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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (8.9/10)

The "realistic military shooter" genre is easily the most popular and best selling in all of video games, but it's also the most overcrowded. The Call of Duty phenomenon may have changed the landscape of modern gaming, but it's also spawned a plethora of imitators. Some of these tweak that template slightly and are quite fun (Medal of Honor), but most are merely passable (Homefront). The biggest competition to the Call of Duty juggernaut is the Battlefield series. Like CoD, Battlefield has it's roots in World War II shooters, but then evolved into the modern era. Following in the footsteps of CoD 4: Modern Warfare, DICE and EA created their own modern version, Battlefield: Bad Company. While I played the first Bad Company game ages ago (and I'll get around to reviewing it eventually when I have time to replay it), I thought I'd review it's sequel first, Battlefield: Bad Company 2

The Bad Company games follow a motley crew of cliched grunts who constantly find themselves in the worst possible situation. They are Sweetwater (the smart techie guy), Haggard (the gruff Southerner who provides most of the comic relief), Sergent Redford (known as "Sarge," who is one day closer to retirement and acts as the elder statesman of the group), and you... who takes control of Preston Marlowe. While the original game had the good ol' boys of "B" company chasing after a horde of gold, the sequel has them hunting down the mythical super-weapon the Japanese had developed during World War II.

Their search takes them from sweltering jungles to frozen mountain peaks and back-all stock locales for this sort of game. The story is largely forgettable, merely providing a framework to shoot stuff, but I will say that it's better presented and flows much more smoothly than all the CoD games since the first Modern Warfare. Sure, it's riddled with cliches and there's not much original going on, but that's hardly why we are here. We want to shoot up the bad guys... and once again it's the Russians.

From the gameplay standpoint, it's impossible not to compare Battlefield and Call of Duty directly. The gameplay is virtually identical: the gunplay, graphics, controls, and the lack of a "true" cover mechanic, right down to the standard set pieces like vehicle sections, sniper missions, calling in air strikes, are all present and accounted for. It's in the way the game plays where you'll notice a difference. It's slight, but plays a major role. As a rule, CoD is defined by over-the-top, albeit intense, sections that, while entertaining, are actually unrealistic. For every "Wow!!!" moment I've always found myself rolling my eyes twice as often. It's like an 80's action movie. Battlefield, on the other hand, is not quite as gung ho, rewarding more patience and caution. Some of the titular moments are as ludicrous as CoD, but for the most part the game plays much slower over all.

But what the Battlefield series is really known for are more open, and more importantly, destructible environments. Personally, I think it's a lot less linear than CoD, allowing you multiple ways to complete some objectives. Other areas turn into shooting galleries, something we are all too familiar with. But what I really love about Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is the fact that the landscape is constantly in flux. Pretty much everything can be blown up, blown down, or blown sideways. Some campy punk sniping you from way over yonder? Destroy his cover brick by brick till you can get a clear shot. Alternatively, grab an RPG and blow a hole in the wall. The enemy AI is pretty smart, making good use of cover as well as employing flanking tactics if you are pinned down. Be wary too, if you can chip away at an enemy's cover to expose them, they can do the same to you!

Speaking of AI, for the most part your squad (who are nearly always with you) does a good job of supporting you. More importantly, they stay out of your way (usually). The problem lies in the fact it seems like they can't die. Combine that with the lack of a squad healing mechanic and you might find yourself taking cover next to a teammate in a position you think must be safe only to wind up quickly dead. How this happened can be a mystery, because it's not always obvious where you are getting shot or blown up from. Ultimately, you can get stuck in that hateful position of having to try multiple paths to reach your objective. This normally isn't so bad, but naturally Battlefield employs a checkpoint based save system which means you'll be doing the same bit over and over. Early on this wasn't an issue as it seemed to autosave often, but again, towards the end everything kind of falls apart. The checkpoints are too infrequent, and you have to complete the same sections over and over.

As with most games like this, there are collectibles littering up the place for you to find if you are so inclined. I like the fact that you "collect" different guns. You'll find some and pick others up from fallen foes. But because there are ammo drops everywhere, you can pick and choose your loadout depending on the situation. If you find yourself needing a rocket launcher to take out that pesky helicopter (for the umpteenth time), and you die, you'll probably respawn close to a drop point so you can change up your arsenal. The other nice thing is that because there are ammo dumps everywhere as well, you don't have to rely on your enemy's inferior weapons. I don't think I ever ran out of ammo on my preferred weapon once the entire campaign.

While the graphics and animations are pretty good as a rule (although not spectacular), the destructible environments look pretty awesome. The dust effects are especially impressive, although they do tend to murky up the battlefield a bit too much. The fact that any bit of cover can disappear at an alarming rate means you won't have much time to catch your breath or, more importantly, regain your health. You've got to be ready to move on in an instant if you are compromised. Of course, it's crazy fun blowing stuff up, especially when entire buildings come crashing down under sustained fire.

The voice actors do a pretty good job with a limited (or limiting, I suppose) script. A lot of the trade mark humor is back from the original Bad Company game. The banter between squad mates can be a bit hit or miss, but some of it is pure gold, especially from Haggard. However, I will say, unequivocally, that the sound effects are some of the best I've ever heard. If you fire your gun indoors it echoes realistically. Fire your sniper rifle and you'll hear the "crack" of the sonic boom a beat later. It's fantastic.

I feel the need to quickly mention something I often gripe about with these sorts of games: what I call the blood splatter factor. When you get hit, blood appears in your peripheral vision. The more blood the worse off you are. With some games (CoD in particular), this phenomenon is far too invasive, obscuring your vision and making a bad situation worse. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 does a great job of keeping your damage indicator to a minimum without limiting your field of view. Personally, I'm grateful. 

Now, I know I'll get endless guff for admitting this, but I haven't played Battlefield online yet. I'm not a huge fan of online multiplayer in general, but from everything I've heard there are two kinds of people in the world: those who like CoD online, and those who prefer Battlefield. CoD is faster paced, with generally smaller maps and a more arcade-like feel. Battlefield is focused on bigger maps and the previously described destructible environments. From everything I've been told its much more strategic and team oriented. I think each series are worth playing in their own right because they are both excellent shooters; it really comes down to which style you prefer.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is an excellent shooter in its own right. The destructible environments add a new wrinkle in what is rapidly becoming a tired formula, giving this series it's own identifiable personality. I know I'm doing these out of order, but with the absolutely awesome looking Battlefield 3 (which, incidentally, is not a sequel to Battlefield: Bad Company 2) coming out next month, I thought I'd take the time to knock out a quick retrospective on the Call of Duty's main competition. Now I don't know which sequel I'm looking forward to more... Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Either way, a lot of terrorists are going to get shot up this fall.


Score = 8.9 / 10

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