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Explosions aplenty Battlefield: Bad Company arrives on the Xbox 360 and PS3 with a bang...
Announced back in 2006 with the intention to bring a tighter, storyline-centric adventure with humorous overtones to the staple Battlefield experience, EA and DICE' Battlefield: Bad Company on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation3 is finally upon us. Despite previous attempts at squeezing Battlefield onto consoles with the release of Modern Combat, Bad Company is an attempt to give console owners a more specialised take that focuses on the single-player.
Jumping into the boots of the 222nd battalion's latest recruit, Preston Marlowe, Bad Company quickly introduces the reasons behind its subtitle and the general "buddy" humour that runs throughout. Consisting of the army's misfits, or as we're continually reminded "expendable infantry", Preston quickly hooks up with three other Bad Company veterans. Evidently influenced by movies such as Three Kings and Kelly's Heroes, Preston and the gang quickly turn their sights from the conflict with a fictional Russian state to the discovery of gold bars and a mysterious mercenary operation.
Marlowe & His Motley Crew
Essentially, what this boils down to is a four-man squad with little in the way of tactical command but plenty of egos to compensate. The reserved and cautious Sweetwater contrasts the reckless and wild Haggard, whilst Redford picks up the reigns as the battle-worn Sarge. Heavily based around such stereotypes, this setup contributes to the general level of humour running throughout Bad Company. Of course humour is highly subjective, and if childish jokes and bad puns aren't your type of thing then much of this will seem grating and tiresome.
Presumably, because you're not the Sarge, Bad Company doesn't have any squad commands to worry about. Instead it seems Redford, Haggard, and Sweetwater are just there for the ride and comic relief, spouting out one-liners that help to break the otherwise eerily solitary experience. Virtually every enemy you come across will have their sights targeted specifically on you, often switching focus the moment you step into their vicinity even if they were previously engaged in fierce combat. Perhaps the Russian forces just quickly cotton onto the fact that Redford, Haggard, and Sweetwater are invincible, so what's the point of aiming at them! It seems a shame, given the game's comedy stance that they couldn't have played with this point, perhaps the wise-cracking Haggard taking the mickey out of the new guy's bad luck?
Generally the AI behind your squad works adequately. They occasionally take down a grunt or two to suggest they're having an impact, but largely they're reluctant to aggressively advance the mission. We can understand why the game is shaped like this, the challenge ultimately has to be down to you instead of the cunningness and determination of the AI controlled squad mates, but it does lead to one or two frustrating moments. For example, after clearing out a town of enemy troops the last remaining target was a tank. Without the means to destroy it, would it be asking too much for Haggard with his RPG and a personality to match to take care of it? Seems so, leaving a hasty and aggravating retreat back through the level to find the last ammo crate. The situation was made even worse by the fact that the tank refused to fire at Redford, Haggard, or Sweetwater, but the moment I jumped off the turret it decided to fire wildly.
The game uses a checkpoint system that keeps you engaged in the combat and chucks you straight back into the action when you die. Generally this works well and keeps you attached to the game, but there were one or two situations that required a vehicle to travel across large areas back into the conflict - highly frustrating when you've got to do it again, but without the vehicle. Occasionally the other squad members can get caught flagging behind, however the game incorporates a similar respawn system to Halo, whereby they'll quickly jump to your location after passing certain points.
These situations lend Bad Company a weird feeling, where it's very much a standard single-player first-persons-shooter, but with a squad mechanic that rarely develops beyond being a cosmetic touch.
Death shouldn't be too much of an issue on the game's default difficulty, however, primarily because of the Auto-Inject device. Blending the traditional health pack concept with the standard recharge-under-cover systems, the Auto-Inject allows you to boost your health back to 100% with a swift jab of the device. Although you're free to use these throughout the game there is a short recharge time between shots, however on the default difficulty level the device tends to make the game a little too easy and lends a run-and-gun mentality to the proceedings. The Russian troops are crack shots, but you're rarely put into a situation where you can't quickly activate the Auto-Inject to give yourself a timely health boost.
