Having exhausted the last two days on the explosive frontlines of the most recent chapter in the Battlefield saga, I feel my training for the modern combat scenario is complete. What with the seemingly infinite supply of Tom Clancy sponsored endeavors, the latest in the Call of Duty franchise and now a new Battlefield game, the first person shooter genre is becoming an increasingly crowded combat zone. It’s only so long before we start witnessing some heavy casualties.
Luckily though, Battlefield Bad Company isn’t that casualty, managing to incorporate enough innovation and originality to separate it from closest rivals whilst not alienating itself from the renowned formula.
The Battlefield franchise is celebrated for its large scale multiplayer battles and this is the first time the game has truly embarked into single player territories. The player controls Private Preston Marlow, one member in a squad of four likeable characters; each adding to the overriding comical touch that laces the game. This is perhaps Battlefield’s strongest asset; it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Your comrades are continually howling not cries of pain (no worries about reviving fallen team-mates here, the characters won’t be dying at any point), but largely inappropriate comical lines. It’s refreshing to play a game where the fate of the world doesn’t rest in your hands and the characters aren’t plummeting to their sandy deathbeds around you.
That being said the game lacks a strong narrative. Rather than joining in with the fictional war being waged between American and Russian forces, Bad Company opt to go AWOL, searching for the legendary gold of the Legionnaires instead. Whilst this is a nice deviation from the typical war narrative it does come off slightly lackluster at times. Promoting the idea that the player is simply fighting through a series of war zones in order to get to the next, rather than completing solid objectives.
The shortcomings of the narrative are blunted however with the almost entirely destructive environments which reverse the recent trend in cover systems present in recent Rainbow Six, Gears of War and Metal Gear Solid games. If there are enemies hiding in buildings your rifle can’t penetrate, call in a mortar strike. If a forest is hindering your view, flatten it. When helicopters begin using you as target practice call in an air strike and guide the missile into the pilot’s cockpit. The game manages not only to adopt a fantastic (and beautifully looking) destruction system, but it does it incredibly well. And all without forcing it upon the player as a gimmick. Combine this with an extensive range of weapons and gadgets, easily controllable vehicles (tanks, helicopters, boats, jeeps, trucks), and huge maps and Battlefield really does take a step away from its comrades in the genre. It’s linear without resembling the monotonous running through corridors style of game play found gnawing away at other, less accomplished shooters, bridging the gap between choice and a lack of.
The control system is nicely implemented, particularly the weapon inventory system, which sees the player cycling through the two weapons with the right bumper, and the two special items (health, explosives) with the left. The weapon handling may come across a little sluggish to those used to other FPS titles but is fairly easy to grasp and all the vehicles control agreeably. A nice health system (no regenerating here as such) accompanies the game with the player being granted a syringe that he can launch masochistically into Preston’s chest whenever the health meter starts to cascade. It has a few second recharge-rate before it can be used again but once more manages to bridge the gap between the hassle of hunting for med-kits and the ease of simply sitting in a corner till your in-built surgical team stitches your face back on.
Graphically the game excels in its destructive nature and the landscapes look pleasant with impressive draw distances to boot. Overall though it’s not going to astound greatly with some sketchy, and a distinct lack of varied, character models. Disappointingly, considering the brilliant implementation of the destruction system, the locations never really vary with all but the last level being set in scarcely populated forests. The sound on the other hand is phenomenal. The sounds of bullets ricocheting off walls and twanging back past your head, earth pounding artillery tearing craters in the ground, whistling shell-shock echoing between ears, and guns igniting a flurry of burning metal, simply unparallel to any other experience. Don’t be surprised if you look out your living room window to the uncanny sight of the neighbors fleeing. It really is that good.
Despite the positive aura so far there are a number of strange flaws haunting the experience. The respawn system is particularly clunky, managing to mould an ugly hybrid of the Halo checkpoint system and the Bioshock vita-chamber structure. It works most of the time, but can throw you back quite far in the level (though the damage you’ve inflicted remains intact). Furthermore in a similar vein to Call of Duty your computer controlled counterparts are as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane. Regularly chanting ‘win the war for us Pres!’ it’s an effective, if not wholly truthful, summary of their unavailing status in the game.
Likewise the enemy AI is unimpressive, both stupid and unfair at times (some incredibly skilful long range shooters can be found throughout). It’s by no means unusual to witness enemies concealed behind walls for minutes at a time, ignoring your fire and advances until you are stood beside, poking them.
Another quite perplexing feature M.I.A is the ability to go prone. Crouching works, sure, but when you are caught in the epicentre of an artillery strike, being picked off by snipers and hacked apart by tireless machine gun turrets, the ability to bury your head in the dirt and hang out with the worms really would of gone down a treat.
As a single player experience Battlefield clocks in, on the normal setting, around nine hours. Though it begins to tire during the latter quarter, its unique blend of humor and destruction gift it with enough originality and enjoyment to keep any FPS aficionado content while its flaws won’t stop it being a solid experience for anyone else looking for an excuse to shield themselves from the cold weather.