Battlefield: Bad Company

I’ve played through most of the single player side of Battlefield: Bad Company over the weekend.

Once again I am reminded of the inadequacy of the PlayStation controls (be it Dualshock or Sixaxis or whatever) in first-person shooters. The dead zone in the sticks is too large for precise control. Getting your sights lined with faraway targets is harder than it should be, the pixel-precise movements being too much for the pad. I would’ve appreciated better automatic targeting to help with the control issue. I doubt this is a problem on the Xbox 360, but I haven’t seen that version yet. It’s nothing game-breaking, but an annoyance nevertheless.

Overall, the single player story is a major step up from the rudimentary solo mode of previous Battlefields. The writing is solid and I’m actually looking forward to how it all plays out, in the end. The characters are one-dimensional cardboard cutouts, but the dialogue is mostly entertaining, once you get past the thoroughly cliched military jargon.

The gameplay is solid, with a few gripes. The sandboxy feel of Battlefield, complete with heavy armor, aircraft and artillery is all there, bound together by a minimal amount of scripting. It lends a wonderful feel of letting the player find his own approach. Should you take that APC or run through the enemy, one building at a time? Or make a run for that fortified position and use their grenade launcher against them? It’s full of moments where you’re hiding in a bush, armed with nothing but a sniper rifle and a grenade, wondering what you’ll do about the heavy tank hunting you. Or deciding between carrying a laser-guidance system for air support and a bazooka. The levels are open wide, leaving you to find your own path, with one pretty clear objective at a time to keep it from becoming overwhelming. Overall, I like the structure.

There are two problems. First, most of the time your three invincible squadmates are incapable of approaching situations in a useful way. Like using that bazooka they’re always carrying to take out the tank that’s bearing down on you. Second, it doesn’t much matter where you come into a situation, because the intensity is always cranked up to eleven.

Now, the mostly entirely destructible environment is a great thing. One second you’re reloading behind a stone wall, the next you can’t hear anything and turn around to see that the wall is no longer there. The problem is that because of all the very heavy weapons used and the ridiculous amounts of exploding objects scattered everywhere, everything is blowing up all the time. You don’t get any highs or lows – it’s a glorious mess, all the time.

Which is fine, in itself. With the amount of vehicles at your disposal, it doesn’t really get old. There’s always something else to do right around the corner. But the best moments can get lost in the chaos. There is a great scene played out with tanks on a golf course, and an infantry assault through a palace garden, and an escape in a pimped-out HIND… It’s stuff that could’ve made a much stronger game, had the designers eased up on the throttle a bit.

The amount of destruction leads you to injecting yourself with adrenaline about once a minute to top up your health. It’s a little ridiculous, and I feel they should’ve been able to think of something else. The way checkpoints are used doesn’t really gel with me, either. Once you’ve messed up your approach, you’ll restart from the checkpoint – only the mess you made in your previous attempt is still there. I would’ve rather started over and tried something else.

The Battlefield feel is weakened by the player’s four-man squad always going at it alone. You’d like a proper fighting force to tag along with every once in a while. Regardless, it’s a step up for Battlefield, and I can’t wait to see how the multiplayer holds up.

Bad Company is out this Thursday in Europe.






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