"I knew we’d make it"
Words that will already mean something once the player has completed what is possibly the most exhilarating tutorial mission created for any game to date. The phrase can also be applied to the game itself… We all knew a sequel was coming but could any of us have foreseen that a follow up to a title that was an entertaining and quirky twist on the normal FPS fare at best would somehow evolve into a game that is an open challenge to Activision’s latest Modern Warfare offering? Not convinced? Then you can’t have played it yet.
From the moment the title is fired up it sucks the player into an interactive cinematic experience and it is as visually stunning as it is immersive. While the opening mission is reminiscent of the Metal Gear Solid 2 intro it doesn’t have the same overblown and bloated style. Only a few moments pass, providing little time to admire the sight of sea foam billowing up into the characters view, before the action begins. Early doors DICE have set their stall out – this is combat at its claustrophobic and tense best. Rickety trenches conceal angry enemies and provide little cover, the foliage obscures the view but is easily blasted out the way, light pushes through jungle trees creating dazzling beams that hinder the view to see long distance and even this early there is an uncertainty about what is round the corner.
Blending cut scenes and exposition with high octane action sequences isn’t always easy but the pacing is spot on and it continues throughout the whole of the game. One minute one of the grizzled Bad Company will be setting the scene, the next all hell is breaking loose and the player has their part to play in the carnage. The first mission manages to cram in stealth knife kills, trench warfare, aerial bombardment, a siege, an escape via jeep and then an assault on a submarine in about ten minutes, yet none of it feels forced, contrived or even – thanks to some tight scripting – over the top. It’s simply, exciting, enjoyable and entertaining.
Speaking of scripting, it is often an overlooked part of a game, yet it can be what separates the winners from the also-rans. With the tutorial out the way the player is suddenly propelled into the modern day, as part of another Bravo Company, also facing another dangerous mission. The writing is so taught and well thought out that the connections are immediately clear and it steers away from the cliché and lack of imagination that dragged down the first one. Indeed, considering some of the criticisms leveled at Modern Warfare 2’s storyline – especially the "twists" – this makes for a refreshing change. It plays out somewhere between a period drama, a political documentary and a classic Sunday afternoon romping war movie with an ensemble cast. It’s not just decades the story leaps between it is countries too, yet at no point does the stitching of the storyline fabric come loose. The single player campaign is a masterpiece.
Huge improvements have been made in the AI too. While the computer controlled opponents clearly haven’t done any special forces training and their general approach to combat seems to be ducking in and out of cover and firing in the direction of the player, the vast numbers on each of the levels is more than enough to cause problems. Team NPC AI is where the main improvements are though… Here, the rest of Bad Company are so ruthlessly efficient and invincible that the main problem is trying to keep up with their kill ratio. It’s like being in a team of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore’s… it’s not unusual to see the team marching onward through explosions and volleys of rifle fire completely unphased, while the main character has to hide behind some flimsy cover clinging to life. Not that this doesn’t come in handy from time to time though as there is nothing worse in a game than failing a mission because the NPCs in our squad were not up to the task.
It has to be said, that while graphics don’t make the game, when a title is this good and looks this impressive it’s a memorable package. The level of detail in BC2 is incredible… Sun glare in sniper scopes, breath turning to mist in the cold, a glorious array of lighting effects and some of the best skin textures yet seen. There are areas which are clearly designed purely to flaunt the goods and while it takes a lot to impress gamers in this day and age, it manages it consistently across the thirteen levels in the single player campaign.
What stands out about the sound though isn’t just the atmosphere it creates on the battlefield. There’s the ambient touches too, the quiet before the storm. Wind rustles through tall grass, rain patters down with authority, blizzards howl through the speakers and in those rarest moments of calm there might even be nearby wildlife chirping. The quiet is as affecting as the fury.
There are eight maps taken from locations in the single player campaign and each of them is not only large and beautifully rendered but they are balanced too. The amount of vehicles, classes and tactics available to each team make victory a realistic possibility for each, in a variety of ways. As if there wasn’t enough in terms of choice there are also four different game modes, with the standard Conquest mode that will be familiar to fans of the series, the objective driven "Rush" mode, which also has a squad based incarnation too. Squad Deathmatch is a welcome addition, putting four squads of four players into one of the virtual battlefields and letting them fight it out for glory. While it might seem that some sort of single player "free for all" deathmatch mode is missing, be thankful that they haven’t included something like that. The true joy of multi-player lies in the teamwork that is necessary to complete objectives. Indeed, there haven’t been many games better at encouraging groups of friends to purchase the game at the same time. This is multiplayer gaming as it was intended with genuine interactions and a real need for communication.
The experience system, along with ninety pins and medals to be won, gives players a reason to keep coming back and to explore all the classes. Many players might have avoided classes such as Specialist and Support were it not for this, yet there are genuine rewards to be had for exploring as much as possible and meeting the needs of the squad. While these rewards and new equipment can be used on the battlefield at any time, there is nothing that will turn any one player into some overpowered unstoppable killing machine. Everything has to be used in the right way, at the right time and against the right opponent to be truly effective.
To summarise, this game has raised the bar for its genre. Everything here is near flawless in both the single player and multi-player experience. Innovative, replayable, entertaining and beautiful it is hard to see in what areas it could be better.
"I knew we’d make it"
Sure… but who knew they’d make it this good? Your move Activision.
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