Bad Company 2 is the second game in the long-running Battlefield series to feature a single-player campaign in addition to its multiplayer offering. I'm still not completely sure why developer DICE bothers, though. Perhaps it's because a single-player campaign is an expected part of a first-person shooter, or they want to add some personality to a series usually centered on a conflict between two faceless armies. Whatever the motivation for creating a single-player Battlefield experience is, it's clear that that side of the game is the redheaded stepchild.
BF:BC2 is a continuation of the storyline from the first Bad Company, kind of. The two games at least have the same main characters, a group of wise-cracking AWOL American soldiers. In the first game, they had ditched their posts to steal a bunch of gold from a foreign military but those events are never mentioned in BC2. They're now working for the US military again and are entrusted with a mission that could decide the fate of the United States. Yes, seems like the sort of thing you'd outsource to a group of soldiers who went AWOL.
You control one member of the squad while the other three are A.I.. It's regrettable that there's no option for co-op here but at least the companions aren't a hindrance. They actually manage to kill enemies on a regular basis; I never tried it but they could probably win a number of fights by themselves. They never die or get wounded so you don't have to run around saving them. You never have to sit around waiting for them to catch up to you or get in your vehicle, either, as the game often warps them to your position. Though your comrades are not compelling characters (their personalities can be summed up as "Texan," "nerd," and "Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon"), they have some occasionally witty banter. The temptation to shoot them in the back of the head (even though it wouldn't do any good) is therefore low.
Still, it's not enough for your three squadmates to simply not be a pain in the ass. The game's multiplayer emphasizes the importance of four-man squads working together and in a perfect world the single-player would train you to work in a group. However, the game really feels like a solo shooter. You have companions, yes, but their presence doesn't affect how you approach the game at all. It's a bit like Call of Duty in that these allies just feel like extras in your own little action movie. For all of its flaws, Army of Two makes teamwork integral to the single-player experience. It's not even an option on BC2. It's no surprise that many people in multiplayer just act like Rambo.
The campaign for the original Bad Company was a loosely strung together series of generic first-person shooter tasks, like blowing up radar arrays or securing bases. There's some of that in BC2 but it's easier to see the story relevance of your actions in most situations. Still, it feels like mission design took a step backward in BC2. The highlights of its predecessor were these quasi-sandbox segments where you had a number of different options for accomplishing an objective. You could assault a base with an attack helicopter, bombard it with a tank from afar, or rush in on foot. Everything in BC2 is tightly scripted, though. Even the outdoor maps are linear, with movement restricted to small "corridors." If you step outside the "combat zone" for ten seconds or more, the game will kill you. Vehicle use is never optional; you'll never steal a helicopter from an enemy base and take it for a spin. When you're lucky enough to find a vehicle, you'll be asked to man the turret or simply drive along a single path to the next objective. Again, this isn't very good preparation for multiplayer.
Why does the campaign hem you in like this? Presumably it's to hide the deficiencies of the game's A.I.. While your companions are smart enough to shoot things, and walk along a straight path, that's about all they can handle. If you hopped into the gunner seat of a vehicle in the first game, your companions would refuse to drive. It seems like the aiming abilities of the A.I. (for both enemies and companions) were boosted to make them seem more intelligent than they actually are. Even if you're behind a building or another barrier, enemies seem to have an uncanny ability to know where you are. Though the game asks you to quietly knife an enemy on a couple occasions, stealth is not a possibility for the most part. Hop out from behind cover for a second and every enemy zeroes in on you. I don't mind a challenge but getting shot by an enemy from across the map and having to replay the last ten minutes (checkpoints are sporadic) is just brutal.
Still, there's joy to be found in the campaign. The game's sound and graphics make it seem a lot more fun than the A.I. and design would actually dictate. Explosions create massive fireballs and cover the battlefield in smoke clouds. They rip through walls as well, and if a building sustains enough damage it will eventually crumble. I can't say whether the weapon sounds are accurate but they're as loud and fiercesome as I'd expect. You'll fight in desert, snow and forest environments and the level of detail is impressive in each even from a distance. The vast environments that BC2 can render are only truly appreciated in multiplayer, though.
