single player and it is practically nonexistent during the cutscenes, with more attention given to your motley crew’s quirky dialogue. And that’s just fine by me.
For those of you who are tired of trudging through Medal of Honor’s storied WWII battles or find the most recent Call of Duty’s gritty realism just a little too...real, there’s Battlefield: Bad Company. While it isn’t always a guaranteed success, Bad Company steps outside of the box by showing us that, even if it is quite terrible, war can also be terribly funny. While a few strange choices (like the controls, especially for vehicles, and an instant health shot) and even a bit of lacking detail (this game hardly pushes the limits of today’s consoles) may keep you grounded, Bad Company’s fantastic explosions and incredibly detailed sound effects are sure to immerse even the most traditional of FPS fans enough to get hooked. While multiplayer is limited to just Gold Rush for now, an interesting rewards system – one that has proved to be far more addicting than both Xbox 360 Achievements and PS3 Trophies – kept me playing so much that I now see blue dots that follow people I know, even when they walk out of sight. And instead of being historically accurate or trying to shove drama down your throat, the story, with its campy setup, interesting characters and priceless dialogue, is more like the sort of action romp you’d want to head to a cool theater and see during the heat of the summer. Plus, they even left it open for a sequel, which is something I’d wholeheartedly approve of it is anything like the original.
Posted: 2008-08-17 13:20:31 PST