Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Battlefield: Bad Company

This game is a few years old at this point, but I enjoyed the campaign of the sequel enough that I decided I would eventually check it out, which is what I ended up doing. Obviously the series is still best known for its multiplayer, and it seems kind of silly to check out an old game best known for its online with a sequel and probably not many people left playing it, But I'm kind of a silly guy and the game was pretty cheap. The campaign features seven fairly lengthy missions, and places you again (or for the first time) in the role of Preston Marlow, new recruit of Bad Company. It's the same core cast and voice actors and the sequel, and they're a fun group of guys to shoot at evil Russians with, fun enough that I could overlook some of the game's weird quirks.

Bad Company 2 did a fair number of things to set itself a bit apart from the standard Call of Duty formula for games about shooting guys, allowing for a variety of approaches to certain situations and heavily featuring the series' trademark of lots of vehicles and special equipment you can actually use yourself. It was still a heavily guided and checkpoint driven shooter though, and had instances of the game forcing you onto rails and frequently pulled you out of gameplay to advance the story. Bad Company on the other hand is almost a complete oddity as far as single player campaigns work, feeling very rooted in the series' origins as a multiplayer only experience. There are cut scenes at the beginning and end of missions and moments where the game glues you to one spot for some exposition, though until near the end the plot never goes beyond feeling like a less random version of playing an online match, as the person in charge tells your squad to go here and do this and then go there and blow up that. Some standards of the genre just aren't there like they are in the sequel - instead of automatically regenerating you have a health bar, although it's functionally pretty similar since you always have a recharging needle you can inject yourself with to heal up. Instead of the standard two guns and a few grenades, weapons work more like the class kits from the online - you can have one with a time, and they all come with either an explosive attachment, a few grenades, or a side arm.

The way death is handled is especially odd - if you fail a specific objective you might be reset to a checkpoint, but otherwise getting killed just causes you to respawn nearby, with all of the things you've done in the mean time still accomplished. Bioshock had a similar system, although that game explained the concept in the story, while in Bad Company it just feels like another way that a multiplayer team was still figuring out how to do a campaign mode. If one enemy sees you then all of the ones in the area seem to know where you are automatically, and you just march from location to location on a constantly expanding map, killing dudes who get in your way, driving tanks or jeeps you find, and blowing up things that need to be blown up. The game's big addition to the franchise is the ability to destroy the walls of buildings you come across, which is effective at exposing stubborn enemies who just hang out behind them and also adds to the tension of trying to escape from an enemy tank. It's kind of disappointing though how you can never truly destroy a structure like in Red Faction: Guerrilla - the walls can be blown away, but those support beams are completely rigid. It adds a little fun to the game's sandbox, although it's sort of a fleeting thrill.

Sandbox is a good word to use when talking about this game, which often feels like the developers just decided to give you a bunch of tools to play with and loosely tied them together with simple mission objectives and brain dead computer opponents. It's not really open world, because most of the map is locked off at the beginning of a level, and the levels aren't connected, but I think sandbox is evocative. Most of the areas look really similar - peaceful European forests and meadows, overrun with roads connecting cookie cutter bases made of small buildings surrounded by dozens of easily destroyed barrels filled with explosive material. It's not exactly creative, but it works, and it's fun to tool around with your buddies, listening to them butt heads and crack jokes while you call in air strikes and launch rockets. The biggest mistake the campaign probably makes is having you go it alone for most of a mission near the end. It's kind of a quirky game with not a lot of attention paid to certain aspects of it, but I ended up enjoying it about as much as the sequel in some ways. There's enough weapon variety to make finding a new one an exciting moment, and it does a good job of training you for the multiplayer, which I didn't bother trying because I'm sure there are no PS3 players at this point, but I'm sure is as fun as the series always is. I was sort of dismayed recently by a producer on the upcoming Battlefield 3 speaking out against that kind of sandbox design. I'm all for seeing what DICE can do with a COD-style tightly focused experience, but I think there's definitely merit to giving the player more freedom, and there's definitely plenty of people who will tell you the series' current brand of online, with dozens of players doing whatever they want in an attempt to win a battle, is a total blast. I guess we'll see what direction they end up taking it.

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