Recently it seems that publishers often appear to be in the dubious business of not only trying to get players to buy a game, but trying to direct our gaming dollars to particular retail outlets.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PS3 (reviewed), 360
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE
Release Date: 2009-03-02
As much as it might not seem fair to compare the Bad Company titles from the Battlefield series with the Modern Warfare games from the wildly popular Call of Duty franchise, it seems to be a comparison that Battlefield developers DICE welcome. While much of what reminds players of Infinity Ward's premiere series comes through deliberate gameplay choices, there are also some not so subtle jibes at Modern Warfare's expense. DICE clearly sees their offering standing shoulder to shoulder with Modern Warfare, if not actually exceeding it in any meaningful ways. Bad Company 2's tactical approach on Modern Warfare's territory is reminiscent of the way in which games like Saints Row attempted to carve out their own niche within the space best explored (and in that particular case pioneered) by Grand Theft Auto. Bad Company 2 takes lessons from the first Bad Company title, as well as from the Modern Warfare series, and the result is largely a very fun shooter.
Bad Company 2 leaves little room for complaints from a technical standpoint. The environments are well realized and detailed. While Bad Company 2's looks are impressive, it is in sound design that the game really excels. Gunfire punches heavily, and explosions rumble with appropriate menace. One of Bad Company 2's more accomplished aspects is in the destructibility of environmental features. There's very little in the game that you can't meaningfully damage. This actually adds an intriguing aspect to some of the multiplayer. Given that the strategic layouts of a given map can change drastically over the course of the battle, the battlefield is essentially terraformed by the combat occuring on it.
For a game so focused on multiplayer, it's unfortunate that those that neglected to (or possibly specifically chose not to) pre-order Bad Company 2 from Gamestop are locked out of the eight player squad rush mode for the first 30 days. While this really doesn't have anything to do with the game's quality, it still feels like gamers being effected by a rather corporate decision. I've certainly pre-ordered games in the past, but the only incentive that I've ever needed to do so was to be a fan of the franchise with the knowledge that I wanted a particular game and the fear that it might be hard to come by on release day. If there was a shirt or poster involved, that was an added bonus but certainly not a decision maker.
Recently it seems that publishers often appear to be in the dubious business of not only trying to get players to buy a game, but trying to direct our gaming dollars to particular retail outlets. Bad Company 2 is certainly not a different game than it would have been had this decision not been made. After day 30, when everyone is able to enjoy squad rush, it likely won't even be an issue. As it stands, it's an annoyance somewhat mitigated by the fact that those that didn't pre-order at Gamestop can be invited to join a squad rush game by those that did. They just can't start one on their own. However, it is an issue that bears mentioning, particularly given that many will be drawn to Bad Company 2 for its multiplayer alone.
As far as multiplayer modes are concerned, the aforementioned squad rush mode is a pared down version of the rush mode, which is typical attack and defend fare. Conquest is a play on the archetypal capture the flag mode. These modes are rounded out by the squad based deathmatch. All very standard, but well implemented and enjoyable. Despite how fun the multiplayer is, however, it does raise the question of the stagnation of development of multiplayer modes in general. Any problems that I have with Bad Company 2 have less to do with the adeptness of DICE at crafting an enjoyable multiplayer focused war FPS and more to do with my own opinions of what makes a game interesting in the first place.
We're starting to reach a point in game development where some development tools are becoming either easier to use, cheaper, or both. Akin to the first batch of successful independent film makers, we're beginning to see more and more independent games exploring the gaming medium and its tropes, and it's these games made by tiny teams with small or non-existent budgets and little desire to turn a massive profit that often wind up being the most interesting. Traditionally, however, alternative and independent games have focused on the single player experiences. Indeed, the "games as art" debate seems to rarely if ever include multiplayer titles.
More recently, titles like Hell is Other People have explored traditional notions of what it means to play games with others, essentially building an entire game around the concept of the recordings of previous player's actions (a concept also explored to a lesser degree by From Software's critical hit Demon's Souls). All of this is really a way of saying that it might be more interesting to see modern first person shooters try something different with their multiplayer offerings. The persistent leveling introduced in Modern Warfare is a welcome addition to Bad Company 2, but in the end, it's more a method to keep players coming back than anything else. The onus is clearly not on DICE to innovate, but it's certainly a thought that came to mind several times while playing the title.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is largely an impressive title. The single player experience, while action-packed, is a bit short and generic, but is a marked improvement over the first Bad Company. Further, as the focus is unapologetically on a high quality multiplayer experience, there's plenty of fun to be had for those that like to play online. At the end of the day, Bad Company 2 is really for those gamers that are huge fans of the military FPS subgenre and want a break from Modern Warfare 2, a game they've likely been playing since the day of its release. Gamers looking for innovation won't find it here, but that doesn't make the Bad Company 2 any less enjoyable. It isn't just a change of pace from Modern Warfare 2. Rather, it's an enjoyable alternative, and it will be interesting to see how Infinity Ward (or whoever is making the inevitable sequel to Modern Warfare 2) responds next time around.