When Battlefield 2142 debuted two years ago people wondered were DICE would take the franchise next. Having covered the past, present, and future of warfare, the franchise could either go further into the future or DICE could re-boot the franchise. With Battlefield:Bad Company, DICE has decided to take the second option and for the most part it they've made the right decision.
I've been playing the online multiplayer demo on Xbox Live on and off for the last week or so and these impressions are based on about seven hours of total gameplay. After my time with the game I've come away with mixed but mostly positive feelings for the game. I've been a huge fan of the Battlefield franchise since the Battlefield 1942 demo and being so close to a franchise for so long makes it hard to accept changes. Up front I do have to say that I'm terribly disappointed that the game isn't coming to the PC as that's really were I learned to love the game. I know there's a better market for console shooters right now but it does feel odd playing a Battlefield game with an Xbox 360 controller and not a keyboard and mouse.
The demo contains two maps and one game mode from the final game. The two maps are Ascension a small close combat map in a Euro flavored village and Oasis a large desert map with the full complement of air, ground, and water vehicles. Of the two maps I prefer Oasis because I'm a sucker for big maps with a lot of vehicles and even with the sensitivity cranked up I had a hard time with the close quarter combat in the smaller map.
The featured game play mode is the new Gold Rush mode in which one team attempts to defend a series of gold filled chests while the other tries to acquire them. As the attackers secure chests they force they other team to retreat to another location to defend another set of chests until they run out of fall back points. Once the attackers have secured a set of chests they can now spawn at the new location. When you die you are can re-spawn back at your current base or spawn with your squad. This has been a staple of the series since Battlefield 2 and it is perfected in Bad Compan as you can see where you are going to spawn ahead of time. This allows you know how much trouble to expect if you spawn on your squad. The only problem with spawning on your squad is that occasionally you end up with that one idiot sniper who sits on the ass end of the map eliminating the benefit of the squad spawn.
The Gold Rush mode condenses combat in the areas where the chests are located rather than having several multiple smaller battles like you have in the classic Battlefield Conquest mode. In a way this mode is a bit like the Frontlines system from Frontlines:Fuel of War except that the frontline only moves in one direction. The mode works out fairly well as everything is funneled through the chests which creates instant points of contention no matter what the score of the game is. Since the attackers have to get the chests to receive reinforcements (more lives) it forces them to continue to work for the points. Defenders are likewise involved as they need to keep whittling down the resources of the attackers if they want to win.
My only real problem with the mode is more of a philosophical one than anything else. I don't mean to go emo on you but I do have some problems with the franchise reducing goals to a financial rewards rather than the standard vague military ones. I get that the game is a bit of a riff on the Three Kings storyline but it feels a bit odd playing what is supposed to be a US soldier who's trying to compete for cash. It works in Army of Two when the characters are mercenaries...excuse me, Private Military Contractors, but here it feels a little out of place. This is one of those things that will only bother people who are in the military or have family in the military (my father served for 30 years and I have a cousin who's a pilot). It's a quibble but something that has been sticking in my craw since I started playing the game.Graphically the game is an absolute stunner and the new engine for the game matches if not exceeds what's available on the market. Good looks aside the most important part of the new engine is how well it handles destructible environments. Well, it's more like mostly destructible environments because while you can blow the walls of a building down, you can't actually destroy the structure completely (like you will be able to do in Red Faction Guerilla). This looks to have been done for gameplay reasons as I'm sure the engine could handle it. This eliminates one of my biggest peeves with the series in that a three foot tall fence could stop tanks and APC's in every previous iteration of the game and it's nice to be able to crush fences, posts, and tree with abandon.
Being able to modify the environment in this fashion really changes the game quite a bit as you no longer have any kind of reliable cover any more. This makes armored vehicles in the game more deadly. No longer can you run into a building and expect to be safe from a tank as they can bring the walls down around you. There's nothing like being the gunner in a tank and watching a tank shell tear open a giant hole in a wall, exposing a squad of soldiers to my machine gun fire. Good times. good times.
The audio in the demo is excellent as DICE has re-worked all the audio for the guns which now sound chunkier and more realistic. It's hard to describe the exact changes but the gun fire sounds more real than previous games. Vehicle sounds are also much improved as you can hear the engines switch gears when you change directions on a tank and some of the other vehicles. The only downer of the sound is that one of the audio engineers decided to added a little whistling sound at the end of some of the radio communication transmissions which for some reason feels like it's drilling a hole between my eyes. I don't know if this is done for realism sake or not but for some reason every time I hear it I cringe.
The game features five different classes. Assault, Recon, Demolitions, Support, and Spec Ops. These are basically the same five classes the franchise has used in the past and veterans of the series will feel right at home. Also back from previous games is the rank system where you earn points for completing objectives and killing enemy soldiers. Promotions are earned at certain point thresholds and players receive an unlock point with each promotion. These points can be used to unlock a new weapon or piece of equipment. It's a fairly solid system and it does create the "only a few more kills until I get an unlock and gain access to that new assault rifle" mentality the previous games had. However you do have to exit the game to unlock something which is a bit disappointing. It would be cool to be able to unlock a new weapon between matches much like how Call of Duty 4 handles it.
I'm not going to touch the overblown drama of having to pay to unlock the five weapons that come standard with the limited edition version of the game except to say that as long as the weapons don't screw up the balance of the gameplay then people have nothing to worry about.
While I'm still not entirely comfortable playing the game on the Xbox 360 I do admit that DICE has the makings of a fantastic game here. There are enough new ideas to differentiate it from other genre favorites like Call of Duty 4 and Frontlines: Fuel of War. I think FPS gamers will dig the game if DICE can deliver more high quality maps, game modes, and a decent single player campaign (something they've never done in the past). Worse case they've created an excellent showcase for their Frostbite technology.