Review: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
March 29, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan
I’ve made no secret of my vehement dislike and disappointment with the latest Call of Duty title. While others continued to stick with it despite constant issues with glitches online or were far more forgiving of a complete shambles of a story than myself, I had my eyes set on another prize, biding my time waiting for the release of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. I had a lot of love for the first game; it was the only online shooter over the last two years that I regularly went back to, even ahead of more popular titles. It was also the first time that DICE had added a ‘proper’ story-based single player campaign, which to their credit, complemented the ever awesome online mode brilliantly. The campaign did have its problems, most notably with poorly mapped controls and dodgy enemy intelligence, it carried a certain charm that made that okay; it didn’t take itself too seriously and as a result had personality in the bagfuls.
While the recent online-only demo had shown that the controls had been readdressed in the sequel, I was a little surprised by the change to a serious tone. It definitely suited the online mode; but I feared that the humorous charm that I loved about the first campaign might now have been lost. I needn’t have worried; DICE have done it again and have delivered an even better overall package this time around.
It all started back in 1944…
The header is indeed right, our story here does start way back in 1944, and you get to experience it firsthand. In a nice little opening twist, the very first level is set in the Pacific during World War 2, and you are playing as Private Thomas Wyatt. See, it turns out the US Army’s logic is that if they have Nukes, the Germans have V2’s, so then naturally the Japanese must have some sort of equivalent. As Wyatt, you are sent into enemy territory on a covert mission to retrieve a Japanese scientist who has been working on a weapon known only as the ‘Aurora’. After this you are fast forwarded to present day and are reunited with the crew of Bad Company; Sergeant Redford, Private’s Sweetwater and Haggard, and the man you’ll be controlling once more, Private Preston Marlowe. Seemingly having gotten away with accidentally invading an unnamed nation, leaving their duties to go on a gold hunt, and trying to steal said gold after it had been taken in by the US Military, they are assigned to a new unit. Their new bosses, impressed with their ‘Unorthodox’ style, believe the Russians are after the Aurora technology, and guess who’s charged with finding it?
Same as with the previous game, what really sets Bad Company’s story apart from your usual war time shooter, is the fact that the game has a healthy sense of humour. More Three Kings than Black Hawk Down. There are plot similarities to those found in Modern Warfare 2 (minus gaping plot holes), but this only serves to act almost as a parody at several points throughout the game. DICE very publically made a dig at Activision before the game’s release in relation to them not including dedicated servers, but the ‘friendly’ pot-shots keep coming during gameplay. Between those playful jabs and some of the general banter between the characters, the game at times is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. That’s not to say that it’s slapstick or makes fun of the very serious horrific nature of war; when Bad Company 2 needs a serious tone, it shows. The light-hearted approach simply gives credence to the idea that you’re part of a squad that have been through a lot together. The characters here, especially Haggard and Sweetwater have more personality in their trigger fingers than ‘Soap’ McTavish had in his entirely crap haircut.
I’m gonna save me some cheerleaders…
At a glance, not much has really changed from a gameplay perspective in Bad Company 2, but scratch the surface and you’ll see the improvements they’ve made, especially in the campaign. First of all, the controls in the first game might not exactly have been described as convoluted, but they were certainly awkwardly mapped. What should have been basic actions were a real pain to perform. No longer so, thanks to some nifty remapping, being able to throw a grenade with a tap of a bumper certainly beats scrolling through your weapons to get to it. Equally, all gadgets and abilities are mapped to the d-pad, which makes selecting them a lot easier too. In all areas, the general feel in gameplay seems smoother to manoeuvre around the field.
