Battlefield: Bad Company Review - 02/07/2008

EA's eagerly anticipated destroyer of virtual worlds is here, but is it one to rival Oppenheimer's deadly toy?

Let’s get the big issue out of the way shall we? Everything IS NOT destructible. This is kind of an irredeeming factor considering developers DICE touted the Frostbite engine as allowing for 90% destruction, but sadly Red Faction for generation 2.0 this is not. However, ignore that the developer's Molyneux-sized-exaggerations now lie in ruins around them and underneath the smouldering rubble you’ll actually find the foundations of a thrilling, if limited, Massively Multiplayer FPS.

2005’s Battlefield: Modern Combat was a highly playable class-based online shooter for the Xbox 360 and PC where players could wield countless weapons and drive a variety of vehicles across huge environments. Although it garnered praise from the huge battles that could be waged on its fields (hence the name), its unforgiving class system and somewhat complicated controls meant it didn’t sell as well as more accessible FPSes such as Halo 2 or Call of Duty 3. Skip past the lacklustre Battlefield: 2142 and we paradoxically arrive back in the modern day and at the feet of EA’s mighty marketing machine. Accessibility, humour and big, meaty explosions are the order of the day, and all feature in Battlefield: BC’s story-driven campaign.

You’ll control Preston Marlowe, the new recruit to Bad Company – kind of like the naughty class from school – who, upon discovering a stash of gold bars in the field decide to pull a ‘Three Kings’ and go after the loot. While the storyline could easily have become too politically charged, your wise-cracking squad mates ensure the action remains light-hearted throughout. Privates Haggard and Sweetwater’s competitive banter and Sergeant Redford’s commanding witticisms are as commonplace as bullets and afford an extra dynamic angle to the campaign, despite occasionally diluting the intensity and urgency of certain conflicts.

It's all about a bunch of misfits and their quest for bullion.

The conflict in question is standard inoffensive FPS fare - a nameless Eurasian threat featuring Russians (who else?), as well as an advanced faction known as the Legionnaires whose speed and advanced firepower do well to boost the difficulty. Enemies are only there to provide a context; all that really matters is that there is gold in them there hills, and you want it.

Funny and interesting characters spouting wicked zingers might increase the incentive to see the campaign through to the end, but witnessing the destructive power of the Frostbite engine remains the bigger motivator for blowing stuff up. Although you’ll never be able to lay everything you see to waste there is a pretty detailed damage system in the game. Rather than thinking of Battlefield: BC as a God-sim where you can delete entire buildings at will (albeit, with a huge gun and a massive ball of flames), think of the gun as a big key. You see, each building has a number of pre-determined holes which you can ‘open’ if you shoot it in the right place, so rather than completely reduce the architecture to a smouldering crater, you’ll merely leave it resembling a slice of concrete Swiss cheese. Although the possibilities of the engine were perhaps overstated, it does give DICE license to effectively re-do generic FPS tasks like sabotaging radio stations, holding down territories and protecting convoys with an added explosive twist. Frostbite is by no means revolutionary, but it is solidly deployed, hardly chugs, and is able to make even the mighty Call of Duty 4’s environments seem a bit restrictive by comparison.

Although Battlefield: BC isn’t winning any awards for subtlety, its eye-assaulting HD graphics fit in with the over-the-top action. Whether weaving through flooded east-European villages or fighting through the smoke of a sun-drenched countryside, the game rivals the best FPSes out there in terms of sheer sharp spectacle. One category in which DICE outdid themselves is the squint-inducing light blooming effects (which is unusual, even for an EA-published game). Is it impressive? Sure, but the light can and will bleed into other colours, making spotting enemies a more difficult task than it should be. Often, fire fights will devolve into some bizarre, camouflage- kitted Pro Evo match as you spend more time referencing the radar than running and gunning. DICE’S apparently over-zealous graphics department seemed to have intruded on the health meter guy’s job, as taking even a little damage blurs the screen and drains it of colour, ruining the pretty graphical work that went before it and making you stumble around as an even bigger and clumsier target. What happened to the humble health bar? Forgive the overuse of this effect however and you’re left with a beautiful and slightly stylised battlefield that’s as fun to look at as it is to play.

The levels are large, detailed, and destructible.

Continuing its attack on your senses, Bad Company’s HD audio is consistently immersive and sometimes even astounding – certainly a case for the best use of sound in any FPS to date. The layered sound effects based on your position (sound will echo if you’re inside a building) and distance (sound will echo off solid objects and become muffled) really adds a sense of immersion to the action. Couple the dynamic sound with some of the most ear-jarring booms and bangs ever heard in a video game and Bad Company’s deployment of Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds as good as any summer blockbuster – if you have the right setup of course.

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