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DICE flaunts its multiplayer expertise in the developer's second bite at the Bad Company apple...
There's no doubting DICE's expertise when it comes to multiplayer shooters. Its unique style with maps and vehicles puts it amongst the very best of the best, with the likes of Infinity Ward and Bungie amongst its peers. Unlike Halo and Call of Duty though, the Battlefield series is yet to wow us with a genre defining single-player experience. While Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (on previous-gen machines) and the original Bad Company both featured standalone single-player campaigns, both fell well short of the kind of gameplay we've come to expect of the Master Chief or Sergeant 'Soap' MacTavish.
Unfortunately, DICE still hasn't turned the corner with its single-player design in Bad Company 2. Unforgivable bugs, linked to a weak trigger point system, cheapen a campaign that's far from brilliant in the first place - even without taking the bugs into account, Bad Company 2 still plays out unremarkably. Gamers are ferried from one generic set-piece to the next, through a storyline that neither immerses nor engages for the most part, with a distinct lack of memorable moments or novel ideas that inspire continued play. But we could level this sort of criticism at many mediocre FPS titles; the real kick in the teeth comes from gaping oversights that make us wonder whether the game has even gone through a QA testing process.
Thanks to a trigger point system that occasionally makes it possible to simply run to the next waypoint on the HUD (regardless of whether or not you've killed all of the enemies in the current set-piece) and instantly trigger the next set-piece, there are whole sections of Bad Company 2 that play out more like Mirror's Edge than Battlefield (except without the nifty parkour-themed gameplay). The problem isn't limited to running between trigger points either as, whenever stray vehicles come into the equation, it's just as easy to jump in one of them and career towards the next waypoint. Inadequacies with the NPCs, which don't seem to know quite how to react when you run at them like a suicide bomber, also make this approach surprisingly easy and effective at times.
We're not suggesting that every set-piece in the game can be played out like this - far from it - but it was possible on a handful of different occasions during our first playthrough and we're pretty sure that a second playthrough would reveal a few more occurrences as well. For this sort of thing to happen once in an FPS is unfortunate; twice suggests shoddy design, but three or more times is just downright lazy. It really does mar a campaign that's otherwise competent at the very least and even manages to raise its head above the quagmire of abject mediocrity on occasions.
Most of the stronghold set-pieces, where the squad have to defend an outpost from incoming troops, are solidly designed and gripping enough to elicit a certain amount of tension. One particular sniping section - where gunshots have to be fired under the cover of thunder and lightning - also shows some ingenuity beyond the standard jack-in-the-box combat of bland cover shooting. A vast improvement in the scope of DICE's Frostbite engine is noticeable as well, with more convincing destructible environments than were present in the original Bad Company.
We're struggling to find positives beyond that though. Perhaps it's fair to say that vehicle sections are solid enough, due mainly to the fact that the vehicles are lifted straight out of the multiplayer and placed into scripted or on-rails sections that are action-packed enough to keep the game ticking over, but that's your lot really. Beyond these highlights, Bad Company's 10 or so hours of campaign are bland, bland, bland for the most part. The opposite of this couldn't be more true of the multiplayer component though. As it has been doing for nigh on 8 years now, DICE has once again served up its trademark mix of huge multiplayer maps, expertly balanced classes, and a freer reign of control over a larger array of vehicles and aircraft than pretty much any other FPS game out there.
Conquest Mode will be available straight out of the box in Bad Company 2 (as was embarrassingly not the case with the first game), while Bad Company's Rush Mode also makes a welcome return to the stable. DICE has then added tighter Squad Deathmatch and Squad Rush modes, where the emphasis is on infantry based conflict instead of vehicles. In fact, only the Squad Deathmatch mode features any vehicles at all, and even that is limited to one vehicle for the squads to fight over. Both of the new modes add a welcome change of pace to the now firmly entrenched Conquest and Rush offerings, while a deep system of upgrades, perks, and unlockables then injects a healthy amount of long-term appeal into the gameplay.