The original Battlefield: Bad Company was one of the great near misses of the current console generation. The team at DICE did its level best to mix the wide open maps, freeform gameplay and vehicular mayhem of multiplayer Battlefield with the more structured, story-led approach of a single-player FPS, but the combination never quite gelled.
Many of us loved the game for its twisted take on warfare, for its great dialogue, its interesting characters and - best of all - its destructible scenery, but it was impossible to turn a blind eye to where the game didn’t work. Remember the enemy troops? Not a brain cell to share between them, but the sharpshooting skills of Annie Oakley. Or how about that weird health system, where on dying you could simply respawn and throw yourself back into the fray?
This makes sense within the context of an online game, but within a single-player campaign it just felt wrong. The difficulty level was all over the shop, and many of the levels were just not that interesting. Even the multiplayer was good, but slightly underwhelming in comparison to the PC Battlefields, or even the console Battlefield 1943 that shipped last year.
The sequel, however, is fantastic. In some ways DICE has been more conservative this time around, rejecting the bits of the Battlefield franchise that don’t work in a single-player game, and pinching elements from other franchises that do. And when we say other franchises, we mean one other franchise in particular. In many respects, DICE has taken the first game’s attitude and a revamped version of its Frostbite engine, and used it to power a Modern Warfare clone. Yet that description isn’t really fair, because - in a lot of ways - Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a better game than Modern Warfare 2.
Don’t worry: the baby hasn’t gone out with the bathwater. Bad Company 2 is still a dark, witty take on the military action game, with often brilliant snatches of Tarantino-esque banter running right through the middle of every mission. The plot centres on a more generic doomsday weapon/spy conspiracy device than the Three Kings inspired gold heist of the original, but where Modern Warfare 2 handled its plot in a slightly po-faced, Tom Clancy fashion, Bad Company 2 just uses it as a level to keep you moving from one FUBAR situation to another.
What’s more, the way that you’re constantly fighting with the same three-man team gives the game a real sense of personality that Infinity Ward’s epics sometimes lack. Sure, some of the Modern Warfare 2 special forces crew stick in the mind - who can forget Captain Price? - but can you remember the rest of the grunts? I’m not so sure.
Bad Company 2 is undoubtedly more linear than the original Bad Company, the areas that you’re being funnelled through are more open than those you’d find in most parts of Modern Warfare 2, and there’s still plenty of racing around in tanks and Humvees to be done. Yet Bad Company 2 has learnt from Infinity Ward, orchestrating wave after wave of action, and throwing in some genuinely brilliant set-pieces. As a whole the pacing isn’t as intense and dramatic as Modern Warfare or Modern Warfare 2, but what you’ve lost in terms of Bad Company’s freedom is gained in a more focused and engaging thrill ride. Bad Company 2 is consistently gripping, white-knuckle stuff.
When the bullets start flying, it’s exhilarating. Enemy intelligence is still a bit woolly, but they try a bit harder to flank and use cover, and the near-universal sharpshooting skills that made Bad Company so frustrating has been mercifully toned down. It’s the sheer quantity of destruction, however, that makes the sequel so vastly entertaining. One minute you’ll be skulking underneath an upstairs window in a mountain cottage, taking sneaky potshots at the troops and machine-gunners down below, the next minute there will be no window, no wall and not really much cottage to speak of. Amazingly, Bad Company 2 ups the ante on destruction from the already destructive original.
Fuel tanks blow up, shattering buildings in the vicinity. Trees and pylons collapse, crushing anything below. In one early mission there’s a battle in a riverside village against an armoured patrol boat, and as you try to get a bead on the boat, practically the whole village erupts around you. Breathtaking stuff.
All the booms and bangs certainly contribute to a dynamic audio/visual experience, but even in its quieter moments Bad Company 2 is a beautiful looking game. Whether you’re deep in the South American rain-forest or making your way through the snow, the natural scenery is stunning, and the character models rich with detail. And when it comes to lighting and atmospheric weather effects, Bad Company 2 arguably outdoes Modern Warfare 2, with one frosty level in particular featuring a blizzard so convincing, you’ll be tempted to turn the central heating up a notch to keep from freezing. My one complaint? A lack of variety in the enemy soldier models. And when that’s your biggest major grumble, a game just has to be doing something right.
Sounds good? It gets better. Switch from the single-player campaign to the online multiplayer mode, and Bad Company 2 is the first console battlefield to deliver the kind of experience that made the series’ name on the PC. The focal Conquest and Rush modes give you the epic maps and vehicular mayhem we used to take for granted from Battlefield 2, but the destructible scenery and map design arguably up the carnage factor, making Bad Company 2 arguably the most thrilling, unpredictable shooter in town - and that includes Modern Warfare 2. And if you want a tighter, more concentrated hit, the Squad Rush and Squad Deathmatch modes deliver, decreasing the numbers, but also reducing the scale to make things quick, dirty and explosive.
With comprehensive overhauls to the single-player and multiplayer modes, Bad Company 2 is everything you’d want from a console Battlefield. The surprise is that, by the standards of any franchise, it’s an exemplary military shooter, and better in many respects than the genre’s current benchmark, Modern Warfare 2. Unless you’re sick and tired of shooting goons in uniform, you need this game in your collection.