Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has a daunting task on its hands, having been suddenly labeled the number one contender for Modern Warfare 2’s heavyweight crown in the FPS division. Battlefield enters the ring sharing a good deal in common with the Call of Duty franchise. They each began their career on the PC prior to becoming a console powerhouse, and both have become known as multiplayer-centric experiences. Tale of the tape out of the way, does Bad Company 2 have what it takes to unseat the current champion or does it struggle to put up a fight?
Players reprise the role of Preston Marlowe, one of four members of B-Company, a ragtag group of troublemakers selected to once again serve their country as cannon fodder. This time around the squad is tasked with locating and retrieving an EMP weapon before a Russian outfit, bent on using it to invade the United States, gets their hands on it. Wait a minute. An EMP weapon…Russians invading the U.S…wasn’t that the plot of Modern Warfare 2? Yes, the story is surprisingly similar. The set up for Bad Company 2 isn’t nearly as outlandish or convoluted as Modern Warfare 2, but it is equally plot point-less, and includes a twist that I have a hard time believing our heroes didn’t see coming a mile away.
The generic story earns the distinction of being the worst part of Bad Company 2, but the surprising lack of wit, a quality that made the original Bad Company so endearing, comes in a close second. It’s not that it’s missing so much as the way it’s handled. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments during the campaign, including a couple of really nice jabs at Modern Warfare 2’s expense, but that’s only half the show. If you want to hear one of Haggard’s trademark ramblings, you have to idle about for a minute before he’ll start one up. If you constantly forge ahead to the next objective, you’ll miss most of the funnier exchanges in Bad Company 2. Why more of the signature banter between your squad members wasn’t scripted into the campaign is beyond me. So don’t be afraid to stop and take in the sights and sounds every now and then. It’s worth a laugh.
The single player campaign is noticeably more linear in Bad Company 2. For some it means less aimless wandering of fields, for others it’s considerably less choice in how to approach an objective. There’s a lot more variety this time around though. Bad Company 2 is a jet-setting affair spanning multiple continents. From the dense jungles and spacious deserts of South America to the snow-capped Ural Mountains, the environments are a decidedly more diverse bunch. Mission types are also a better mix. For the most part you’ll be flanked by your fellow B-Company members, but in one especially memorable scene you’ll become separated from your team and be forced to survive a frostbite-inducing tundra on your own by swiftly moving from one heat source to another, all the while eliminating tangos. It’s an intensely crafted sequence to be sure. There are several vehicle-based segments as well. You’ll man the .30 Cal on a chopper ride, race a dune buggy through the Bolivian bush, captain a gunboat through a swamp, and pilot a UAV drone, reigning death from the sky. The single player campaign clocks in at 6-8 hours, standard fare for a first-person shooter nowadays. The campaign will definitely get your adrenaline pumping. I was never bored by the action, just the plot.
AI was an issue that plagued the original Bad Company, friendly AI in particular. It’s gotten a little better in the sequel but it is still…well, weird, for the lack of a better word. Here’s the thing: Your fellow B-Company members – Haggard, Sarge and Sweetwater – they can’t die. Literally, they’re invincible. I don’t fault DICE for the design decision. The squad is integral to the story and I do appreciate being relieved the responsibility of babysitting them. The problem lies in the squad’s lack of aggression. They tend to hang back during firefights, advancing only when scripted events dictate, and so it can feel like you’re a Lone Wolf out there at times. That doesn’t lend to a tactical experience and isn’t that the point of a squad-based shooter? Yeah, so, it’s weird. The enemy AI provides a good challenge, more so in sheer number than tactical prowess. That and the fact they clearly took advantage of an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) sale at their local Costco prior to launching their evil operation. Now if DICE could only work out a more consistent checkpoint system we’d be all set to go.
