Keeping Bad Company, twice

Continuing the play-through-the-PS3-backlog project, I’ve just completed the two Battlefield: Bad Company games, my first proper excursion into the Battlefield world. I didn’t play any of the multiplayer, so I assume this means I am now an associate dudebro.

I played both games in quick succession, so I kind of viewed them as one lengthy game in two parts rather than discrete entities. This probably isn’t ideal, but given that the games are so similar, mechnically – brief control changes and a reasonable graphic upgrade for the second notwithstanding – it makes sense. They’re both console shooters, and both look fairly pretty – play F.E.A.R. 2 on PS3 for contrast – and are mostly player-friendly, though there’s some difficulty spikes.

From the outset, though the setting – a war with Russia! – is a bit grim, the esprit de corps is irreverent and jokey. You’re a new transfer to a US Army company that’s basically only good for cannon fodder, and you soon find a home with The Leader Who’s One Day Away From Retirement, The Monster Truck-Lovin’ Redneck and The Nerd.

You know, these guys.

What follows is  something influenced by both Three Kings and Kelly’s Heroes – a buddy action-comedy romp that sees you visit expansive, explosive behind-enemy-lines locales in order to kill other dudes, crack wise and look for stray gold bars.

(Short version: if you like those movies, you’ll like these games, so play them.)

There’s a bit of a disconnect between the first and second games. You end the first with a truckload of gold and yet are back in khaki at the start of the second. What happened in the interim? Did you buy monster trucks and spend a bunch of ingots on coke, only to decide that you missed bugles and heavy weaponry? It’s never explained, disappointingly.

Instead of gold, the second game (with a helpful tutorial opener told as a flashback to the 1940s) has you on the trail of a mysterious weaponised McGuffin which seems to be a scalar device that destroys cities using the Inception button. 

Both single player stories exist to shove the player into some pretty enormous set pieces, and for the most part they work well. There’s not many games which will push you out of an exploded cargo plane in order to kill the bad guy, and fewer still that will force you to complete missions inside a gold-pimped helicopter owned by a military Borat, so it’s nice that this pair funnel so many cinematic moments towards the player. The Frostbite engine debuted in the first of these games, and much like Red Faction on the PS2, it’s all about blowing shit up. Most things can be demolished with explosives, and it’s surprisingly satisfying to short-circuit a sniper’s plans by blowing up a gas tank next to their hidey-hole, thus launching them into orbit instead of having to, you know, skilfully knock them on the head.

Schnapps, no doubt.

The stories are pushed onwards by cut-scenes, and it’s apparent from the level design that the areas are meant to be used in a multiplayer context: if you try to go out of bounds you’ll see a timer warning of imminent death, and though the approaches around the levels are fairly free – ninja through the trees stabbing motherfuckers with aplomb or just ride a tank in, either way works – there’s not a sense that the levels are connected in an open-world kind of way. Instead, there’s checkpoints at which your progress is automatically saved, which is usually fine, except for occasional portions where the gap is too large, or a save point comes just before a twitch-reflex sequence that will require many, many attempts to pass.

I guess this is my key concern with the game: it’s usually pretty fair, so when it isn’t it’s absolutely fucking infuriating. There’s a raft of one-shot-kill enemies that’ll take your head off as soon as look at you, and it seems a little bit like narrative delay by the developers, where elsewhere things are more evenly matched. This is not aided by the frankly terrible team AI: generally your team will only go forward into the next part of the map if you do, and half the time they’ll block your way, ensuring you act as a convenient bullet sponge. (They can’t die, so perhaps they think you’re gifted with such wonder, too.)

Making Russia the bad guy in these games kind of makes sense – an ongoing Cold War is probably second only to What If The Nazis Won? in alternate military histories – but it does seem a bit bolted on. I mean, there’s not a lot in the way of master plans or ideologies: they’re just dudes who shoot at you, apart from the occasional major villain who chews his way through the scenery like nobody’s business. They could be from any made-up country, and while I suppose realism is the hook upon which the series generally hangs its hat, there’s nothing wrong with bending it a bit; these are the dodgy brothers of the line of games, right?

See! It’s all fun and games until your legs come off.

I’m not really the typical Battlefield player, because the multiplayer part of the game – certainly a large part of the second game – is not that important to me. I’m not really someone who plays multiplayer games online, largely because when I have, I’ve run into the sort of guys who, well, give that sort of shit a bad name. So I’m sure there’s a lot of the experience that I’m missing, at least according to a lot of the people that play these things. But hell, are people gonna really still be playing these online, about a decade after release?

Thought not.

Are these great games? No, not really. But they’re fun to play, and are definitely worth checking out if you’ve a PS3 and haven’t given them a whirl. They’re frustrating at times, and clunky at others, though there’s a certain goofy charm to them. And you know, blowing things up never really gets old.

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