Reviewed: July 8, 2008
Released: June 25, 2008
I’ve been a casual fan of the Battlefield games for years now. I love military and war games but I’m just not that heavily into multiplayer, and that has always been the focus of the Battlefield series, even when the series jumped to the console back in 2005 with Modern Combat. Well DICE is about to change the way we play Battlefield, both online and off with their newest next-gen installment, Battlefield; Bad Company.
In addition to a revolutionary new style of multiplayer combat, Bad Company actually incorporates a fantastic solo campaign, much more story-driven than Modern Combat, loaded with action, humor, and engaging characters. Meet the boys of Bad Company; Sweetwater (tech and coms), Haggard (explosives expert), Preston Marlowe (that’s you), and Sarge (your squad leader).
For various reasons of misconduct, which you will learn about in the game, you have all been assigned to this rogue group of soldiers and thrown into a war zone full of Russians and deadly mercenaries. It is these mercenaries, known as Legionnaires, that motivate our squadron to go “rogue”, invade a foreign country, and kill hundreds, if not thousands of enemy soldiers, all in the quest for some gold bars.
Bad Company is the ultimate evolution of the Battlefield franchise thanks to the Frostbite engine; a game engine so powerful that I can only hope it becomes the new development standard for other titles. Frostbite sets the bar for next-gen HD visuals with massive landscapes that put Quake Wars “MegaTexture” landscape system to shame. Not only are these the largest levels you have ever seen in a video game, they are incredibly detailed and, for the most part, totally destructible, and thanks to each and every scene being populated with dozens of explosive drums and fuel containers, you’re guaranteed an explosion with almost every shot fired.
Battlefield has always made great use of vehicles and Bad Company includes several from troop transports, trucks, jeeps, buggies, tanks, boats, and my personal favorite, the attack chopper. There is a chapter called Air Force One that takes place entirely in the air (with the exception of a refueling segment), and this level looks and plays so well they could have developed an entire helicopter flight-sim combat game from the source material…and I hope they do.
Vehicles support multiple seating so you can switch around from driver to gunner or just ride shotgun, but in the single player game the AI won’t actually drive. They are, however, quite deadly with any vehicle-mounted weapons. Outside the vehicles, your three computer-controlled comrades complement your squad nicely, and even though you have to do most of the key objectives yourself, you never feel that you are doing “all” the work. Sweets, Haggard, and Sarge will thin out the enemy numbers and if nothing else, create a distraction so you can complete the objectives.
The level of immersion in this game is fantastic thanks to the seamless blending of in-game cutscenes; rally points, mid-mission briefings and updates via radio, and actual gameplay. The only time you are ever taken out of the combat experience is when you bring up the mission map screen or the menu. And there is even a mini-map insert, so you really never need to reference the full-size map unless you are lost or trying to formulate some elaborate plan.
There are 7 chapters that are massive in size, both in square miles and duration. A few of these levels can take two or more hours to complete depending on how thorough you are. While mission objectives and waypoints are clearly marked on the map with red triangles, there are hundreds of other points of interest, both on and off the map. Some item locations, like weapons and tools are clearly marked with an X while the gold bars are secretly stashed around the levels; their locations marked by a Legionnaire symbol only visible in the 3D world.
Over the course of these 7 chapters you will fight for your country and actually do better than anyone suspected, that is until one of your teammates catches “gold fever” and invades a foreign country. The USA has no choice but to disavow your actions and even your existence, thus placing Bad Company in the middle of a war with no allies. You’ll come under friendly fire often, but thanks to the covert assistance of your female friend on the radio, you will get enough assistance to survive.
Bad Company makes the bold choice not to use the “Call of Duty” health system where you automatically recover health if you stay out of combat. In this game you actually have a health counter and you will die if it falls to zero, but if you do die you have nobody to blame but yourself. Healing is handled through an infinite supply of health injectors and with a quick tap of LB followed by the R-Trigger you will be fully healed. There is a brief cool-down period before you can reuse the injector, but for the most part, it’s pretty hard to die unless you are careless.
The one thing I love about Bad Company are the destructible environments, which really change the way you have to think and even play the game. I’ve been crouched in the corner of an abandoned house trying to heal myself when a tank blows the entire side of the house off. I’ve been in the attic trying to snipe at soldiers when some guy with an RPG blows the roof off. Of course it works both ways. I’ve found myself waiting for a guy to peek his head over the window sill so I can shoot him then I remember my machine gun doubles as a grenade launcher, so I blow the wall and the window away leaving him totally exposed. There is very little in this game that provides solid cover, so you must always remain mobile. It makes for a very intense and fast-paced game.
There are dozens of weapons with models from various countries. You’ll probably settle on a few favorites. I typically used the “flavor of the area”, which is basically whatever the enemy is using because that offers the most ammo. The first time you come across a new weapon type it counts as a Collectible and there are dozens of these weapons scattered about the game, sometimes marked with an X, but more often recovered from a specific fallen enemy.
You can equip two weapons and two items at a time, although one item is always your health injector so you really can only carry one extra tool, which presents some anguishing moments during the game. Do you carry that power-tool that will heal your busted ride or bring along the RPG or laser guidance system. Speaking of laser guidance, this has to be the coolest thing ever in a military game. You basically use these binoculars to focus on an armored target and wait for the lock, then the view switches to high above and you literally get to guide a missile down on your target. Awesome!
I found only one questionable game design choice and that was the death and respawn system. If you die you are given the choice to restart the entire level or start from the last checkpoint. The odd thing here is that checkpoints are merely a location marker and not a status marker. This means that anything you've killed or blew-up after the checkpoint and before you died is still gone and you are back to full health. This definitely takes the edge off the gameplay knowing that death has no real repercussions, and that you can even abuse the system.
