It's only been a couple of months and 2010 is already shaping up to be one of the best ever for gamers. If your wallet hasn't already been emptied, Electronic Arts and development studio DICE have tossed yet another videogame on the pile that can't be missed. Battlefiled: Bad Company 2 ups the intensity and visual prowess of its predecessor, while still delivering one of the most compelling multiplayer games around.
If you were to buy Bad Company 2 solely for the single-player campaign, you might come away a bit disappointed. That's not to say it's particularly bad in any way, but it doesn't feel impressive enough to stand on its own as a great experience. Once again, the multiplayer game is the star of the Battlefield show.
The single player campaign follows the story of a rag-tag bunch of soldiers as they traipse around the world on the hunt for a mythical weapon of mass destruction which absolutely must not fall into the hands of the Russians. It's a typical story of unlikely heroes as they attempt to save the world, and it will take you across a great variety of locations that range from frozen mountains to densely packed jungles.
These gorgeous locales are the first thing that will spring out at you as you begin the fight. The vistas and skyboxes look nearly photorealistic in many situations, and DICE did a wonderful job blending the particle effects and game objects in the foreground with the more static backdrops. The result is a sense of depth that few videogame worlds can offer.
Things become more impressive yet when the action kicks in. Returning from the last Bad Company game are nearly fully destructible environments. If an enemy soldier is holed up in a second story bedroom taking potshots at you, all you have to do is send a rocket at that wall and he'll either wind up dead or fully exposed. The same line of thinking applies to just about anything you see – send enough firepower at it and you can watch it crumble.
Once you're done ogling the smoke trails or mountain ranges in the distance, you'll start to notice that Bad Company 2 has taken a few cues from the Call of Duty franchise. The last Battlefield game was the first to introduce a fully fleshed out storyline and it stumbled a bit in the process. The humor was goofy and over the top, the open mission design was a bit too open, and everything seemed coated in a dense fog. A lot has changed and improved for the sequel.
The big change comes with a more streamlined and cinematic approach to the action. The dialogue is less overtly inane, though it does offer its fair share of humor, and the level design feels more straightforward. While the last Bad Company game couldn't hold my attention, this one kept me interested and having fun from start to finish.
It shouldn't come as any surprise that this Battlefield game has some great mechanics. The guns react well, and sound fantastic. The vehicles handle smoothly and really do a great job of making you feel like the king of the battlefield. The instant-respawns and med kit injections of the last Bad Company have been replaced by the more standard checkpoints and regenerative health bar and that makes the challenge of war feel more realistic.
To top things off, the AI squad mates at your side act like real soldiers in battle. They'll press the attack while you flank and hold off the enemy while you duck behind cover to recuperate. Many games slap you in a squad of largely ineffective soldiers and let you do all of the heavy lifting. Bad Company 2 is a refreshing change of pace in this regard.
Of course, if you want to start nitpicking, there are plenty of instances to call out. Some of the details and little pieces of the environment stream into view a bit late. There still are no arms drawn on screen when driving a vehicle, causing a poltergeist-like steering wheel to move on its own. On the Xbox 360 version, slow loading from the disc causes the player to be locked out for as much as five seconds from throwing grenades or using the knife when picking up a new weapon or changing kits (this issue went away when installing the game onto a hard drive).
These are mostly small complaints and, for me, the campaign's only real troubles rest with the presentation and pacing. The B-Company (known as Bravo Two in this game) squad returns with you filling the shoes of Preston Marlowe. At your side is a crew of largely one-dimensional characters who are good for a laugh every now and then. This cast exists mainly to deliver one-liners and to direct you through the battlefield to the next objective. It's hard to even think of them as people after watching them take a rocket propelled grenade to the face and then get up and go right back into the fight.
Though the action has been streamlined, it feels like Bad Company 2 just missed the "epic" feeling that it seems the developers were going for. Part of the problem is in the direction of the cutscenes, but mostly I feel like it rests with the non-stop high-intensity approach to gameplay. In a given level, you can do everything from sniping soldiers to manning a turret on the side of a helicopter to calling in air strikes – all in rapid succession. You're something of a Rambo super-soldier, well versed in every facet of war. With the constant action, it feels like there is very little tension building outside of the game's opening moments. There's tons of variety to the gameplay and all of it is a great deal of fun, but it doesn't quite come together to be a top tier experience.
And with such a frantic campaign pace, it is over in short order. I blew through the game in just a few evenings of lazy play, probably clocking in under six hours. A collectible weapon system does offer a reason to go back for a second or third run, but this isn't the kind of campaign you'll be returning to again and again.
For many, the shortcomings in the campaign won't matter one bit. These people come for the multiplayer online game, and that's where Bad Company 2 delivers. Here the destructible environments of the campaign take on new meaning. Your target might be waiting inside a shack. An enemy squad may be using a tower as a staging point. This can all change with just a few well placed explosives as you literally level the playing field. It adds an extra tier of strategy to the game as you struggle to work through extended fights, adapting your approach to the fight as the world around you crumbles.
Anybody that buys Battlefield: Bad Company 2 in its initial run will receive the Limited Edition. Once that sells out, the standard game will be sold at the same price. The difference? Those that pick it up at or near launch will get a package with a few weapons unlocked from the get go. The latecomers will need to unlock them in multiplayer gameplay.
That's just the first level of strategic planning this shooter offers those that work well together. Battlefield has long been known and adored by gamers as the franchise that offers epic, large-scale online fights and plenty of vehicles to take into battle. That tradition continues here. Personally, I've always held it in such high regard because of how it is inherently team-based. The very layout of the game is designed to encourage players to work together, straight down to awarding extra points for working with your teammates.
Little squads can be created, segmenting larger teams into strike forces which can each play a specific role. Then within that squad, players can choose between four load-out kits that range from the light machinegun toting medic to the heavy weapon specialist engineer. Each has its own weapons and unique tools that allow you to set yourself up as a small but integral part in the team's success. It's a game that requires a cool head and open lines of communication just as much as it does a deft hand, and that just makes the victories that much sweeter.
What struck me as most impressive with Bad Company 2 is how flexible the multiplayer game is. The class system allows you to choose what your approach to battle will be. It's the maps and modes included in this package that allow you to choose exactly what kind of game you want to play. There is a huge difference between the giant and extended team Rush games – an attack and defend mode which plays out across expansive maps and features vehicles heavily -- and the tighter Squad Deathmatch games which can feel just like your standard frantic and close-quarters shooter. If you care for something in between, you can just hop into a Conquest game to try your hand at the classic Battlefield fight over specific areas controlled by raising and lowering flags. Regardless of your mood, it feels like Bad Company 2 has something for you.
And if the game itself isn't enough reason to keep coming back, perhaps you'll find yourself hooked on the class upgrade system. New weapons and gadgets can be unlocked, as well as little perks to give you an edge in the fight. Those familiar with Call of Duty (And at this point who isn't?) will be right at home with the system that rewards players for completing small challenges as well as winning games or simply playing well and getting a lot of kills.
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