DICE is back with their newest entry into the military shooter market, a raucous and exciting Battlefield game where blowing things up is a vital strategy and grenades are cute.
It’s sometimes unfair to draw comparisons for a title from the other games within a genre, especially when the team and the lineage behind the title itself has a strong history of praise behind it. Still, it's human nature and in today's gaming world any military action game that comes out will suffer the scrutiny of the gold standard which is, of course, Call of Duty Modern Warfare. The problem is that so many games attempt to match the quality, intensity and graphical prowess and end up missing the mark without ever realizing exactly what they were aiming for. Battlefield: Bad Company knows exactly what the target is, and I think it’s fair to say that DICE not only hit's the target, they blow the sweet loving Jesus out of it.
Most will know the Battlefield series as the online PC shooter that garnered a ton of praise for its first and second iterations (PC multiplayer shooter of the year), and not for its so-so offshoots. The developer, DICE, decided to go all out this time with the console oriented game by adding a deep single player story and maintaining the stellar online suite they're famous for. But what makes Bad Company different? Why should anyone play this and not COD4? BC doesn't tell as intense of a story, it doesn’t look quite as good, and it probably doesn’t reach the pinnacle that COD’s online multiplayer does – but I don’t think it’s trying to carve into that niche, just yet. This is the start of something, and it's a way of reminding us that these games are still meant to be a lot of fun. DICE has stayed on the lighthearted side of things and put an emphasis on destructible environments, working it by giving tactical advantages to players and teams that know how to utilize it.
The single player campaign follows a rag tag crew of miscreants who are by no means bad soldiers, just immense screw-up’s. Each of them is highly skilled in their own way, but their balking at authority and haphazard approach to war has solidified their positions in the army as expendable, meaning they’re first in and least supported. It doesn’t take long for the somewhat predictable story to kick in, leaving your team alone and abandoned in the middle of war. What DICE does with the characters sets you up for some comedic moments and helps drive the story into a direction few games in this genre get to go.
Abandoned and alone the crew spots a mercenary army’s truckload of gold and does what any group of well armed, poorly grounded soldiers would do, set out to steal a fortune. Going AWOL has some negatives though, as now you’re not only short on supplies but you’re presumed to be the sole invaders of a neutral country. There are a few twists and turns in the story, but nothing overly original. But there is something charming about the perfect nature of the through-line for the morally bankrupt leads of the game, lending them enough reason to do what they do while maintaining an endearing quality rarely seen in military shooters. The voice acting really gives you a sense that these guys are foolish friends, berating each other with smartass comments at every opportunity but coming through when lives are on the line. You believe these guys would be friends and people you'd have a fun being around, making it easy to want to spend time with them.
Things That Go Boom in the Night
The crux to the game, though, isn’t any of that. Even for people like me that prize narrative, it's not hard to see that shooters are still not the smartest stories out there, it's the gameplay that needs to sell it. In that case what’s really important here is the ability to blow the shit out of pretty much anything. See that wall? Blow it up. See that barracks in the distance? Send a guided missile to blow off the roof. And so on. The game ensures there are ample amounts of exploding barrels along the way, just in case you need more incentive to smash the scenery. This all works impeccably because the execution is nearly flawless and entirely personalized. Your ability to cause destruction isn’t forced or even necessary, it’s just a good strategy. How you tackle the world is up to you, and nothing stands in your way with the exception of some annoying map bordering artillery zones that just keep you in a somewhat linear playground, albeit a big one.
While it's important to use destruction to your benefit during the campaign it becomes essential when you take the game online. Bad Company offers a fresh multiplayer experience that will become the go-to shooter for a huge portion of online gamers. Game modes like Rush have you play as either an attacker or defender, fighting over a series of gold crates. The goal for the attackers is to blow up both crates and move onto the next set while the defending team tries to protect and deplete the attacking teams respawn numbers - which count down from 75 each time. The explosive nature of the gameplay ensures that there are no safe spots online, every room, every house, every building can be bombarded and accessed from all sides. It's a camper's nightmare. The result is more intense, hectic, white-knuckle action that rewards cooperation and teamwork.
Vehicular combat is a nice idea, but it’s also my biggest complaint. Too many matches turn into stalemates where one team will stack up in tanks and decimate the other. While fun, they don’t always amount to the most skilled of matches. Experience points allow you to level up so you eventually unlock new weapons and tools. C4 explosives, anti-tank mines, and laser guided missiles help temper the vehicular warfare, but a better tool set from rank 1 could make it more accommodating for new players. Furthermore DICE should look to balance the helicopter. They don't need to weaken anything, but there are just too few areas with the anti-air guns necessary to fend off a skilled pilot (to be fair there aren't many). I just found it disappointing that so many matches ended in slaughter at the hands of helicopters and tanks, even on the winning side.
What's abundantly clear already though is that Battlefield Bad Company has provided players with a legitimate alternative, something fun and different enough from other shooters. The built in squad function is something you want in every game after you play with it once in Bad Company. It allows players to spawn on any squad member that's alive, which in objective based games is a massive boost. Hopefully DICE can patch an annoyingly limited team-speak function, where you can only speak with the group of four you get put into a squad with. An option would be nice.
Battlefield: Bad Company is an amazing way to rewrite what Battlefield is, especially for the home console market. With an entertaining and action filled single player campaign and DICE continuing to perfect their multiplayer game with possibly their best effort to date, Battlefield: Bad Company is easily one of the most fun shooters in a long time. If you must draw comparisons then I'm not sure Bad Company exceeds the high marks set out by Call of Duty, but don't be surprised when the sequel does.
Final Score: 85%
85-89% - "Terrific" A superb title that stumbles a bit or doesn't quite live up to its potential. The game provides a unique experience or shows the ability to rise to the top of its genre in most major facets.