Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (Xbox 360)
I love it when a big budget, special-effects-‘roided out action film can stop and joke about itself. It’s usually after something absolutely ridiculous, like the hero strangling six guys with a slinky on the hood of a flaming Lamborghini. It’s never a full break of the fourth wall, but more like the protagonist drumming his fingers on the wall. It’s usually a look that says: “hey, did you see me strangle those six guys with a slinky on the hood of that flaming Lamborghini? That was pretty insane right?” The movie acknowledges that it’s full of nitro-basted, kidney-punching inane violence, and has fun with that fact. The first Battlefield: Bad Company felt like this. It acknowledged that it was full of combustible violence and embraced that fact, resulting in a truly memorable squad and a personality no other FPS would pursue. Unfortunately, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has strayed a bit from this character, one of the facets that made its predecessor so memorable. But I’ll elaborate on that later.
Bad Company 2’s true forte obviously lies in its online multiplayer. It offers some of the highest body-count to playtime ratios in the FPS world, immersing players in gargantuan ground wars frenzied with small arms fire, vehicles, and all manner of munitions-candy-store delights that go “ka-boom”. Rush mode returns where one team defends two objectives while the other attempts to destroy them. Conquest is now included as standard mode as well where teams capture and hold flags until enemy respawn tickets run out. The “Squad Deathmatch” mode was easily my favorite. It’s was like a discovery-channel-shark-attack orgy. There are four squads of four on the map at the same time and the first squad to 50 kills wins: someone will lose an eye.
“Squad Rush” is another new mode which provides an abridged version of the full “Rush” mode. There is only one objective to destroy and the attacking team only receives 20 respawn tickets. As of now, this mode is only available as a pre-order bonus though. Online game play is further reinforced with Battlefield’s rank-up unlocks and soldier classes. Like in other games, you unlock more weapons and gadgets as you rank up, though in Bad Company 2, what is unlocked is contingent on the class you’re ranking up as. It allows the player to take to the field with a custom kit best suited for their particular manner of game play. Overall, DICE maintains to their standard for great online game play.
Multiplayer is Bad Company 2's forte.
I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the campaign, but particular aspects really impressed me. The scenery is absolutely stunning. Players traverse rainforests, deserts, plains, snow covered temperate forests, mountain ranges, all of which are presented in an awe-enthralling manner which beautifully framed the action on the ground. Sometimes I just wanted to drop my rifle and start frolicking, maybe pick up a lyre, start passing around the milk-and-honey libations. And of course, there is also the epic-frosted action. There is no shortage of action in this game. 95% of the time, you will be shot at and things will explode around you. And here is my main concern with this game. I like action and explosions but in I can get that in any number of FPS’s.
What was unique about the first Bad Company was that it interlaced a very unique atmosphere into a very familiar genre and the result was great. I could see where competition in the market, namely Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 influenced some of DICE’s choices for Bad Company 2. Someone was peeking at Infinity Ward’s notes as there’s definitely much more focus on action (the mindless operantly-conditioned trigger pulling sort) while narrative was scarcely alluded to on post-it footnotes. Apparently Russia has managed to invade and conquer most of the old world and gain sway in South America. I can’t be sure though, this was never stated. My only hint was a map of the world being swallowed up by red. Maybe that’s not even the Russian advance, but rising “fun levels” in developing nations for all I know, or the rising levels of the Twilight-‘tween-fan population.
Oh, did I mention there’s a bad guy? I got his name, and his accent and bald head suggested he was evil too, but other than those details, I wasn’t sure why we were chasing him until near the end. The whole plot was also very disconnected from the context of the world at large. There’s no communication with anyone and the Russian invasion isn’t remembered until the very end in a “by the way” moment; if one was even slightly distracted in the opening credits, you would never have known why (not that I had any better sense of it) you’re chasing Russians in the first place. And the pacing was stuttering constantly, with ill-meshed cut scenes that seemed tacked-on and awkward. Narrative was not one of BC2’s strong points.
Sadly, the characters were flat and static. There was hardly any banter between Haggard and Sweetwater. To be fair, DICE improved the squad’s AI significantly with Haggard, Sarge, and Sweetwater taking more than a chunk out of enemy forces. But what’s the point if they’re just going to be silent-Rambo understudies? And when NPC’s were talking, the voice acting was contrived to say the least. For some reason, both the commanding officer and a high-priority contact named Aguire seem to have both attended the Christian-Bale-Batman-School of Oratory; yes, they both wanted me to know that war is hell.
Character? We don't need any character.
The enemy AI didn’t help with the campaign’s hollow feel either. Strangely enough, having unique looking NPC’s, which sounds like a good idea, came across really contrived. It turns out, that having NPC’s that are only vaguely different from one another is better since you just assume similarities in enemies as relative to uniforms. With Bad Company’s distinguishable NPC’s, you notice the cookie-cutter patterns. I listed them as follows: the rodeo-ranch hench, the Rambo-family-reunion-headband merc, the track-jacket-terrorist, the my-helmet’s-for-show insurgent, and the shouldn’t-you-be-on-my-side red beret. In any part of the campaign, you’ll see a combination of these NPC’s.
There were times when the game really shined though, and those were usually moments reminiscent of the original Bad Company’s antics. I really enjoyed two jabs at Modern Warfare 2. These were very unexpected and perfectly timed jokes involving heartbeat monitors and snowmobiles. And the little dialogue that did occur between the squad was pretty funny, with talk of saving the world for patria and Cowboy’s cheerleaders. I also really enjoyed Flynn because he demonstrates characterization at its best. Flynn is the warrior-hippie-helicopter pilot that flies you around South America as you progress through the missions. I didn’t know hippies could fly helicopters, but I was very amused.
One of the standout, and my favorite, moments of the campaign takes place in the Andes after you get separated from your squad. It has you race from shack to shack in a blizzard to prevent freezing to death. Now, it wasn’t exceptionally hard, but the tension and angst felt are what made it compelling. Each hut is a considerable distance away from one another and I was always second-guessing whether or not I’d make it. This is also one of the few times where the soundtrack compliments the action gracefully; it was incredibly eerie, reflecting the prospect of freezing to death. And the longer you’re out in the blizzard, the more frosted your vision becomes. The whole sequence had this creeping Stanley Kubrick’s The Thing feel to it; it was really enthralling.
If you’re looking for solid online multiplayer, without a doubt, buy this game; DICE delivers on its house special with finesse. I may be old fashioned because I still hold FPS campaigns in high regard and unfortunately I was let down with BC2. Gold helicopters, one-man invasions of “neutral” countries, golf cart, these are the things that speak to the Bad Company attitude, this is where this it’s charm lies. There are plenty of slow-motion-gunfire, stubble-hazed contemplation, sin-for-the-fatherland war games in the market, and with more shooters taking place in the modern day that probably want to run down this path guns-a-blazin’, it’ll be good to have that one game that does so with a nerf gun. Bad Company, we like you when you’re being yourself.
This review is based off a retail copy of the game.