This first Game Of Christmas is a game that is all about unwrapping things. Unwrapping them with explosives. Let's see what we're jabbering about behind the first window...
It's... Battlefield: Bad Company 2!
If there's one game series that the PC needs to see extended and revitalised, it's that of Battlefield. What we want is for Battlefield 3 to turn up, and for it to be the perfect reinstatement of the multiplayer combat game. We even know that Battlefield 3 is definitely in the pipeline, but it has been a long time coming, and there could still be a long way yet to go. It was fortunate therefore that Battlefield Bad Company 2's multiplayer should be such an excellent stopgap.
Now, I should stop at this juncture and point out that I'm really not holding up Battlefield Bad Company 2's single player as one of the games of the year. It was an entirely average single player experience which, despite the capacity to destroy scenery, had largely abandoned my imagination within a few hours of playing it? What happened there? It was just another military FPS. The same was not true of the multiplayer, and that was what kept me interested, on and off, for the entire year.
BFBC2's multiplayer follows the now-classic template of two teams making war, each team being made up of a selection of classes – in this case assault, for ammo supply and shooty, engineer, for pro- and anti-vehicle powers, medic, for revive and heal, and recon, for sniping and other stuff. Each of these classes has a huge selection of extra kit that can be unlocked by playing with that class over time. There are also vehicle unlocks, which are earned through time using vehicles.
What I found compelling about BFBC2 was that it was the first time the unlock system in this kind of game really made sense to me. Rather than feeling like I was being denied cool stuff from the outset, I felt like I was simply earning a wider selection of tools as I went along. Although the game has overall levels for the players, it never felt vertical in structure: I was right in there, helping with the fight from the first moments. That's probably least true for the recon, who really needs the mortar and a decent sniper rifle to be effective, and most true for the medic and engineer, who are both pretty badass from the first couple of unlocks. All in all it reminded me of PlanetSide and other "flat" shooters with a system for progression, where even the newbie could contribute to the fiercest battle.
I'm predisposed to be a shooty fellow, however, and I have spent most of my time playing as the assault class. It's this that drew me in even further, because the rewards for always making sure my squad, and team at large, were supplied with ammo, kept me on my toes throughout any and every game I played in. The rewards system actually nudged me towards teamplay in exactly the way so many other games have failed to do over the years.
There was no prone. This was a good thing. It really was. I've got Arma II for realism, BFBC2 was about bonkers silliness, and prone would have overcomplicated and imbalanced things.
BFBC2 leans heavily on Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142 for its unlocks and other game features - things that that make it worth playing for more than pure gun action - but there was also a new game-mode, Rush, for which BFBC2 can largely take credit (although I believe there was a mod that did something similar?) Anyway, while the familiar Battlefield conquest maps were certainly welcome, the Rush modes – in which two objectives per section of each level had to be destroyed by one team, and defended by the other - produced a refresh direction to play. The attack/defence dynamic felt remarkably vigorous and was a welcome change from other, more tired modes of the past. The map design, too, excelled for this mode, with some superb – both visually and spatially strong – environments for players to do war in.
Of course, the other aspect of the environments which looms over all this was the destruction tech, which allows certain materials to be obliterated by the players. This destructiveness extends from wirelink fences which can be slashed open with a combat knife, to reinforced concrete walls that can be cracked and shattered, before being totally destroyed by high explosives. This tech is extremely important to the cosmetic appeal of the game: seeing the environments gradually becoming broken down and devastated by the firefights that rage through them is extraordinarily evocative. But it's also important tactically: blowing a whole in a wall to create an entrance to a building, flattening structures that might provide a hiding place for the enemy, this all becomes routine in the way BFBC2 plays out. And it still feels remarkably fresh, even after a hundred hours of play. More than that, it makes other shooters seem stiff and lifeless - after enough BFBC2 it becomes strange that other game environments are so unyielding to your heavy weapons.
What was most surprising for me, after all this time, was that I was able to really get back into a team-based FPS. While I've dabbled in everything over the past few years, I realise I've haven't actually sunk a huge amount of time into anything since Battlefield 2. It was delightful and refreshing for this to be as playable as it was. The problems with lag, the protracted hideousness of the browser, the lack of actual new maps (rather than revamps of existing environments) were all big problems, and the fact that they weren't enough to put me off playing attests to this being one of the games of the year. Well done, DICE. We'll have more like this, please. Only better.