Anyone who’s even remotely into first person shooters on the PC has probably heard of, or come across, the Battlefield series from Electronic Arts. The first one was release way back in September of 2002, and its captivating online multiplayer scheme enthralled thousands. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when EA followed up on the success of 1942 with its next installment, Battlefield Vietnam. Although it didn’t fair quite as well with the critics as its predecessor did, it wasn’t a failure by any stretch of the imagination.
The Battlefield series had already established itself as a franchise capable of delivering, but the true show of EA’s potential came in June of 2005, with Battlefield 2; the first true sequel. Instead of transporting the player back into yet another war of the past, the game was modernized into a fictional, present-day conflict between the Chinese, an undisclosed middle eastern nation, and of course the good ol’ US of A. Once more, the game was a stunning success.
But then, perhaps due to their success induced high, Electronic Arts let down a sizable portion of its fan base with their next effort, Battlefield 2142. Jumping from the varied theaters of the Second World War, into the claustrophobic jungles of Vietnam, and then to the present was a progression that seemed logic and apt to many. The series started out with the most significant military conflict of the last century, and then it series took players in a logical progression through all the major engagements that the United States’ military has seen.
The main reason that 2142 never really caught on was probably due to the fact that players suddenly found themselves more than 100 years in the future in a conflict with weapons and vehicles that seemed incredibly out of place in a series that seemed to be focused on realistic military engagements.
The last few weeks, I haven’t played much else besides Call of Duty 4, which is another series that started out by pitting players against the Nazis. As such, I’ll probably make quite a few comparisons to that game.
The beta only includes two maps so it’s pretty obvious that the purpose of the beta is to vet the fundamentals, like gameplay, instead of play-testing a series of maps. When it comes to gameplay, though, Bad Company does quite a few things spot on, leaving only a short list of gripes.
The fundamentals of the series as still present, and perhaps stronger than ever. Players are divided up into two opposing teams, each tasked with accomplishing their goal of destroying enemy depots, while preventing the enemy from performing their task. Once killed, players will continue to respawn into the game until the reinforcement reserves deplete.
One of the changes that veterans of the series will notice immediately upon joining a game is that players are no longer presented with a map from which to choose a spawn point; you either spawn from a set insertion point, or next to your our teammates, your choice. This change might have been made to simplify the game for the console, or it might represent a premeditated departure from the status quo. Either way, the change didn’t have an averse effect on my experience.
The major new addition to the gameplay this time around is the fact that environments can be completely destroyed; everything from trees and terrain, to entire buildings can be completely demolished. This seemingly tiny change has devastating affects on gameplay. No longer can a single, well positioned sniper pick off hordes of enemy soldiers, while simply hiding behind a door post. Traditionally, a sniper positioned in such a manner would have free reign until some fool-hearty soul makes a mad dash for the door and engages the sniper in close-quarter combat. No more, though. Now, you’re free to be as creative as possible with your shots and kills. Let’s see here: you can still go for the direct, zig-zag as you go, approach towards the front door; or you can, for example, sneak around to the back of the building, blow out the rear wall with a well-paced grenade, and make a dramatic entry that way.
Unfortunately, the one thing you can’t do the scenario I just described is take out the poorly supported ceiling above the sniper once the walls are gone so that the rebar studded chunks of concrete will crush or impale the sniper. The most damage you can do to any one of the buildings is reduce it to a smoldering cocoon of support walls and ceiling. In other words, if you were hoping to unite every tank, chopper, boat and Humvee on your team to launch a joint attack aimed at decimating anything and everything in your path, think again.
A destructible environment not only makes the game a lot more fun when you’re the one going the shooting, but it will also produce some truly awesome scenarios. At one point, having already taken out several enemy combatants with a M24 sniper rifle, I was about to fire off another round when I heard an approaching tank. Within seconds this metal beast had rounded the corner of the building ahead of me. As the turret cranked its way slowly my way I knew, then and there, that I was fucked. And I was right…but, the effect was awesome. That tank may have ended my short spree, but seeing the building that I was in blow to smithereens was definitely worth it.
Even though the beta provided me with some truly awesome moments, the experience wasn’t completely without fault. What follows is a short list of some of the gripes and observations, both positive and negative, that I encountered during my play testing. Granted, some of the things listed may not necessarily be issues of real concern, but bare with me:
- One of the first thing I noticed was that whenever I died, the game would kick me back to a menu that conveyed to me that I had to wait a certain number of seconds before I could respawn. It wasn’t so much that I had to wait that bothered me, but rather that this menu took me out of the experience. The menu also allowed me to change my weapon class along with a few other things, but I would have preferred it if, when I died, my view switched to that of a teammate, with a small countdown somewhere off to the side of the screen, and maybe a message telling me that I’d have to press Y, for example, to change my class. Not only did this menu take me out of the experience visually, it also killed the audio; I heard nothing of the ongoing battle until I was able to rejoin.
- I loved the way the sniper scopes his rifle. Instead of immediately switching to the scoped view, as is done in so many games nowadays, there’s an actual transition animation where the rifle is brought up to the character’s face. This simple touch really lent itself to the authenticity of the role. Unfortunately, though, my high hopes for the sniper were immediately brought back down again when I noticed that the sniper seemed to have arms (and nerves) of steel, allowing him to eliminate all vibrations from his aim. I realize that this has been the norm with the entire series, but I feel that perhaps packing a little more punch with each round would go nicely with an unsteady hand. On the positive side though, reload animations for the bolt action look pretty neat, if perhaps a little mechanical.
- Another neat touch is that fact that whenever a player experiences trauma severe enough to lower his or her health down to 30% or less, that player’s vision becomes impaired. The concept is really neat, but the execution is slightly lacking. To me it seems a little hackneyed, but the players vision is simply flooded with a red haze, nothing all too special. It would be cooler if the players vision got worse and worse as his or her health deteriorated. One might start out with perfectly clear vision, go to a red hue at around 30, and then add a slight blur and maybe some camera wobbly as the Grim Reaper approaches.
- Of course, since it is the Battlefield series, there are plenty of vehicles as expected; everything from jeeps and tanks to boats and choppers. I don’t have all too much to mention about the vehicles, since the series has always done this pretty well, but I will mention that I am starting to grow slightly weary of the whole arcade style approach to vehicles. I understand that a console game needs to be accessible to a large audience, but it couldn’t hurt to make the vehicles handle a little more realistically. Maybe I’ve been playing a little too much Crysis as of late, but I want to be able to shoot out tires to bring a car to a potentially spectacular halt — ya know, stuff like that.
- Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not too fond of the grenade control scheme. I want to be able to pull out a grenade and throw it immediately; I don’t want to have to worry about how long I have to hold down the trigger to be assured that the grenade will go far enough. I want to be able to pull the trigger once, and just have it go. I’m perfectly content to have to aim up higher if I want the grenade to go farther. Oh, and another thing: please, please increase the effective radius of a fragmentation grenade. There have been plenty of occasions were I have thrown a grenade to within a yard or two of my target, only to find that after it went off, my target was making me his target.
- Graphically speaking, the beta isn’t all that spectacular. If you’ve been following the development of this game then you have, like me, probably also seen a good portion of the screenshots that can be found floating around the Web. I’m sad to say, though, that the screenshots don’t quite live up to the hype — but, hey, when isn’t that the case?