The Battlefield: Bad Company game was a cross-over of both genre and attitudes designed to inject more fun and action into the Battlefield franchise. Set during a fictional war between America and Russia, players controlled a group of soldiers with the sort of personality flaws that while rendering them completely inappropriate for military service did make them more interesting than the generic, nameless grunts you see in most military games. It also ramped the action all the way up to 11, featuring huge explosions, implausible use of weapons and completely destructible environments. Although set in a modern alternative to popular history, the game’s feel had more in common with those classic war films that would see groups of armed caricatures attempt to complete a "suicide mission" with huge casualties on both sides. Think "The Dirty Dozen" meets the latest Rambo and once you’ve stopped shuddering you’ll realise you’re not too far off with the analogy.
In the gaming industry more so than anywhere else one good turn usually deserves another and so the sequel was penciled in for release and we managed to lay our hands on the beta key for one of the most highly anticipated action experiences of the year. Would the game measure up to its predecessor and would it be capable of appeasing the casual player and the die-hards alike?
For those unfamiliar with the first game, or indeed any games of this genre, the multiplayer premise is quite simple. The teams are divided into two teams, one attacking and one defending. Depending on the mode that you select there will be an objective – in the case of the "Rush" mode available to beta players have to bomb the opponents supply crates – and have to use a variety of soldier types and vehicles to either achieve those ends, or prevent the opposite team from doing so. Players choose classes, broad military archetypes that specialise in one particular field such as demolitions or sniping, each possessing their strengths and weaknesses but all ultimately being potent in the right hands.
Fans of the original might be in for something of a grumble when they realise that the choice of classes has been reduced from five to four. The Specialist will no longer feature alongside the Medic, Engineer, Assault and Recon troops but other than that everything else appears to be as it was. You still can choose your kit before each respawn and you still unlock new weapons and equipment as you progress by getting kills, bringing an RPG element to the game that is key to the games replayability.
The beta allows players to compete on one map called Port Valdez and upon entering the game you are plunged straight into the thick of the action. Floating down to the snowy backdrop via parachute while being shot at is how the game starts. Once the character has landed we are presented with a variety of choices. We can jump on the nearby Quad Bikes and speed down the muddy hills in an attempt to get superior tactical positions to the enemy, or hide in some foliage and provide covering fire for advancing colleagues, we can even get into a tank and trundle off towards the enemy base. War hasn’t been this much fun since we were five years old.
What will immediately jump out at you is the atmospherics in this game. The use of sound and visuals is truly stunning and it feels like we are in a warzone. Bullets literally whiz past our head, the pounding of gunfire never stops for a moment, the screams of the injured drift across the battlefield and we are at times rendered temporarily deaf if too close to an explosion. When hit the view changes and is sometimes confusing on which way is up and which way is down. To boot, while cover is essential, it at times provides nothing more than the illusion of safety. A cleverly placed sniper can soon be exposed when a machine gun mows down an entire forest just to expose him, and concrete walls can be quickly shredded by tanks or blown apart by well-placed grenades. Even the buildings themselves are fragile in the face of firepower and with concentrated fire can actually be made to collapse entirely. At first it is a both an overwhelming experience and it takes a moment or two to adjust to the due care we have to take. This is not the kind of game where players can charge in gung-ho on their own and it requires a lot of patience if we are to be truly effective.
However if the player has played any of the Battlefield or recent Call of Duty series they will be immediately familiar with what’s going on. Upon loading the game it occurred to us that this is something of a blessing and a curse. A blessing for the people that have played each incarnation of the game as they will be at home immediately but also a curse for those who are new to this sort of game. The Battlefield series are notoriously complex games to get into as opposed to the usual pick-up-and-play FPS title and this proved no different. For the uninitiated player it would prove to be a steep learning curve and there seems to be nothing, in the beta at least, to bridge that gap.
Graphically speaking the game looks incredible, the cold greys and washed out blues of Port Valdez being made to contrast nicely with the flares of explosions and the glow of flames. The camouflage of our uniform actually proves to be useful depending on where we are. At times we are required to be eagle eyed to spot where people are hiding. There are nice visual touches that add to the realism as well, making the experience more immersive, such as blur and light refraction on the sniper scope. We haven’t played many more war based games that look this good.
The other huge plus has to be the sheer number of methods of destruction. While the truly competitive amongst us might well want to specialise, there is a near giddy excitement to be had in one moment firing a rocket launcher from on foot, to driving a heavily armored battle tank into the thick of battle, to then flying round in a helicopter gunship mowing down scattering infantry from on high. It is a sheer joy to experience but again each vehicle has to be mastered and in the wrong hands this joy can be very short-lived indeed.
This being a beta there were a few bugs and glitches, some of which could prove to be very annoying indeed if they are not ironed out before the full release. Several times the game crashed out to the desktop, meaning we would lose all accumulated experience for the purposes of leveling up the character. In general though there were no problems with the online play element and the game felt smooth and player models were free from lag.
Ultimately Bad Company 2 is going to appeal to fans of the series, even though they may feel a little cheated that it doesn’t really present them with anything they haven’t experienced before. New players will have to spend a long and frustrating time getting to grips with the controls and tactical elements of the game and it seems little has been done to simplify the experience or even explain the subtleties of multiplayer. This isn’t a grumble as such, as who wants their games “dumbed down”? But hours and hours of experimentation will be required for the novice before they can make informed decisions about what they will be best at. It is a shame then that as it stands BC2 hasn’t taken the opportunity to bring something new to what is a fairly crowded table. As an experience the game delivers but we feel once players have unlocked the equipment and achievements, once maximum rank has been attained, what will be left to see which we haven’t seen before? On this showing, not much.
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