Time for a little word association: the video game Battlefield. I’m sure most of you would respond with something like “multiplayer PC franchise.” That’s probably what I would say. So the fact the latest installment in the series, Bad Company, is both exclusive to consoles, and focuses heavily on its single player story, is sure to leave fans scratching their heads if not rolling their eyes. But dismissing Bad Company on that prospect alone would be a mistake worthy of a court-martial because while the orders might be a little different this time around, this is one mission you’re not going to want to miss out on.
The single-player story is reminiscent of David Russell’s film “Three Kings.” In Bad Company, players take on the role of Preston Marlowe, a soldier newly assigned to B”ad”-Company, a ragtag group of troublemakers selected to serve their country as cannon fodder. But during a fictional war in the near future that pits the U.S. against the Russian Federation, you and your squad decide to go AWOL in an attempt to steal gold from a group of mercenaries known as the Legionnaires.
The highlight of the single-player campaign is its environments. For starters, they’re absolutely massive, affording multiple strategies to achieve your objectives. With the right weaponry, you can seek high ground and pick off enemies from afar or sneak into a village and move silently from building to building getting as many stealth kills as possible. If the mood strikes you, why not hop into a tank and make your presence known by smashing through the village. Not only are the environments huge, they’re also fully destructible. This goes beyond the usual fences and crates that some games deem as destructible environments. In Bad Company, trees and buildings aren’t even safe. As gamers we’ve gotten used to the idea of taking refuge inside a house or behind a stack of sandbags. Not so here. You’ll quickly come to grips with this fact when the side of the house you chose to take a defensive position within is reduced to rubble, leaving you exposed and deafened by the blast. The amazing thing is, that feeling of never being safe lasts throughout the entire game. It never gets old and ultimately it’s the selling point of Battlefield: Bad Company.
There are a couple of issues with the single-player campaign that must be mentioned, the first of which is the artificial intelligence. Friendly AI in the game is totally inept. It puzzles me that even though you often play the “new recruit” in these kinds of games (Call of Duty and Medal of Honor come to mind as well), it’s always left up to you to be on point, place and detonate any and all explosives, and ultimately kill most of the enemies on the battlefield. It’s no different in Battlefield: Bad Company. Unless scripted, your teammates stand a good twenty feet behind your position, which means you’re always the first to engage the enemy. Even when engaged, your squad still stands behind you, refusing to attack the enemy. One time I was taking cover behind a rock with two enemies on the adjacent side. When I finally was able to take them both out, I noticed that one of my squad mates had a clear shot at both soldiers and yet he never took them down. At that moment I wanted to permanently discharge him from my squad with a bullet to the head but unfortunately you can’t kill your squad mates. In fact, your squad mates can’t be killed period. If they take a direct hit from a tank, they’ll pop right back to their feet and joke about it. It’s no wonder the enemy rarely considers targeting your teammates and even when they do, the moment they see you they’ll immediately switch their sights and take aim. Like I said though, it’s nothing new in these types of games.
The enemy AI, on the other hand, is pretty sharp. More often than not they’ll see you long before you see them, and they’re great shots to boot. They can shoot you square in the chest with a handgun from 30 feet away on a dead sprint. I wish these guys were on my team. Every now and then you’ll come across an enemy soldier that doesn’t seem to realize he’s involved in a gunfight, but those moments are pretty rare. Put two and two together, competent enemies and destructible environments that leave you with nowhere to hide, and the result can be a lot of deaths. You might believe the game would be super challenging, but it’s not because of the respawn system the developers, DICE, chose to implement. Not unlike the system in BioShock, when you die you simply respawn back at the last savepoint. Everything you did up until you died remains in play. In other words if you destroyed a tank before a soldier took you down, that tank will remain destroyed after you respawn. Ultimately there’s no penalty for dying, which means you can run in guns ‘a blazing, taking out as many soldiers as you can, without fear of having to replay certain sections of the game. It’s not the system I would have chosen but the campaign would be extremely hard without it. To help with the difficulty, players also carry around a health needle with unlimited use, though you have to wait a few seconds between injections.
When you consider the massive, destructible environments, the plethora of vehicles, and the gold crates and collectable weapons hidden throughout each area, there’s a lot replay value in the single-player campaign, but if and when you get tired of mowing down enemy AI soldiers, a solid multiplayer suite awaits. Normally the primary focus of the Battlefield franchise, in Bad Company there’s only one multiplayer mode available at launch. Luckily it’s an absolute gem of a mode. It’s called Gold Rush and it sees players assigned to one of two teams: Attackers and Defenders. The Attackers goal is to destroy two gold crates. It’s the Defenders job to protect those crates. The Defenders win when they deplete the Attackers’ lives. When the Attackers destroy the two creates, the front line is pushed back revealing two new gold creates, and their reinforcements are replenished. When the last two gold crates are destroyed, the Attackers win. There is five soldiers types to choose from: Assault, Demolition, Recon, Specialist and Support. As you gain experience, you earn new ranks that reward you with credits that you can spend to unlock new gear for each of the classes. Multiplayer emphasizes teamwork, particularly in squads, so it’s important to help your team by fixing vehicles and dropping health packs. You’ll earn experience faster that way than you will as a lone wolf. It would have been nice if there were a co-op mode through the single-player campaign, but DICE promises a new competitive mode, Conquest, will be available as a free download in the near future. Until then, the addictive Gold Rush mode will do just fine.
Battlefield: Bad Company isn’t the best looking game on the market but when you consider the amount of destruction going on, the fact there’s nary a hiccup is a testament to the development team and their engine. Enough about visuals though, let’s talk about the star of the show: the audio. It takes but a few minutes playing Bad Company to realize this is one of the best sounding games of the year. The first time you hear the Doppler effect of a tank shell whizzing by your head, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. The weapon effects are equally fabulous. Near or far, indoors or outdoors, each weapon sounds absolutely incredible. Throw in some top-notch voice acting from your squad mates, particularly Haggard, and a great soundtrack, and you’ve got one of the front-runners for Best Audio Design of 2008. This is fantastic stuff.
It’s funny, the incompetent friendly AI makes the single-player campaign a lot more challenging than it should be, but the presence of the unlimited health needle and “no-penalty” respawn system negates that additional difficulty altogether. Ultimately, with its massive, destructible environments and amazing selection of vehicles and weapons, the single-player story is a blast to play, literally. There’s currently only one multiplayer mode available, Gold Rush, but it’s well conceived and will have you coming back over and over to earn new ranks. And to top it all off, Bad Company is one of, if not the best sounding game of the year. If you’re looking for a shooter to carry you through the hot summer months, I highly recommend you enlist in Battlefield: Bad Company.