Dealspwn Rating: 8/10
With Kotick and Co. Recently grabbing the headlines for all of the wrong reasons, no doubt put under some severe pressure by this less-than-innocuous release, EA have not-so-quietly slipped in and set up camp. This was always going to be judged against Modern Warfare 2, and rightly so. With Activision taking over the reins as Big Bad Publisher Enemy No. 1, EA had to do something. Thankfully, they’ve responded where it counts.
Considering DICE's precedent, you can forget unforgiving linearity; you can leave your tight corridors and one-dimensional cover-shooters at the door for a very simple reason: give your enemies half a chance and there won’t be any cover to hide behind. The original traded in wanton destructive fun, with the gloriously vulnerable environments firmly staking DICE’s claim to be the genre leader in Blowing Things Up. It was flawed in a number of ways, but it was an expansive change from the guided thrills of more conservative first person shooters. The single player campaign belligerently invites comparisons to Activision and Infinity Ward’s effort. From the sly, dry remarks peppered throughout the game’s rather more seriously-minded dialogue, rubbishing the very notion of guns with heartbeat monitors, to the Modern Warfare-esque OTT setpieces, this is game that isn’t afraid to stand in the face of last year’s blockbuster and have a pissing contest.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out that way, Bad Company 2 does a fair job of trying to marry the series' foundations with a more linear and crafted approach, but it still falls someway short. Remember the thrill of freedom of playing the first Halo game and gunning your way through the Silent Cartographer level that plonked you down on an island, gave you a handful of objectives and told you to get on with it? Open gameplay has long been a staple of the Battlefield franchise, but it’s been heavily curtailed for this game to allow for a more focused campaign experience. The levels are still large, and it is by no means as narrow in terms of space as some, but it jars quite a bit.
There’s no question of prudence when it comes to the weapons, mind you. You can only carry two, and a handful of grenades, but there are supply crates dotted around everywhere like strategically place armament pick’n’mixes for you to chop and change whenever you feel like it. Likewise for vehicles: the singleplayer has a good mix of things for you to drive, and things for you to sit in and fire out of, although it’s not quite as wild as its predecessor. When you get your hands on the minigun in that helicopter, don’t tell me you don’t get a little shiver of anticipation at its destructive capabilities, itching to raze a building to the ground – that’s what this mode is all about. It's just a shame that with this sophisticated new destruction model you don't get to bring out the big guns more often.
Control is smooth and satisfying, and you’ll need it be as your squadmates are hardly sharpshooter material and they have a tendency to just stand around. The AI is a bit of an issue, to be honest, and your squadmates’ somewhat below-average intelligence is matched only by that of your enemies. The soldiers you’ll be fighting aren’t exactly the brightest bunch of fellows – the foes in these games never have been – and the game’s adversaries have an irritating habit of lurching between reckless abandon, buggy glitching and pinpoint accuracy.
However, the game does manage to evoke some genuinely thrilling combat experiences, especially on the higher difficulty settings. Instead of simple run-and-gun missions and objectives, the game plays around with your expectations. You can’t take a whole heap of damage, you are constantly looking for cover that hasn’t been blown to smithereen (whilst nowhere near the rubble-razing standards of Red Faction: Guerilla, the destruction model allows for heaps of fun), and you have to be mindful of survival against the elements as well as 9mm rounds. Coming upon a house-cum-pillbox in the middle of snow-caked Alaska, surrounded by unseen enemies in the fog, you begin shivering in the extreme cold, your movements become slower and your vision deteriorates as frost and ice begin to build up, and you realise that the only way to survive is to eliminate the camper in the house and warm yourself by the fire inside before someone targets the building with a mortar and starts blowing holes in the walls.
The biggest thrills, though, come when you take the game online. Multiplayer gaming is DICE’s bread and butter, and it will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever enjoyed a round or more of any of the titles in the Battlefield series that this game’s online experience is exceptionally good fun. Coming off as a more streamlined version of previous instalments, this is the essence of Battlefield 2 distilled into pure multiplayer magic, and this is where Battlefield: Bad Company 2 beats Call of Duty hands-down.
DICE have been doing this for a long time, and they know what works and what doesn’t. You have four classes to choose from (Assault, Recon, Engineer and Medic), each sporting their own assortment of objects with which to kill and damage things. As you play, you’ll earn experience points that let you level up, increasing the armaments at your disposal, with a mix of shared and unique equipment for your wartime delectation. But the best part about this is that it’s not just plain old frags that’ll net you precious XP, this is a game that rewards teamwork too. You can opt to try out a low-key, non-shooting tactics on these maps, tagging vehicles with tracers, scouting out enemies, healing and reviving your buddies, and you’ll still rank high on the leaderboards at the end if you’re effective in your roles.
The wonderful Conquest Mode returns, and is included from the start this time around, along with the objective-based Rush Mode, Squad Deathmatch, and Squad Rush. PC matches cap out at 32 (a slightly less impressive 24 if you’re a console gamer) and you have 10 maps (if you bought the game new) from the get-go. Those numbers might not seem too large when compared to a game like MAG but, as I was once encouragingly (embarrassingly) told by a partner of mine, size isn’t an issue, it’s what you do with it that counts. Everywhere you look there’s that familiar DICE magic, from the incredible visual production values to the enormously impressive sound work.The sound is probably some of the best audio work I’ve heard in a game of this type. Everything, from the callouts of the troops, to the muffled explosions of ranged fire, the frenzied cursing of a rookie to the echo of birds startled by rifle fire, everything you can hear in this game is absolutely spot on, and it’ll force you upgrade your rig.
This isn’t just a stop-gap between ‘real’ Battlefield games nor is it just a concession to console gamers. DICE and EA have measured themselves against Infinity Ward and Activision and have produced something that stands on a level footing, albeit in different style. The singleplayer might not quite capture the gripping tension of Modern Warfare 2’s campaign (although like that game, it does suffer from being a bit too short), but it more than makes up for it with a multiplayer FPS experience that never alienates you or pushes you away, but chucks a large map, a bundle of vehicles and a load of weapons at you and invites and welcomes you to have a blast.
- Arguably the finest FPS multiplayer experience to be had at the moment
- Incredible production values, especially in terms of sound
- More sophisticated destruction model
- Singleplayer campaign not quite there yet
- Destruction model perhaps not quite used to full effect
- Disappointing NPC AI
The Short Version: When it comes down to it, DICE have served up a beefcaked sequel with an improved but still lacking singleplayer. Take this baby online, though, and Bad Company 2 suddenly springs into life, throws off any shackles it might have had, and stands resplendent in fantastic glory. A must-buy for anyone who enjoys the online FPS - DICE have answered your prayers.