"The game's limited scope comes with a pleasing silver lining, however: destructible environments. Games have made attempts along those lines in the past, but Bad Company 2 takes the beautiful chaos to an unusually involving level. For example, one stage finds the player holed up in a wooden shack as a tank and gunmen approach from the far side of a field. It's possible to duck behind the wooden walls, then to peek out and fire shots at the approaching goons. Hiding out offers only limited protection, though. Your enemies will shred your shelter with bullets, until finally you're standing in a husk of your former stronghold. That's not an isolated example, either."
During World War 2, a squad of heroic American soldiers made its way to a small island off the coast of mainland Japan to meet up with a defector and to bring him home to the United States. The operation had all of the earmarks of a suicide mission, but those brave men had their orders, they had their strength and they had enough determination that there was no reason to question their ability to overcome the odds stacked against them.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 starts by telling the story of that mighty squad and its heroic effort. You'll step into one of those men's shoes as he and his squad carry out their orders at tremendous personal risk. The game does little hand holding in those opening scenes, just gives you the information you need to acclimate yourself to the comfortable control scheme. Otherwise, you're left to revel in the bleak but beautiful environments, the generally credible squad dynamics and the sense that something is about to go very, very wrong. Then it does.
For its second scene, the game introduces a different squad of heroic soldiers and a new era: present day. Preston Marlow is a new recruit looking for action. Sarge is the squad's leader. He wants to get home for the long-overdue retirement that his country owes him for years of exemplary service. Next comes Sweetwater, the technical wizard of the group. Finally there's Haggard. He brings up the rear with a pile of explosives and the knowledge to blast apart anything that crosses the squad's path. Together, those four men will embark on a quest to save their homeland from certain genocide.
Bad Company 2 tells the sort of story that you might expect from a recent Call of Duty title. Shared elements include betrayal, mystery, races and even a brutal Russian villain with an ax to grind. Aside from the welcome lack of a controversial airport scene, what you'll find here feels much like Infinity Ward's most recent effort, right down to a wild ATV race through a jungle that might as well take place on snowmobiles. The fact that one of the soldiers makes a crack about snowmobile races being for sissies doesn't make the scene any less derivative. It just lends some personality to the proceedings.
As you work your way through Bad Company 2's single-player campaign, you'll often see that personality at work as you get to know the members of the titular company of soldiers. Dialog is both frequent and profane. None of the squad members are afraid to say just what they think at any point during their crazy quest, and their adversaries are similarly chatty. As you traverse the rugged terrain where most of the game takes place, you won't just hear the expected explosions and ambient noises. You'll hear bombs of a different sort as the actors work through a script that does everything it can to earn the game its 'M' rating. The conviction that the voice actors brought to the table as they voiced their lines for this game almost makes up for the occasional lack of originality. Almost.
Unfortunately, not every flaw can be shuffled to the side. For instance, there's a general sense of linearity that is likely to frustrate players who remember some of the freedom that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 provided them as they worked through Infinity Ward's masterpiece. Many of the areas that you'll explore here feel quite confined in comparison. They feature narrow paths that you absolutely must follow throughout much of each stage. Even when you're given more freedom, there's little reason to diverge from the set course except for a bit of collectible gear. More open areas do exist, such as a barren desert around two thirds of the way through the game, but none of the stages featured here feel as convincing as many of those set pieces that were provided by Infinity Ward. None of them resonate on that same powerful level.
The game's limited scope comes with a pleasing silver lining, however: destructible environments. Games have made attempts along those lines in the past, but Bad Company 2 takes the beautiful chaos to an unusually involving level. For example, one stage finds the player holed up in a wooden shack as a tank and gunmen approach from the far side of a field. It's possible to duck behind the wooden walls, then to peek out and fire shots at the approaching goons. Hiding out offers only limited protection, though. Your enemies will shred your shelter with bullets, until finally you're standing in a husk of your former stronghold. That's not an isolated example, either. Nearly every structure can and will fall apart. Even brick walls will slowly crack and crumble against a hail of bullets, revealing wooden frames, metal poles and whatever else once held them into place. The result is that fire fights become much more involving--and occasionally more strategic--than they are in other games.
It's a shame that squad and enemy AI didn't receive the same careful attention from the developers. Sometimes, your team members behave like competent soldiers. They provide cover fire and even tend to distant snipers that you might not have noticed. Elsewhere, however, they prove useless. You'll sometimes come across one of your buddies standing and facing a wall, discharging a stream of ammo that has no chance of hitting anything worthwhile.
Enemy AI suffers from similarly inconsistent design. Sometimes, your enemies behave as they should. You can duck behind a building for cover and they'll either try to dismantle it with ammunition and explosives, or they'll call out to their comrades to flank you or they'll just run around the corner and try to take care of you themselves. That's great, but sometimes those same enemies seem almost omnipotent. You'll try to flank them and there's no way they could have seen you, yet their devastating gunfire will perfectly track you behind buildings. There's a problem when you get behind a solid wall, then start weaving quickly left and right only to watch bullets track your every step. What's the point of a wall if your enemies can randomly choose to see through it? The goodwill that the developers built up with the destructible environments definitely takes a hit in such instances.
Some of the mission objectives are similarly frustrating. There's no excuse in this day and age for a 'defend the point' stage as tedious as the one featured here, for instance. Such stages are already stale enough as it is, even if executed perfectly. In the case of Bad Company 2, that unfortunate challenge is then followed by another mission where you must descend a frigid mountain while constantly ducking into buildings that mysteriously have unattended fireplaces burning, just to warm up before spending a few seconds more outside battling enemies who appear to do just fine in the cold for hours at a time. Clearly the developers were trying to mix things up and their efforts do occasionally succeed, but the other half of the time the results tend to be a mess.
Of course, many people who play Battlefield: Bad Company 2 aren't even attracted by the single-player mode, which can be cleared easily enough in six hours or so. Many gamers are more intrigued by the online multi-player. That's understandable and it's where the good news returns.
If you've never played a Battlefield game online before, you're in for quite the treat when you do so now. There are the usual features such as selectable classes--assault, engineer, medic and recon--and a nice selection of maps, but the developers here prove once more that they know how to design open maps with plenty of hiding places for snipers, vehicles and points to capture and defend. Ten such maps are available right from the start, with more to come at no cost for those who use the VIP code that is printed on a card included with new copies of the game. Occasional arena additions should keep the community active for a long time and will ensure that those who stick around can come to appreciate strategic, squad-based play with challenging opponents.
Despite possessing some unfortunate flaws, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 serves as an excellent addition to the PlayStation 3 software library. Restrictive environments, spotty AI and a lack of emotional impact don't do gamers any favors, but there's no doubt that the game is worth an extended look. Environmental destruction adds an element that has seldom been executed on this level, one that carries over to a compelling online mode that stands proud even without such innovations waiting to propel it to the next level. Virtual soldiers looking for a new adventure could do a lot worse than to join the bad company...
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 23, 2010)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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