The selling point for Bad Company 2, like Bad Company before it, is its massive, destructible environments. Destruction 2.0, as it’s called, sees a couple of significant improvements. It used to be that if you lobbed a grenade into a building and it blew a hole in the wall, the damage to the wall would look the same no matter what the building type. Variety is the spice of life, though, and so now there are several ways to damage the structure of a building. It’s even possible to collapse entire structures with enough well placed ammunition. It’s never safe to stand or sit still in Bad Company 2, and that bodes especially true in multiplayer, which we’ll touch on soon. It truly is a testament to DICE and their Frostbite engine that with all the destruction going on, there’s nary a hiccup in frame rate.
While it’s not quite on par with Modern Warfare 2, the visuals in Bad Company 2 are nothing to snicker at. Destruction aside, there are a number of other improvements in the Frostbite engine, headlined by environmental effects that are literally blinding to the player; sandstorms, snowstorms, fog, and lingering smoke and debris after a building has collapsed. The intro level moves from night to day, and the sun quickly gives way to a rain clouds in a later level. Details like these really go a long way in immersing players in the game world, though I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t time to equip B-Company with night- and heat-vision goggles. There are a few lows to go with the highs in the graphics department. The number of enemy character models is surprisingly low and there are occasional glitches here and there, but the worst offender has got to be the cutscenes. For some reason they all fade to black, resulting in a disjointed storytelling experience. Sound design in Bad Company 2 is just as stunning as it was in the original game. The weapons sound as powerful as the punch they pack, echoing when fired in indoor environments, and the deafening Doppler effect is as impressive as ever. Voice acting is great, the soundtrack is appropriately epic, and everything down to ambient noises has been accounted for beautifully. The only knocks in the audio department are occasional glitches, such as a line of dialogue repeating twice, and the odd sound mixing issue.
Much like Modern Warfare, the Bad Company series has quickly become a multiplayer-focused title. Up to 32 players can do battle in four game modes: Rush, Conquest, Squad Rush and Squad Deathmatch. Conquest is the same mode that was released as DLC for the original Bad Company, a straight up Capture the Flag affair. Rush is identical to the Gold Rush mode from the original as well, except the gold crates have been replaced with M-Com stations. Squad Rush is a speed version of Rush, involving only two squads of four players. In Squad Deathmatch, four squads of four players do battle, first squad to fifty kills wins. There are four soldiers kits to choose from: Assault, Engineer, Medic and Recon (yes, the Specialist class has been cut), and a familiar progression system sees players earn experience points during combat to reach new ranks, which in turn unlocks new primary and secondary weapons, and other combat gear. Experience points aren’t just accrued by killing the opposition. Engineers earn points by repairing friendly vehicles and destroying enemy armor, while Medics earn points by reviving fallen comrades and supplying medical supplies to friendly soldiers. You’re rewarded appropriately for helping fellow squad members and that’s where Bad Company 2 differs from the likes of Modern Warfare 2. Lone Wolf types don’t last very long in combat here, you really have to work with your squad to be successful. Throw in the presence of vehicles and the destructive environments, and multiplayer battles in Bad Company 2 are simply much grander in scale.
It should be noted that EA has had their share of difficulty keeping their multiplayer servers online across all platforms since the launch of the game. I don’t know why that is, perhaps they didn’t anticipate the number of online players. Server problems aside, there are matchmaking issues present as well. There’s no auto-balancing between teams. In other words if a handful of players from one team choose to quit and a new match is started, the game doesn’t bother to balance out the number of players on each team. It’s not uncommon to begin matches 12-on-8, with one team at a severe disadvantage until new players join the match. This issue could have been averted if players had the ability to switch teams manually. A lobby system for the console versions of the game would have been nice as well.
So is Bad Company 2 the new heavyweight champion? Not quite, but it has certainly earned a spot among the best in the first-person shooter genre. The single player campaign is more linear and cinematic in style this time around. There’s no question it’s action packed, but the generically weak plot makes the campaign feel more like a training exercise for multiplayer. The infectious personalities of B-Company deserve better than that. While single player may have taken a step back, multiplayer has taken a giant step forward. From the new modes and vehicles to the expanded level of destruction and rewarding progression system, it all lends to an open warfare experience that will have you returning to the battlefield for months to come.