Battlefield: Bad Company, Electronic Arts’ latest entry in the now storied series, has charted new territory on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3: a BF game that has multiplayer options but isn’t driven by them, that mixes destructible environments with vehicle-based gameplay, and that illustrates that DICE can not only expand the BF universe, but improve upon it in nearly conceivable manner.
The element of Battlefield: Bad Company that sticks out the most — perhaps because it is so unique for a BF game — is its excellent single-player campaign. The story follows a misfit squad that’s on a Three Kings-like mission not just for victory, but for the spoils of war. Obsessed with riches as much as survival, this ragtag crew is full of well-acted characters whose personalities reflect distinct anti-hero archetypes that don’t seem forced or played-out — even though we’ve seen them in game after game. Some of the banter in the game cause literal laugh-out-loud reactions, and from several people we’ve spoken to who spent time in the military, it represents real military dynamics better than most shooters out there.
The game’s destructible environments run a close second in terms of enjoyment, primarily because they keep you on your toes both in the single-player and multiplayer components. When we first saw Battlefield: Bad Company, we were skeptical that the destructibility would feel gimmicky, as buildings would never be fully destructible. However, even as the buildings’ frames remain intact, it’s impossible to deny your emotional investment when you have to change defensive tactics to compensate for your cover being blasted away. The destructible environments also affect your offensive options, as the battlefield options open up when you stop to consider new, blast-happy ways to remove enemies’ strongholds and reinforcement paths.
Taking the game online with friends shows just how much other people enjoy the destructibility as well. Need to take out a sniper? Blow away his cover. Need to create a choke-point? Destroy a bridge or remove all your foes’ safe avenues and thus “force” them into the desired path. And let’s not forget the vehicular-based play, a holdover from “legacy” Battlefield games that everyone continues to love, which lets you pilot a helicopter, tank, jeep or patrol boat to your heart’s content.
Yet while the vehicles are trusted holdovers and the destructibility is welcome and unique, one of the most purely enjoyable facets of Battlefield: Bad Company’s multiplayer is the use of a perk-like system a la Call of Duty 4. After picking a class of character — which you should stick with, by the way, since it takes a while to really upgrade — players embark on the expected team-based shootouts as normal. However, with each round, players earn upgrades such as anti-tank mines or mortar strikes, giving you all the more reason to keep playing “just one more round.” These perks aren’t limited to the same extent they are in COD4, so players can use them much more frequently without becoming overly reliant upon them. This keeps the game lively and fun, and it ensures that the strategy isn’t found in the timing of perk use, but in the use and destruction of cover.
The only things missing from Battlefield: Bad Company are a compelling ending, co-op play and the inclusion of Conquest mode, in which players capture control points a la the BF games of yore. Fortunately, although EA and DICE can’t do much about the lackluster last few hours or lack of co-op, they plan to release a Conquest mode as a free downloadable update on PS3 and Xbox 360. This update will give Battlefield veterans yet another reason to play the new outing while giving BF newbies another venue to explore and experiment with.
Shop for Battlefield: Bad Company for PS3 or Xbox 360 at Amazon.com.