By Phill Cameron on February 3rd, 2010 at 10:55 am.
The true casualty of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 isn’t the hundreds of soldiers who die each round, or even the dozens of vehicles that lie strewn across the battlefield, slowly reduced to scrap and rubble by continued ordnance as they’re used as cover by desperate marines. The true casualty is the scenery. You’re presented with a pristine (or mostly pristine) landscape that is about to become a battlefield. The soldiers are like a horde of locusts, sweeping through for their conflict, leaving the entire place ravaged and skeletal, each building a carcass stripped of all its outer walls, and most its inner, until it’s little more than a few support columns and what remains of a roof. Bad Company 2 is devastation: arbitrary and completely unhindered.
There’s an inherent lack of fairness in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 that reeks of realism. There are dozens of ways someone else has an advantage over you, and almost all of them can and will happen, to the extent where just picking where to spawn is a delicate risk assessment venture. The adage ‘Life’s not fair’ may seem cheesy, but when applied to a battlefield, it becomes a little more pertinent.
But that’s ok. Yes, there is an almost laughable amount of different ways someone else can kill you with little to no chance on your part to counter them, but the flipside of that is that you’re also a person, and so you can do just as many dickish things to them. And we all know that being a dick is superfun.
Let me tell you about my favourite way to be a dick. It’s completely passive, and means I get the rest of my team to be dicks on my behalf, but that’s just fine with me, because they’re the ones getting shot at. It involves me finding the safest high place I can, and then slowly sweeping my sights over the battlefield, picking out enemy players and pressing ‘Q’. This puts a little marker over their heads for about twenty seconds. Well, that’s twenty seconds if they survive that long.
Playing as a spotter makes you suddenly feel invaluable to your team. Mark a tank and all the engineers whip out their anti-tank launchers and take it out. Mark a sniper and all your snipers start taking pot shots. And marking the other soldiers just gets everyone to dick on them.
The other benefit of it is that it provides order in the chaos of the battlefield. As anyone who has played a Battlefield game before will know, things get, to put it mildly, frenetic. Grenades are exploding, tanks are rolling past, and thousands of rounds of ammunition are sailing through the sky, just waiting to plunge into a soft, fleshy target. And, with DICE’s Frostbite engine, that chaos is elevated to a whole new level of crazy. Buildings explode, craters litter the ground, and the cover you’re cowering behind is only a second away from becoming an impromptu shrapnel grenade. And, y’know, not cover any more.
For a beta, Bad Company 2 seems to be on the near side of polished, and while there are a few latent lag issues and the odd bug relating to key inputs, it seems to be more there to provide information on balancing, to make the whole thing more streamlined and.. well, balanced, when it comes out in March. Thing is, there’s a certain level of imbalance that seems a requisite for a game like this. It’s trying to provide the feeling of being part of an army, holding a front against the enemy and defending or attacking a position. And really, I don’t think there’s ever been a single instance of two armies being evenly matched. One might have numbers, but the other skill, and with the level that’s been provided for the Beta, such asymmetrical concepts have been introduced with the vehicles that are provided.
Featuring a game mode called ‘Rush’, which involves one team attacking while the other defends a pair of points that have to be bombed before the attackers can advance to the next pair of points, the snowy strip that provides the battlefield quickly devolves into a mess of ramshackle buildings, yawing with gaping artillery cavities and rubble-strewn wounds, what once were walls now just a bigger doorway. It’s out of this that the real joy of Bad Company 2 emanates.
It can only really happen in the multiplayer space. There’s an emergent narrative that slowly builds in each match that is almost the sole reason for continued play. Sure, there’s a ranking system and unlocks, but this is where the real meat of the game lies. It’s the time you and your squad huddled behind the burning wreckage of a tank, gunning down enemies as they run in to take you out. It’s the time you managed to get past the enemy defences unnoticed, and stabbed and shot your way through a group of snipers nesting in the upper levels of a half-built house. Or it’s the time you found an enemy sniper in a building across the street, and then when you went over to deal with him, found him gone, and in the building you just vacated. You head over, a frantic pistol duel ensues, and while he reloads you stab him in the throat. Man, that was satisfying.
These aren’t new stories. Well, they are, but the platform providing them isn’t. Really, the huge, glaring, attention-seeking part of Bad Company 2 is that this is the first time Frostbite has made it to our PCs. And it’s been worth the wait, really. It provides an extra layer of verisimilitude that makes it all the easier to slip into the role of the soldier and start swearing over the gunfire as an RPG just whistles past your head. Blind siding a gun emplacement by blowing out the flanking wall just feels right, in a way that wasn’t possible before. The way the ground deforms under artillery and heavy weapons looks damn-near perfect, and having a mounted gun suddenly notice you in a forest and open fire, only to cut down half the trees around you is one of the most exhilarating, and terrifying, experiences I’ve had in a while.