For as much fun as Bad Company is playing alone, things get exponentially better when you take the battle online. Sadly, there is no co-op feature for the campaign. It would have been nice to play out the story with a real person playing as each member of your unit, or even forego the story and just let you play those 7 chapters cooperatively. But despite the lack of co-op, Bad Company ramps up the online gameplay with support for up to 24 soldiers in some of the best battles you’re likely to play this year.
While Preston was a jack-of-all-classes in the solo game, you’ll actually get to pick from one of five extremely balanced soldier classes (or “kits”), each with their own set of weapons and tools. You can then play ranked and unranked battles on 8 awesome maps, each designed around specific strategies and carefully chosen vehicles.
New to the online modes is the objective-based Gold Rush that has Attackers trying to destroy all the gold crates on a level in pairs, while the Defenders try to stop them. For each pair of gold crates the Attackers destroy, they will advance to the next base and earn extra lives.
Online multiplayer features an interesting unlock system whereby you earn XP as you rank-up, thus earning you new weapons and items. Even items as simple as the health injector must be earned. For those who have played Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer, you’ll know what to expect. There is also a nice pop-up award system that highlights your achievements on the battlefield.
While the entire online experience is great fun and a very rewarding experience, it probably isn’t as deep as other online games like Call of Duty 4 or even the more strategic games like Rainbow Six Vegas. But if you are looking for a fantastically fun online battle game, Bad Company sets a pretty high standard.
I was blown away by the graphics in Bad Company. They still pale in comparison to the photo-realism of Call of Duty 4, but for sheer scale, detail, textures, and color, the Battlefield series has never looked this good. First and foremost, the levels are epic in size. It’s one of those situations where, if you can see it, you can go there, at least when it’s not shaded red indicating an enemy artillery zone. As objectives are ticked off the levels open up with new areas and you are generally free to backtrack and explore.
The Frostbite engine also boasts some killer physics, and the destruction model and level of debris is unlike anything you have seen. Sure, we’ve seen environmental destruction in other games but those models were usually based on scripted explosions and specific areas of effect. You can quite literally blow anything up in Bad Company and then blow up those pieces into smaller pieces.
Expect a lot of wartime carnage in the form of massive explosions, smoke, fire, and a barrage of bullets. This is warfare at its finest and most chaotic. The textures and lighting are excellent, the water is amazing, and you even get various night and day effects for some intense stealth missions. The vehicles models are outstanding and you can even opt for a cockpit view. I preferred the chase cam for the land and sea vehicles but cockpit is the only way to go for the chopper.
As previously mentioned, all of the cutscenes use game graphics and cinematic camera placements. They do some pretty funny stuff with Haggard and Sweetwater in the background, like playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, for a lot of the communication scenes with Sarge and HQ. Your feet are locked in place during these scenes but you are free to look around.
The interface is totally non-invasive. You basically have a small health and ammo counter in one corner and a mini-map in the other. You can pause to the map screen and get a tally on gold bars and weapon collectibles remaining for each level. The game also uses button icons to indicate interaction points within the game.
Between the Dolby Digital surround mix and the HDR audio, Bad Company is one game you will want to crank the volume up and make the neighbors think we are being invaded. Each gun has a very realistic sound, and my sub-woofer got more use in this game from all the explosions than my last two years of gaming combined. Surround channels are used with great effect for bullets and tank shells whizzing by. I caught myself ducking a few times. There are also great effects for reverb and that shell-shocked ringing silence you get moments after you are caught in an explosion.
The soundtrack is classic Battlefield theme music mixed in with some standard military fare. It helps fuel the action, engage the player, and immerse them in the intensity of these massive battles. There are periods where the music slips entirely into the background and other epic moments when it totally drives the action.
The voice work in Bad Company is excellent thanks to a humorous script and some great actors who managed to play these characters just as we imagine them. There is an ongoing banter amongst B-Company that defies the seriousness of the situation, and even though everybody slams one another (even the Sarge), you can tell these guys respect and rely on each other to stay alive.
Bad Company is about a 12-15 hour game depending on how much you want to explore. As mentioned, there are a lot of places to go off the beaten path. I was driving to my waypoint when I noticed a dirt path leading off the road. I followed it to a farmhouse full of enemies, a truck, and several weapon stashes. And if you are going for the gold you will really need to scour the area.
Achievement hunters will find 50 goals ranging from finishing each level on Normal and Hard skill settings to find half and then all of the gold and all of the collectibles. Other achievements are awarded for blowing up vehicles and houses, destroying an entire forest, and finding the highest location in the entire game. And keeping true to its online roots, nearly half the achievements must be earned through online gameplay.
Battlefield: Bad Company not only redefines the way we will look at games from now on, it also changes the way in which we will play them. After a tour of duty in B-Company you might be ruined for all your previous war games, and if future games don’t allow you to blast apart the levels, brick by brick how can they hope to compare.
Bad Company blends unparalleled gameplay intensity with fast-action combat unlike any other game I’ve ever played. I was scrambling around battlefields trying to defend myself and find a secure location while the world around me was being blown apart. And even when these action-packed levels were juxtaposed with the more stealthy nighttime levels, I still came away from these gaming sessions with severe battle fatigue.
Whether you are in this for the solo adventure or plan on spending the next six months kicking butt and taking names online, Bad Company delivers a solid combat experience for both types of gamer. This is truly a revolutionary new game experience and the ultimate evolution of the Battlefield franchise.