Fans of the previous game might be disappointed to hear that the levels in the campaign are definitely less expansive, but then equally more focused. You are still led through stages where you complete a section and the next area opens up, but the particular objectives feel more organic this time around; more of a natural progression than just randomly being assigned unrelated tasks. There is a good mixture of on foot, vehicular sections (including the additions of a quad bike, and a black hawk), along with some on-rails moments, and some of the levels open up to provide you with a choice of how you approach things in the order you want. There’s a lot of variety over the course of what is a shorter campaign all round, and it is worth mentioning that the end of the game is a little anti-climatic (if visually stunning), especially compared to the balls to wall finale that was at the end of the first title. Still, it’s highly enjoyable and decent way to get used to the controls and prepare yourself for the online arena.
There is one major aspect fixed this time around, the A.I. soldiers seems a lot more intelligent, and they have to be, given that they can sustain a lot less damage (more on why this is a good thing in the multiplayer section), and thankfully this time they won’t just shoot at you. In the previous game, if you tried to flank and dared to show so much as an inch of your supple flesh, instantly every single enemy’s attention would be on you, with pinpoint accuracy. Thankfully, while most of the attention is on you (wouldn’t be very intense if it wasn’t); they do now at least acknowledge that you are in a squad of four.
In the midst of the new and various vehicles, included in the fifteen available is a UAV helicopter, which allows you to rain shells and missiles down on unsuspecting enemies by accessing certain remote control points, and this is a fun way to cause damage. Talking of damage, the Frostbite engine has been upgraded to enable you to take down entire buildings. Yes, with enemies in them, and yes, it is glorious. Okay, it’s not as polished as say, Red Faction: Guerrilla, but it does look impressive, no longer leaving you with basic framework. The whole thing can come down now, and like the ability to take out a wall before, it can change the dynamic of gameplay brilliantly.
Sometimes you just gotta turn on a light…
The Frostbite engine has been used a couple of times before now by DICE, and it usually gets decent results visually, however this title is clearly a step up. It retains that same saturated look as the previous incarnation, but used with far better visual impact thanks to starker contrasts in lighting, sharper textures, and smoother animations. The particle effects are categorically unrivalled for my money; destroying a building may not see it physically topple the exact way you would like, but the dust it kicks up makes the scene seem so more dramatic. Equally the effect this has on the lighting and atmosphere is tremendous, as you’ll see when you look up at a clear but hazy blue sky as a helicopter passes over or drops troops in.
The maps and levels have been treated just as nicely, with sprawling landscapes, and impressive draw distances. I mentioned it above, but the way that cover chips away is a massive improvement on what DICE did before; concrete comes away realistically in little chunks, spattering debris into your vision. Before if you shot at a tree, its trunk would explode in a ridiculous way before the top half fell, now they fall realistically, often taking other parts of scenery with them in the process. It’s all an important part of what makes Battlefield such a dramatic and atmospheric experience, whether you’re playing offline or on.
In the first Bad Company game, one thing that really took me by surprise was the impact the audio had on gameplay, and somehow it’s so much better in the sequel. The sound effects almost smack you in the face with their quality, the game registering nearly everything it does with real force. The various guns sound fantastic and are distinctive, but it’s the explosions and damage that take centre stage with effects that can almost leave you in awe. When a building is about to topple it makes that spine-tingling reverberation of concrete and iron straining under their own weight. DICE seemingly have a great understanding on how to make a game audibly exciting and busy, to a point that you actually worry during the moments of odd silence.
The voice acting on the campaign is terrific. Decent scripting is a large part of this, but the cast of relative unknowns carried over from the previous title continue to do a great job at bringing colourful characters to life. Even the work on various minor characters is of a decent enough quality that they don’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Close to perfect Multiplayer
Creating a fantastic atmosphere on any type of game takes skill, achieving that atmosphere on an online game is even harder, and yet that is something that DICE have consistently achieved since the series inception, and have delivered once more. I’ve done three Battlefield reviews since I started writing, and I always seem to comment on the sheer amount of drama; those random chains of unbelievable events that unfold just because it’s large scale war with so many options. There are moments that even rival that of an elaborate single player set-piece. Another reason that has nearly always put Battlefield ahead of your MW2’s and Halo’s for me is that it caters for so many different styles of gameplay, there really is something here for everyone who plays. Want to play methodically and tactically? You can. Want to play run and gun? You can. Prefer shooting people in the back while they’re asleep from 200 yards away? Yup, you can do that too, and it’s all balanced pretty much perfectly too.
