Battlefield Bad Company–A Review
Summary in a sentence: EA’s D.I.C.E studios makes a remarkably competent foray into “single player campaign-land” with its new title, sporting a remarkable appetite for open-ended destruction…with a brand spankin’ new graphical engine to boot.
During the summer of 2008, Electronic Arts bestowed upon a parched populous of gamers two seemingly similar titles. Indeed, it requires little imaginative skill to realize that Mercenaries 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company have a common upbringing in the “visit foreign country…get betrayed…seek revenge amidst a civil war, all while attempting to profiteer for one’s own self off of said chaos and senseless destruction” genre. If this genre never truly catches on, I’ll attribute it to the title of it. As it is in the crapshoot that is the video game industry, one turned out to be remarkably good, and the other…so-so. What’s altogether surprising is that this conclusion turned the notion of “pedigree” on its head. Provided the notion of pedigree has a head. Or a metaphorical head.
The bottom line is that Mercenaries 2, the sequel to one of the very few “GTA clones…but not exactly GTA clones” to make a name for itself other than “shameless shoddy emulation” was based on a fairly strong freshmen entry that, with a few minor flaws fixed, stood to stand in strong contention with long-running franchises. Battlefield:Bad Company came from a long series of games that, like the creepy second cousin you occasionally run into at family reunions, never managed to truly fit into the console realm of gaming. It was far too dedicated to online play as its main purpose, as well as banking on a solid PC mods community, and, in general, never mapped well to console controllers, or ported well to consoles, in general.
At this point I could continue to creatively weave a narrative that would continue to perpetuate this notion that Battlefield: Bad Company was taking on an Olympian sized quest to topple the evil regime that is the Mercenaries franchise, which would turn out to conveniently eat babies and use aerosol cans, not for utilitarian purposes, but to further the spread of global warming. However, you’re clever readers, and have already discerned that Battlefield: Bad Company was the better title of the two. Without any further ado, let’s break it down.
The narrative of Battlefield: Bad Company treads the line perfectly, neither providing the player with an overwrought and heavy-handed melodrama reeking with self-indulgence, nor leaving the player with a one sentence justification in the manual for just why the act of widespread destruction and mayhem is ensuing. And it runs something like this, you are a soldier in the US military named Preston Marlowe, and without elaborating too much, you’ve happened to do something that doesn’t go over well with the military-industrial complex. And rather than expel you, or perhaps put you on trial (though the past has shown that this hardly means anything) the army has its own “Remedial Regiment” reserved for the less than…exemplary models of the US Army. Appropriately, this group is called “Bad (B for short) Company.”
Joining you are Private Sweetwater, who happened to upload a virus into the military’s computer network, Private Haggard, a pyromaniac with a southern drawl that happened to set alight a fairly large ammo dump, and Sarge, whose done nothing wrong but was told his term of service would be shortened if he commanded the regiment with a disturbingly high turnover. While on your first mission you come across a member of a private military organization called “The Legionnaires” who happens to pay its members in gold bars.
Haggard, lured by the sweet promise of 24kt wealth runs after the trucks of “The Legionnaires” and, technically, invades a neutral country. Not wanting to have to answer for Haggard’s temporary lack of judgement, Sarge orders your regiment to give chase. Explosions, more explosions, and a bevy of explosions follow. Cutscenes hardly provide one with a lengthy exposition on US military tactics, but they do provide likeable banter between your squadmates, and while all of them seem to fall into fairly common war film archetypes, it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
The gameplay is fairly conventional and builds on the mechanics of previous installments, as well as conventional FPSs. You’re allowed to carry a primary weapon (shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, etc) a secondary firearm (more or less, variations on the theme of “pistol”) and a special inventory item. There are a few twists though.
All primary weapons (and all are “real” weapons, used by various worldwide military and police organizations) come with a secondary function (underbarrel grenade launchers, for example) or allow for the use of grenades. The inventory accessory is what really mixes things up though, and allows for a decent amount of tactical customization. Need something to take out small tanks and pockets of infantry? There’s a GPS transmitter that can call in mortar strikes. Want something more adept to taking on more heavily armed vehicles? Pick up a device that calls in a laser guided bomb, controlled by the player as it drops through the sky. Aching to repair your smoking helicoptor? There’s a universal repair tool that’ll do the job. And, of course, C4 is available as another one of these “gadgets.” But you can only carry one at a time, until given the opportunity to swap out.
Those not used to the Battlefield series will find a few surprising changes on the FPS conventions. For starters, there are no health packs, instead, you have a adrenaline-esque shot that you are free to inject yourself with at any point, which returns your health back to a reassuring 100. Sound like a “game-breaker?” It’s not. Because in Battlefield you die one way. Fast and frequently. Yet when you die, and return to the most recently reached checkpoint, all of the vehicles, soldiers, and inanimate destruction you had laid waste to on your previous “life” will remain exactly that…dead. It’s an odd feeling, to say the least, to instinctually expect a tank around a corner, only to find a smouldering mess. In the end, you might be asking just what all of these oddities add up to, and the reality is this: a highly fast-paced explosion-fest that has no problem literally throwing you right into the middle of a full-on war, without the endless frustration that would accompany an entirely realistic approach.
The visuals of Bad Company are competently handled by the Frostbite Engine, recently created by D.I.C.E studios, and allow for an unbelievable amount of action to take place, without slowing down the framerate a bit. Visual fidelity has not been compromised for sheer speed, though. The character models are well animated and a semi-exaggerated cartoony flair in their creation breathes life into what is otherwise the “already been there and done that” that is modern warfare. However, it must be said that aside from blowing entry point holes into the sides of buildings, and simply leveling things, a greater amount of “tactical chaos” would be appreciated.
The music is strikingly epic and adventuresome without, like the story, getting too full of itself. It’s aware that it’s a sandbox roam-around in search of treasure. Likewise, the voice actors take care to never present their roles as anything but that. Sarge is constantly peeved with the morons he’s now taken charge of, Sweetwater comes across as the geeky intellectual that just happened to press the “ENTER” button at the wrong time, and Haggard…well…he’s the idiot savant that has none of the qualities of the latter.
Overall, if you want an excellent modern warfare campaign with a very different mood and disposition than CoD4 this is it. If you were looking for D.I.C.E. to finally put a bearable and light story to its large-scale battles, this is that as well. Hell, if you’re looking for a generally flat-out amazing, as well as affordable (20 dollars, mind you) title, and you aren’t morally opposed to First Person Shooters, this is for you.