BC2's multiplayer is split up into four modes: Rush, Conquest, Squad Deathmatch, and Squad Rush. The last two are a bit weak. Squad Deathmatch has four squads of four players apiece trying to rack up 50 kills. Squad Rush (exclusive to GameStop pre-order customers for a month) is even slimmer, with two teams of four players attacking/defending four MCOM stations (generic metal electronic boxes that can be destroyed by planting a charge on them or toppling the building that houses them). These two modes are pretty close to your average multiplayer FPS experience, as they're basically infantry-only (Squad Deathmatch maps have one APC) and matches last 10-20 minutes. Why bother with multiplayer modes that feel like every other game, though?
Most players will gravitate toward Rush and Conquest, 24-player modes (32 in the PC version) which offer the more traditional Battlefield experience. In Conquest, two teams start with 100 reinforcements (i.e. lives) and try to whittle down the reinforcement total of the other team to zero by killing enemy troops and capturing three points around the map. Rush matches have one team attempt to destroy several pairs of M-COM stations throughout the map while the other team tries to stop them. Assuming one team isn't supremely better than the other, games for both modes will take around 30-45 minutes.
The extended Rush/Conquest matches are where BC2 really shines. The maps are massive and contain a mixture of close-quarters and open-air environments to encourage the use of different weapons and tactics. There's isn't one silver bullet approach that will work in all situations. A Rush match on the Arica Harbor map, for example, begins with an assault on a desert base. The flat land and wide roads allow for tanks to quickly sweep into the base, while the nearby mountainsides give snipers a distinct advantage. The next stage of the map, however, is set in the middle of the town. The narrow streets and abundant buildings provide many opportunities for ambushes on the tanks and allow infantry to stay covered from sniper fire. These strategic calculations change over time due to the destructible environments; a sniper will find targets much easier once most of the buildings are leveled by explosions.
BC2 splits weapon and equipment into four different classes: Assault, Engineer, Medic, and Recon. If, say, you want to use a sniper rifle, you'll need to be Recon. Experience points earned through kills, capturing objectives, and so on only count toward the class you play while earning it. Therefore, you won't unlock any new Assault weapons by playing Engineer. Experience points earned with a vehicle are a separate category as well, and count toward unlocking vehicle-oriented specializations (better armor, proximity sensors, etc.). Upgrades aren't as plentiful as in Modern Warfare 2 but there's still a sizable amount of stuff to unlock. There's dozens of weapons, items, and specializations (perks or equipment add-ons) for you to earn. While the higher level stuff will take awhile to unlock, you'll get new stuff at a pretty brisk pace in the beginning.
The classes don't force you into one narrow role. Many folks who choose to play Recon will sit on a hill and snipe people all day. However, that's not the extent of the class' abilities. Recon players can carry C4 charges, which are perfect for blowing up tanks. My favorite thing to do while playing that class is to sneak up on enemy tanks, plant C4, and blow them to bits. Over time you unlock equipment that can be used by all classes, too, such as shotguns and semi-automatic rifles. It's therefore possible to play as a close-quarter Recon soldier.
In multiplayer, teams are divided into four-player squads. Instead of spawning at base when you die, you can choose to start by the side of one of your squadmates. Flipping through a spawn location menu will show you live footage of your comrades so you now exactly where you'd be starting. The squad spawn system makes group assaults much easier to coordinate and therefore speeds up the matches so I have no complaints there. I do sort of wish that there was a way to manually browse available squads, though. The game uses a matchmaking system that automatically lumps you with other people looking for squads. Sometimes the result is that a sniper ends up with frontline soldiers or vice versa, which doesn't really work well. Being able to browse a list of available squads and see what the class breakdown is within that squad would probably be best.
The game doesn't encourage teamwork enough, either. Sure, you can spawn next to a teammate but there isn't enough incentive to stay close and complete objectives together. Sure, you'll get extra points for helping squadmates with kills or capturing points, and a larger bonus at the end of the match if your squad had the highest combined score of all. However, these are pretty small incentives. The best squad award is, I believe, 200 points whereas a single solo kill is 50. If there were better awards being doled out to players who work together to actually win the match, I think you'd have less people sitting on the hill sniping for 45 minutes.
Bad Company 2 continues the Battlefield series' tradition of excellence in multiplayer action. DICE really needs to re-think their approach to single-player, though. The campaign fails to prepare players for the online experience and what's more, it fails to entertain. Perhaps Bad Company 3 will have a single-player mode that succeeds on those fronts but DICE might be better off just throwing all their energy into making the multiplayer as good as it can be. The multiplayer is clearly the star of the show here.
Players: 1-24 Players (Xbox 360 and PS3), 1-32 (PC)
Platform(s): Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC, PS3
Publisher: Electronic Arts