Thanks to that control scheme overhaul I mentioned above, the online experience plays a whole lot smoother now. There is no change graphically from offline to online either, and all the features, all the cool gadgets and new toys (such as the remote control UAV) are there for you enjoy in the multiplayer game. Kills are a lot easier to get, as in previous games it could take over a clip to down someone, sometimes turning the one-on-one duels into an odd mating dance as you both strafed from side to side like retarded crabs scrambling to reload before the other. Now, a couple of well placed taps should do it, providing your accuracy is efficient enough.
The usual two main game modes are here from the start this time, in Rush and Conquest. Rush sees one team attacking, and the other defending, requiring the attackers to take out computers in key locations to push the enemy back to their last line of defence before they run out of re-spawns. Conquest sees both teams start with the same number of re-spawns as they battle to take control and hold key areas of the map and in doing so you also unlock more vehicles. Get more than half of these areas and the enemies re-spawn number will also begin to decrease rapidly.
Out of these two, Rush is by far the most fun, offering a purpose to the action, giving each team defined roles to act on, offering a feeling of progression for the attackers, and a sense of achievement for the defenders. On the flipside, in the wrong server, Conquest feels like an unorganised mess, offering no sense of direction, and splinters the team effort somewhat.
There are two newer, but smaller modes on offer here too. Squad Deathmatch does what it says on the tin, as four separate squads do battle in a first-to-fifty affair. This mode offers only one vehicle, so the team who can keep control of it undoubtedly gains the advantage. The other mode is Squad Rush, which is simply a smaller scale Rush with only two squads of four, while a nice inclusion lacks the action of full Rush mode, but can offer a slightly more tactical approach.
As before, over the course of combat players will earn awards, but more importantly XP points for kills and completing objectives which go towards weapons unlocks. Before, you would go in and manually unlock the weapons you want from the main menu, however this time they are far more closely tied in to your progression online. Instead of one XP bar, there are six; your rank bar and then one for each of the five weapons classes. For the vast majority of the guns, if you want better assault rifles and gadgets for that category you have to concentrate on using that particular class for a while. While it may seem initially more restrictive, it certainly is a lot better structured and stops the more talented players from streaking off ahead with the best arsenal, and you’ll have to be proficient across the board if you want to get everything. Also along the way in levelling up is a slight element of character customisation, allowing you to earn body armour in both light and heavy varieties. All of these are also unlocked mid-match, allowing you instant access to the treats you’ve just earned.
It is worth mentioning that upon the release of the game, there were notable server issues; however these now seem to have been fixed with recent maintenance. Dice have a track record of dependable online modes and they take this aspect very seriously. While there was a problem initially, and yes, games released with issues should be lamented, it was never a notion to me that they wouldn’t seek to fix it quickly and efficiently, and low and behold, the game is now problem free. Rest assured that during review I received no lag, no random drops from the server, and absolutely no errors connecting to games.
So… Can I praise it any more without trying to have sex with it?
Battlefield Bad Company 2 is one of those games that can offer the complete package to its users. The single player campaign may be a tad shorter, but is more enjoyable where it counts and less problematic than before, offering another competent story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The online mode is as close to perfect as you can get. If you’ve never played Battlefield before, the time to jump in is right now as there never has been a more tightly refined iteration. More importantly in my humble opinion (aka the right opinion), it’s more enjoyable than Modern Warfare 2 on every conceivable level. Whether you agree with that is irrelevant really I suppose, but nearly all who take the plunge on Bad Company 2 will find it to be totally worth their investment.