Ask any PC gamer to list their favourite online FPS titles and it’s a fair bet that Battlefield will be mentioned. Developer Digital Illusions CE (DICE) has established the BF series as one of the best large-scale battlers around, and traversing the ages from World War II to Vietnam and even the future, the franchise has always done well for itself on the PC. Console gamers, however, haven’t had it as good, and console ports of BF haven’t been quite the same as their PC counterparts. Players after a solitary experience have also been out in the cold, until now that is.Battlefield: Bad Company is a console-only outing of the series, and one that changes the rules of BF games completely. First and foremost is the inclusion of a fully-featured single player story. Now, I’m not talking the usual BF fare of multiplayer maps with AI. No, BF:BC has a proper single player campaign, with a story and everything. Indeed, it’s this mode where the game has been heavily focused. As Private Preston Marlowe, you’re assigned to B-Company, a group of misfits and troublemakers who are assigned here after various transgressions such as punching senior officers or hacking the military network. Known as ‘Bad Company’ the other three members of the unit include Private Terrence Sweetwater, a computer specialist, Private Gordon Haggard, a demolitions freak and Sergeant Samuel Redford, the group commander. On your first mission with B-Company, when fighting the supposed Russian threat, you encounter some mercenaries who are reportedly paid not in cash, but in gold bars. After finding one of these gold bars, it’s not long before B-Company, in true Three Kings-style, decide to go it alone to find said loot…
With a decent, if not entirely original story, BF:BC doesn’t take long to get going, and as soon as you’ve fired up the single player game, you’ll be knee deep in Russians, fighting alongside your squad mates with a range of realistic weapons, such as assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers and so on. Vehicles are evident, as you’d expect from a BF game, and each level takes place on a huge, lushly detailed map.
You’ll soon encounter one of the games major features – destructible environments. Almost everything in the game can be destroyed. And by destroyed, I mean destroyed. Machine gun fire can cut down trees, vehicles can smash down fences and explosives will blow building walls to pieces. Has your enemy taken refuge in a house? Fire a rocket at it and watch as the whole wall comes crashing down, leaving your foe exposed.
This features results in some seriously enjoyable combat, and far from being a gimmicky feature, it forces you to think tactically, as things that would provide ample cover from the enemy on other games don’t do so well here, and hiding behind a wall is no longer a guaranteed way to stay alive.
The core gameplay is just as enjoyable as ever, and making your way through the campaign is always entertaining, especially when you come under heavy fire from mortars, and the environment around you is blown to kingdom come.
However, there’s always a but, and with BF:BC that but is very big indeed. While the majority of the game is excellent, and very well implemented, there are some glaring issues that DICE should have spent far more time on.
First the AI, which is amongst the most unbalanced I’ve ever seen. While enemy AI is, in most cases fine, and foes will find cover and flank you, they also seemingly have some sort of cybernetic implants that give the ability to see through walls, foliage or anything else, and are also world class shots. This doesn’t go down well when the enemy hasn’t even seen you and hits you dead in the face from a mile away.
Friendly AI is far more of an issue though, as, to be honest, there isn’t any. While your comrades will constantly converse and make jokes, when it comes to fighting, they’re a waste of space, and you’ll basically have to pull a Rambo, taking on the enemy on your own. I’ve witnessed occasions where an enemy solider is stood face to face with a friendly AI, and both were stood there dong nothing. In another instance, I was being shot in the back of the head, and my team mate simply let me die, even though the enemy was a few feet from him. This drastically takes away from the immersion, and you’ll sometimes wish you were on your own; that way the clumsy AI doesn’t get in the way.
The other issue I have with the game is the health and death system. Apparently, the US Army has managed to come up with a magical super serum that can heal anyone, instantly, regardless of their injuries, and by selecting your medical hypo and stabbing it into your chest (ouch!), you can fully recharge your health at any time. Now, many games feature magical health packs, so I can’t be too harsh. The difference here is that BF:BC applies no limits to this. You can use this handy needle constantly (it has a very short regeneration rate), as many times as you like. So, no matter how hurt you are in a battle, all you need to do is get another fix and you’re away. This makes you pretty much invulnerable, even though your health drops alarmingly fast, and takes away much of the challenge.
If you do die, then there’s no need to worry either. All you’ll do is respawn elsewhere and, get this, all the foes you’ve killed, buildings you’ve blown up and anything else you’ve done will still be dead, blown up or collected. If you’ve played BioShock, with it’s regen chambers, you’ll know how this works, and if, like me, you didn’t use the regeneration in BioShock as it spoiled the game, then you’ll also dislike BF:BC’s approach. There’s simply no real repercussion for death, so dying isn’t a problem. In fact, if you’re the kind of player who often uses cheats, using an invulnerability code isn’t needed, as one is built in already by default. Crazy.
Luckily, BF:BC does make up for most of its shortcomings in other areas. The rest of the single player mode is great, and visually this is a nice looking title. Audio deserves a special mention, as this is one great sounding game, with some of the best environmental and weapon effects around. Then there’s the other major feature – online play.
While online, BF:BC really does come into its own, and the large maps, vehicles, destructible environments and objective-focused play work well, with up to 24 players involved. Oddly the game shipped with only a single ‘Gold Rush’ mode where teams have to find and secure gold caches, but DICE did eventually release the staple BF mode – Conquest. Quite why this was omitted from release boggles the mind, but at least it’s available now, and it’s free.
BF:BC is, all in all, a great game that’s got its issues. It’s no COD4, but it looks good, plays well and both the single player and multiplayer modes offer plenty of enjoyment. It’s a real shame that the AI is so poor and that DICE saw fit to include a frankly bizarre health and death system, but when you’re in the midst of a firefight, or find yourself steamrollering through foes in a tank, these problems tend to go away, replaced with maniacal glee, and the multiplayer mode does away with any AI issues, leaving behind a solid shooter. If all else fails, blowing stuff up just never gets old.