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Battlefield: Bad Company

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-03-05 07:49:54

Battlefield: Bad Company - Rank A

Developer: Digital Illusions CE (DICE)
Publisher: EA Games
Date: 6/23/08

Also available for PlayStation 3

Battlefield is a legendary name among multiplayer PC gamers, but Bad Company is the first console title to live up to the franchise moniker. Plus, it sports a fully fleshed out and genuinely enjoyable singleplayer experience. The previous Battlefield failed to leverage the PC clout into console brand recognition (like how Call of Duty managed to transmute over), and this may have led to Bad Company being somewhat overlooked. This is a shame, because Bad Company delivers quality single and multiplayer action with distinct force and personality, and is probably the best shooter since Call of Duty 4.

The singleplayer campaign revolves around the exploits of Bad Company, a squad of chuckleheaded U.S. Army misfits. You play as Private Preston Marlowe, the FNG of the squad. Your fellow privates are Terrence Sweetwater, a techno-nerd who won't STFU, and George Haggard, an impulsive redneck who loves to blow things up. Team leader Samuel Redford is the prototypical black sergeant stuck with the unenviable task of babysitting your fellow goofballs. He's just counting the days until he's discharged, and grumbles when the shit hits the fan. The plot is reminiscent of Three Kings, as the four soldiers go AWOL in pursuit of mercenary gold.

Bad Company pushes this setup into a farcical comedy, involving simultaneously running from and aiding the U.S. Army, kidnapping a flamboyant dictator, commandeering his gold-encrusted attack chopper, and otherwise chasing the bling in one bungling misstep after another. As you progress from firefight to firefight, your squadmates don't actually contribute much in the way of killing power. Sweetwater might man a gun turret, and Haggard will occasionally fire his RPG to explosive effect, but you'll have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting yourself. Fortunately, they never die so you only have to worry about your own skin. What they do bring to the table is genuinely funny dialogue delivered by quality voice acting. Redford alternates between frustration and condescension toward the ridiculous squad antics. Sweetwater plays the loquacious straight man, and Haggard's hillbilly sensibility brings the punch lines:

"Wow, this is an actual palace! It's like,"
"Buckingham Palace?"
"What's it called...Xanadu!"

The action also maintains a self-referential tongue-in-cheek tone. 99% of first person shooters have adhered to the regenerating health system (you recover as long as you don't take any additional damage over a period of time) since Halo introduced it. In most games, it doesn't make a lick of sense, but it's become a convenient trope. In Bad Company, your health doesn't automatically return. Instead, you whip out a giant epinephrine syringe and jam it into your chest. It can be used repeatedly, requiring only short recharge times. In hairy firefights, this results in a rhythm of letting off a burst, hitting the reload button, switching to your syringe, stabbing yourself, and back to your rifle to fire again. This is absolutely ridiculous, but somehow makes more logical sense than the conventional system of automatic health regeneration. Likewise, Marlowe can carry around secondary gear. This can vary between a laser designator, C4, RPG, etc., but it's the power tool that made me laugh. It can repair any vehicle in seconds. If the massive tank you're driving has taken a beating, you can hop out and fix it good as new with a handheld electric gizmo. Bad Company is quite forgiving in this regard. If you should happen to die, instead of being transported back in time to the last checkpoint, you simply respawn. Any enemies you already killed stay dead.

Battlefield has always focused on implementing a wide array of combat vehicles, and Bad Company does not disappoint in this regard. Lighter vehicles include jeeps, humvees, and APCs. Two types of tanks are also available: light anti-personnel armor, and a main battle tank. Boats and attack choppers round out the stable. All of them are fun and simple to handle, and bristle with weaponry that your squadmates can man. One level has you assaulting the dictator's presidential palace through his golf course; I ended up hopping onto a golf cart in desperation to escape a heavily fortified enemy position. Picture four soldiers armed to the teeth clinging onto a swerving golf cart that's trying to evade and outrun tank bombardment and RPG fire.

