I’d Rather Be Stealing Gold

In so many games, we’re always tasked with saving the world, sometimes the universe, or at the very least, the day. It can get tiring after a while, so I find it refreshing when a game gives me a different kind of objective, something selfish and un-heroic. The first Battlefield: Bad Company did just that. It put me in a squad of likable, selfish soldiers who would rather go chasing gold than follow orders. It was a fun adventure, but in creating these anti-heroes the game walked a very fine line.

Anti-heroes are nothing new in games, but creating a likable anti-hero is a challenge in any medium. Kratos from the God of War games has always been held up as the epitome of the anti-hero: violent, seemingly without morals, and uninterested in any conversation that doesn’t further his quest for revenge. Yet, despite these traits (or because of them?), he remains a very popular character. However, one of the more common criticisms against God of War 3 is that Kratos has gone over the edge. The level of violence that he inflicts on others is excessive to the point where he seems more like a villain than an anti-hero, and so picking a side in this battle between Kratos and Zeus is really just picking the lesser of two evils.

Then you have a character like Nathan Drake. For the first several hours of Uncharted 2, he’s acting in his own self-interest. He’s looking for the Lost Fleet of Marco Polo because of the possible fortune it represents and because he wants to steal the discovery away from a former friend. Then when the war criminal Lazaravic goes rampaging through a Nepalese city, Drake doesn’t go around helping people, he continues looking for treasure. However, despite this selfish streak he’s not really an anti-hero, he’s more of a lazy hero who doesn’t act until the last possible moment. He hops on a train to rescue Chloe after she’s taken onboard and it drives away, and he does eventually confront Lazaravic at the very end. Drake always steps up to save the day, he just needs more of a push than most video game heroes.

Then you have the men of Bad Company — Preston, Haggard, Sweetwater, and Sarge — who are motivated purely by gold. While the U.S. deals with Russia, they chase a group of mercenaries who are paid in gold bars with the intention of stealing that payment. Over the course of the game, they invade a neutral country, go AWOL, befriend a dictator, and finally abandon said dictator on a small island. There’s nothing remotely noble or heroic about any of their actions, and yet, they’re some of the more likable characters in gaming, a little clumsy, a little dimwitted, easily distracted, but reliable in a fight. They’re also sympathetic, since we see multiple instances where the military jerks them around: They’re sent to secure a harbor far behind enemy lines and Sweetwater asks, “Haven’t they got guys specially trained for that?” Sarge answers, “Yeah, but they’re too expensive to waste.” After the “invasion,” the military encourages them to find the dictator, then cuts them loose once they report in. This kind of manipulation helps us relate to their frustration and willingness to chase the gold.

Their actions are selfish but not violent like Kratos. B-Company is friendly like Drake but never act for the greater good. These traits create a rare kind of anti-hero that is both extremely likable and completely un-heroic and who shows zero desire to ever change.

But they do change. In the sequel, B-Company is back in the military, back following orders, and back on military approved missions. They’re not AWOL, and they’re not acting on their own. Haggard, who was so recklessly nonchalant beforehand that he invaded a neutral country on a whim, now seems to be constantly on edge and angry. His new personality is representative of the new tone of the campaign. As is typical of sequels, the story tries to be “bigger and badder” than the original by upping the stakes at every turn: No longer is B-Company just out to get rich, they’re out to save the day. In following this tradition, the game becomes more serious and loses the lighthearted appeal of the original. These once jovial anti-heroes becomes normal heroes with all the stress that role entails.

Bad Company 2 constantly pokes fun at Modern Warfare 2, both in game and in its marketing. It’s obvious that the developer and publisher want the world to see these two games as rivals, but in their desire to compete with Infinity Ward’s behemoth, I feel like the most unique aspect of the game, the comedy, was left behind. One look at the packaging confirms this. Gone is the grenade with the smiley face pin. In its place is a shadowy figure surrounded by heavy vehicles. Never mind the hovering names that suggest this is a snapshot of multiplayer play, the darkened man alone suggests a less lighthearted experience than what the first game offered, which is a shame because while I love the multiplayer and have nothing against saving the day every now and then, when I kick back with B-Company I’d rather be stealing gold.