The Battlefield series is legendary on the PC, but its massive team battles have yet to translate perfectly to the consoles. EA made a solid step with the first Bad Company, and the second deployment is looking to make a leap. Should this dyed-in-the-wool multiplayer experience have you enlisting for a full tour of duty?
Bad Company 2 follows the exploits of Bravo Squad 2 as it attempts to beat the Russians to a super weapon. There’s the about-to-retire Sarge, the tech geek, and the grizzled vet who likes to make things go boom. You’re Preston Marlowe, the can-do guy who delivers more sap than a Canadian maple. It’s military story 101. You can see plot twists coming a mile away and it appears as if the script was written by someone who’s watched too many straight-to-DVD flicks. This flimsy framework is just enough to see you through to the next skirmish, but it’s hard to get attached to the players involved.
Like most shooters these days, the campaign is one big siphon. You follow the waypoint and your squad from one moment to the next. Each level has multiple checkpoints and mid-stage ammo crates to help you prep for the battle to come. There are guns to collect and com hubs to blow up, but exploration is not its forte. Mission objectives truly run the gamut. You’ll defend a downed satellite, try to avoid freezing to death, wipe out enemy encampments, and much more. No doubt it keeps the pulse surging.
Online is where you expect Bad Company 2 to deliver and its 12-on-12 clashes most definitely do. While just four game types may seem anemic, it’s the variety of roles that you can play in each that makes it work. The assault class is basic infantry, but it can supply ammo to the rest of the team. The engineer is great at taking out vehicles, and can also repair. Recon soldiers make great snipers, can use C4 strategically, and can mark targets at long range. This duality, combined with the flexibility of a leveling system to add buffs, allows for a wide range of possibilities. Most importantly, you’re rewarded handsomely for support. It’s key in a game where team work is necessary to succeed.
Vehicles play a huge role in the outcome of each game. There’s a fleet of tank varieties, armored transports, ATVs, Jet skis, boats, helicopters—basically, everything but jets and planes. It’s an odd omission considering Battlefield 1942 had them back in 2002, but there are plenty of vehicles to help turn the tide.
The game ships with eight maps, and a code to download two more. If you buy the game used you’ll have to pay for them. Each battlefield provides a smorgasbord of terrain and building types with few choke points. And with fully destructible environments, any camp sites can quickly be eliminated. You can join a squad of up to four people, allowing you to spawn on any of their locations.
A battlefield classic, conquest mode returns along with rush where one team attacks and the other defends. Then there are two modes that rely more heavily on squad play. Squad deathmatch has everyone playing on teams of four and squad rush is a four-on-four attack and defend where strategy and communication are the only way to win. There are definitely some big boys still missing where modes are concerned, but what’s here is incredibly deep and addicting.
The campaign lacks creativity and is just seven hours long, but you’ll get your money’s worth and then some from Bad Company 2’s online multiplayer. The multitude of guns, classes, vehicles, and unlocks coupled with its flexibility makes the scarcity of modes forgivable.
The odd thing about the gameplay is that there are really two types—online and off. While playing the campaign you benefit from one of the most generous aim assists in the genre. Yet jump online and the aim assist is completely removed. It diminishes the ability of the campaign to prepare you for online warfare. If you find yourself struggling online in other shooters, infantry combat is going to be a challenge. The good news is that there are plenty of other roles to play that emphasis strategy over hand dexterity. Purists will appreciate that you must earn every kill.
Enemies are bullet sponges, which can make it difficult to engage multiple targets unless you have a gun with a massive magazine. We recommend the hardcore option if you’re used to dropping enemies with a well-placed burst. Vehicle control is user friendly without sacrificing precision, and their general control layout carries over from one to the next.
While you play with three team members in the campaign, your BB gun-toting comrades aren’t much help. They shoot enemies a lot, but rarely will they ever take one down. It’s basically all up to you. Progression amounts to a lot of trial-and-error, and some missions can be challenging until you memorize enemy placement and load out. The ballistics engine is incredibly rewarding, with each gun having unique recoil and bullets reacting to the weight of gravity. There’s a regenerating health bar this time around bringing the series in line with the industry standard.
No matter whether you’re online or off, the destructible environments play a huge role. You’re never safe in Bad Company 2. Any wall or building you’re using for cover can be reduced to rubble in an instant. You must stay on your toes at all times. It makes every moment matter. Another element that transcends both modes is the variety. There are so many things to experience throughout the course of play that you don’t normally get in one game.
Utilizing the Frostbite engine, Bad Company 2 features sprawling, densely populated environments with an excellent level of detail. Considering just about any object can be blown to bits, this is quite an achievement. It comes at a price, though. Textures, objects, and other minutiae magically pop into view. Character models and their facial animations are a little rough around the edges, but there are plenty of moments of awe where the unexpected happens.
The cinemas are primarily pre-recorded in-engine videos with a smattering of real-time events where you control the camera on a pivot. Reload animations and gun models are definitely a highlight and it all runs smoothly even with 24 players essentially decimating a map the size of downtown Cleveland. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions look and run almost identically, while the PC version lags well behind the visual stalwarts of the platform.
The audio quality is great with thudding bass from every RPG explosion or tank blast and snappy weapon report. The voice acting holds the line despite the campy script. The channel separation for surround sound could be a little more pronounced and there’s not much music during gameplay, but otherwise, it’s a solid audio package.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 is still trying to play catch-up with its much older, PC brethren. But if you’re looking for this kind of experience on the consoles, it has few equals. The campaign could use some creative spark, but it’s the staying power of the multiplayer that wins the day. If you look to get the most out of your money with video game purchases, you can’t go wrong with Battlefield Bad Company 2.
Reviewed on PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.