Frostbite Offers Plenty Of Heat
Of course, the big feature for technophiles to get in a twitter about is the introduction of DICE's Frostbite engine. Specifically designed for the current-generation of hardware with their multi-core architecture, Bad Company's standout feature is the introduction of structural and environmental damage. Blowing things up is always a sure-fire bet for instant videogame gratification and it's undoubtedly the feature that's first to impress. Not only do exploding walls and roofs add to the dramatic tension, but also affect the tactics quite considerably. No longer carefully clearing out buildings and rooms, it's simply a case of blowing a massive hole in the wall and taking the defenceless enemy out with a few well placed shots from an assault rifle - covert ops this certainly isn't.
Unfortunately, although it's initially impressive, the feature's misgivings soon become apparent. Exterior walls collapse in no time at all, but for some unimaginable reason even the flimsiest interior wall or staircase remains strangely impervious, it's impossible for buildings to be entirely razed to the ground. Destructible buildings look set to become a big feature with the likes of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames and Red Faction 3, all we can say is Volition Inc. probably don't have too much to concern themselves over. For all its wonders at destroying brick walls, other areas of the game's physics can be strangely awkward. Mighty tanks will become wedged under the smallest obstacles, and it seems that nothing will demolish or even budge the various crates dotted around the landscape that aren't coloured in the customary red.
We Need Heroes Not Bad Company
Told over an extensive 7 chapter campaign weighing in at approximately 8-12 hours, Bad Company's single-player mode encompasses the usual gameplay scenarios you'd expect from a first-person-shooter. A mixture of ambushes, assaults, and destroying enemy installations with plenty of shooting and explosions in between, there's little that's particularly noteworthy in terms of challenge or mission design. Of course, being a Battlefield title you can expect tanks, boats, helicopters and other craft (golf carts but no jets) to commandeer along the way, although the generic control method creates very little variety between these in its 'one size fits all' approach.
Despite the considerably sized environments that Bad Company takes place across, the single-player stages offer a heavily scripted experience with little room for manoeuvre. Vehicles are very much reserved for the sections they're needed, whilst red borders prevent you from straying away from the corridor of action that the game forces you down. As a result there's little opportunity to explore or room for alternative tactics, even the helicopters are restricted to a pathetically low altitude. Each stage (excluding the initial one) offer a certain number of weapons to collect and gold bars to discover, which provides some replay value but is unlikely to provide any genuine impetus for going beyond the primary mission objectives.
A source of contention leading up to the game's release, Bad Company features an exhaustive supply of weapons which once collected in the single-player are unlocked for use in the multiplayer modes. As you'd expect from a DICE title, weapons pack the punch demanded from a first-person-shooter despite the fact you can only hold onto one at a time. Additional devices such as C4, laser guided missiles, and vehicle repair gadgets also play a part, elevating Bad Company's gunplay to a high standard.
Naturally being a Battlefield game, multiplayer is always going to play a part even though Bad Company was always envisioned as a single-player game. Given DICE's stance in the online stakes it seems a little surprising to note that Bad Company ships with only one playable game mode, although Battlefield fans can be assured that the more conventional 'Conquest' mode will be available as a download later down the line.
With support for up to 24 players, the Gold Rush mode challenges two teams to attack and defend crates of gold. The catch being that the defending team have infinite respawns, whilst the attacking team have a limited number to complete the objective. Playing closer to a traditional Battlefield experience, the missing components from the single-player game, namely lying prone and parachutes, seem more apparent in the multiplayer and likely to cause some frustrations amongst ardent BF players. Nevertheless, a Battlefield-lite experience with the Frostbite engine will be an appealing prospect for many Xbox 360 and PS3 owners and likely to become a popular online title in the most played lists.