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Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Digital Illusions CE (DICE)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Website: Battlefield: Bad Company
Battlefield: Bad Company has a plot. It's important to note because this is the first game in the Battlefield series to actually have a single-player, story-driven campaign. In past installments, the single-player mode was exactly the same as multiplayer except with bots. This change pleased me because I'm a story whore and have this nagging feeling that a game is incomplete if it doesn't at least have some cursory single-player experience.
I praise the fact that the plot exists but can't actually praise the plot itself. From what I heard about the game prior to its release, the premise seemed okay: a team of soldiers goes AWOL to steal gold in a war zone (ed note: We Three Kings be stealing the gold). The game begins with Preston, a regular Army grunt who tells us in voiceover that he's been assigned to the misfit "B Company" (aka "Bad Company") because of some misconduct he never explains. His chopper lands at a base in some forest and he meets the rest of his squad: a pyromaniac, an "I'm too old for this shit" black sergeant (as seen in Aliens, Predator, Halo, etc.) and a four-eyed nerd. After a little banter, we're off to the front and we learn that they're in Russia. "A war with Russia? How'd that happen?" you might wonder. You will continue to wonder this for the rest of the 8-10 hours of the single player campaign because it's never explained.
The plot never evolves beyond that the one sentence premise I mentioned above: a team of soldiers goes AWOL to steal gold in a war zone. While fighting in the Russian wilderness, the squad finds out about a mercenary army hoarding gold bars and they quickly decide to risk their lives and throw away their careers to acquire this treasure. What follows is the usual routine of attacking one base to blow up a communications dish, grabbing a jeep to drive to the other base so you can blow up the anti-aircraft guns, etc. Though you're supposed to be AWOL, you'll still feel like an errand boy. With all these small generic tasks, the plot drifts off into the background and you find yourself just mindlessly driving from one red triangle on your minimap to another. Occasionally you'll have a brief cut scene and a character will say something like, "Oh man, I can't wait to get that gold!" but these moments felt a little like when a porn actress says, "I'm giving you an A++!" halfway through her sex scene in "Busty Professors 4" - it's a half-assed reminder of the plot rather than actual storytelling.
The marketing of this game led me to believe this would be a really irreverent, wacky war story but the game never really commits to that. If you were looking for some bat shit, Tim Schafer take on modern warfare, this isn't it. Your grenades have little smiley face tags attached to them and at one point you can drive a golf cart - that's about as quirky as things will get. Unlike the Bad Company commercials, which made fun of competing FPS games relentlessly, the game itself is pretty restrained. While it was kind of amusing that the players slobbered over "Miss July," the female superior officer with an attractive voice who radios in your orders throughout the game (a staple of action games), the fact remains that the game still has a female superior officer with an attractive voice. The game never tries to put a new twist on these clichés and it's almost as though they're worried the game will be less cool or bad-ass if there was any comedy to water down the violence and mayhem of the gameplay.
As I mentioned, the generic military FPS tasks you're given throughout the game (drive here, put explosives on this thing, kill those guys) do make the game wear thin after extended play but the basic action of the game is very fun. With most of the game taking place outdoors, you're given plenty of leeway in how you'll approach and assault your objectives. The game has a wide range of weapons and vehicles lying around for you to toy around with. I hate to say something like, "this game makes you feel like you're really on a battlefield" because of how much of a dick in the face that is to actual soldiers but the fact remains that Bad Company does an excellent job of making the action frantic and nerve-wracking. The weapons and vehicle sounds are vivid and fucking scary and when an explosion goes off near you, your ears ring. Many other recent FPS games like Gears of War have neat "cover" systems where you press a button and your character dives behind a pillar to safely evade incoming fire. Bad Company, however, has something I like to call a "fuck cover" system; the environments are highly destructible in Bad Company so whatever wall you're hugging might be blown up in about five seconds. The mercenaries you'll fight have a healthy amount of explosives so it happens quite often and it's exhilarating to realize you're never completely safe from harm.