Bad Company's new hook is destructibility. Gaming technology is finally catching up to the rigorous demands of physics. No longer can you duck behind a corner to hide from tank fire. Every sandbag and virtually every wall in the game is destructible. That tank will blast the building affording you protection, and devastate you through the crumbling rubble. Of course, it works both ways. Marlowe's M203 grenade launcher is best used as a universal key. If an enemy is firing at you from behind a window, you no longer need to aim with precision to hit his exposed head. You can simply *thoonk* a grenade his way, and watch in satisfaction as the wall explodes in his face. This is the kind of game where those ubiquitous exploding red barrels don't seem like a logical incongruity. This is a universe where they exist for the sole purpose of being shot so that they can demolish surrounding architecture. This possibility for deformation applies to a surprisingly vast amount of the environments. I once fired my battle tank's main gun on a bridge and promptly fell irretrievably into the massive crater it created. One of the achievements/trophies is to knock down a forest - how cool is that? The indestructibility of objects in other games is a disappointment after playing Bad Company.

Bad Company also looks and sounds terrific. DICE's new Frostbite engine is amazing; those "next generation" graphical glitches that are so prevalent (particularly in Unreal engine games) are nowhere to be seen. Bad Company simply presents smooth animations, rich textures, lush organic environments, and terrific explosions. The audio work is some of the best I've ever encountered. Soldiers scream, shots echo, explosions resonate, and mortar crumbles with pinpoint positional surround sound. Every technical aspect of Bad Company shines with a rare level of polish.

The only meaningful complaint I have about the main campaign is that there is no cooperative mode. Considering that you're almost constantly surrounded by your squadmates, this is a significant oversight. In many instances, you'll find yourself swapping from driving duties to the gunner seat, and back and forth. You'll wish you had a buddy to share these roles with. Now that I consider the matter, it'd be a blast to explode walls together.

The multiplayer mode is classic Battlefield. It's a delicious chaos of up to 24 players deployed in one of five classes. The assault class is identical to Marlowe's loadout: the self-healing syringe and an M203 to open doorways. The demo class is the bane of heavy armor; mines and rockets make short work of most vehicles. Recon snipers deliver long range death to infantry or call down laser guided bombs. Spec ops are about close quarters combat and C4 charges on hardened targets. The support class provides med packs and is ideal as vehicle drivers or gunners, as they can hop out and repair damage. The classes also provide intriguing opportunities for teamwork: for example, the special operator can "paint" a target which designates it for the demo expert's guided rockets. Or assault teams can lay fire and blast holes in walls, creating a breach for the nasty specials ops wetworkers to pour through. If you can get an organized clan rolling, this potential for teamwork can be a thing of bloody beauty. Toss in the jeeps, boats, tanks, helicopters, artillery, and what have you -plus the new destruction mechanic-, and Bad Company is one of the best multiplayer experiences to be found on any platform.

I only have two minor gripes about the multiplayer, and one of them has already been rectified. Bad Company initially released with only one multiplayer mode, "Gold Rush", which involved one team attacking gold crates, and the other defending them. Thankfully, DICE released the classic "Conquest" game type as a free download, which is a seize-the-strategic-points conflict of reducing the enemy's number of "tickets". The other complaint is related to their system of unlocking gear. Certain weapons were only available to people who had preordered the game; these too have since been made available to the general populace, but involve inputting codes from their website. Likewise, some other unlocks involve registering with EA's gamer database. This is certainly not a big deal, but taking the time to submit contact information to their marketing department is the sort hassle gamers can do without. Ideally, everything should be unlockable through gameplay.

If you're having difficulty choosing between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game, it's a close call. Like usual, I give the nod to the Xbox 360 controller with its better sticks, triggers, and rumble. Since multiplayer is such a big factor, I also recommend the significantly larger Xbox Live community; finding games is much easier.

Most shooters focus on presenting a compelling singleplayer experience, and tack on a perfunctory multiplayer mode as a grudging requirement for today's game market. Less often, they focus on the multiplayer gameplay, and slap together a rudimentary campaign mode. It's rare to find a game that delivers both halves with such excellence. When I saw an early build of Bad Company, I remember thinking, "Those destroyable walls are kinda neat," and promptly forgot all about it. I surely didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It ultimately places shy of all-time greatness, but it deserves the Rank A, and I solidly recommend it to shooter fans on the fence about giving it a try.

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