Not that getting hurt is such a bad thing. The game doesn't have rechargeable shields but you carry a health injector...thing with you at all times. When you're running low on health, you can jab yourself in the chest with it (with cool accompanying visual and sound) to restore your health to full. I enjoyed being able to instantly regain health rather than cowering in the corner and waiting for my shields to regenerate as with other games but it did get a little old having to go through my inventory and select it every time I got shot. The injector has a cooldown timer of maybe thirty seconds or so but there are no drawbacks to its use. You can stab your character with enough syringes to kill a lead guitarist for a glam rock band and the guy who replaced him on the reunion tour and it won't harm him at all. Dying's really not so bad, anyway. You'll spawn at the last checkpoint, but the game doesn't reset to that point; in other words, if you killed two people after the checkpoint and died, they're still dead when you respawn. In other words, no matter how inept you are, you can slowly wear down any enemies. It really is a "kiddie gloves" feature but it does come in handy when the game abruptly decides to be difficult. At a couple spots in the game I had to fight off multiple tanks at once while on foot and the result was shrapnel bukkake.
I'll admit the game's very fun when you're the one doing the demolition work. The developers play up the destructible environments for all they're worth - you'll have plenty of grenade launchers, RPG's, and grenades at your disposal and there's about five exploding barrels for every enemy. At points in the game you'll even acquire devices to call in air strikes on selected areas - including a set of binoculars that, after you designate the target, allow you to manually control the missile as it descends to earth. The destructible environments do limit your strategy, though - you'll just end up carpet-bombing an enemy base and then running in to pick off the remaining soldiers. By the end of the game, I'd get pissed when I actually had to pull out a regular gun and, you know, aim to hit something. There's a surprisingly small amount of indoor environments in the game. What I mean is that while there's a wide variety of buildings and houses in the game to blow the shit out of but it's rare that you'll ever need to go into one to complete an objective. You spend most of the time cruising through the countryside, blowing up one base and then driving to another. You'll spend at best ten seconds in a building to pick up ammo, shoot someone, or set an explosive. I suppose I should be grateful there's no sewer level but it would've freshened things up if there were segments where you couldn't just blow everything up. You need neither precision nor stealth to succeed in the game. Let's put it this way: there's no button for opening doors in Bad Company. In order to enter a building, you either awkwardly crouch-jump through the window or blow a hole in the wall.
Like the other Battlefield games, Bad Company fluidly shifts between vehicular and on-foot combat. When you enter a vehicle, you and your squadmates instantly enter it, which prevents a lot of glitching right off the bat. The squadmates are decent enough at manning the turrets while you drive but when you switch to control a turret, they don't drive. If you're in a helicopter, they'll keep the bird at a steady hover. The developers threw in the towel on that bit of A.I. coding, I guess. However, given how shitty of drivers the squadmates in Halo were, I'm not too broken up over this. I can't speak to the combat skills of the squadmates while they were on foot because, well, I just ignored them. They don't die so you don't have to bother protecting them (thank god). They'll shoot a few enemies here and there but I can't say I missed their help when a solo mission came up later in the game.
The multiplayer portion of the game has only one mode and it's called "Gold Rush." I assumed this would involve one team of players grabbing gold and then running away while the other team chased them down but unfortunately this isn't the case. It's essentially the plain old territory capturing schtick, except that instead of attacking territories, the team on offense is setting bombs on crates of gold. The other team can disable the bombs once planted so you get some Counter-Strike-ish moments but I'm still trying to wrap my head around the concept of blowing up gold. The standard Battlefield "Conquest" mode where you just capture territories until one team runs out of reinforcements will be included in a free downloadable update in the future. There's not really much to say about the multiplayer other than, "If you liked other Battlefield games, you'll like this." I'll go even further and say that if you're a first person shooter fan, you'll like Battlefield: Bad Company. It's not the cliché-smashing, comic FPS that I thought it would be but it's still a solid shooter. It shares the weak points of other games in the genre but many of their strengths as well. Bad Company's ending leaves the door open for a sequel and while I could care less about the story, I'm interested to see how DICE will build on this game's core gameplay in a future installment.