As video games become increasingly more realistic our expectations grow. Take Battlefield Bad Company for example. You can totally destroy the side of a building, yet you can't take the whole building down, and that makes us disappointed. For as technically impressive as Bad Company is, we wanted more. That doesn't stop it from being the first excellent single-player game in the Battlefield series. It's an enjoyable, action packed and explosive campaign, and bolstered by some excellent multiplayer, but how does it stack up to current favourite Call of Duty 4?
Bad Company casts you as the newest member of a four-man squad, expectedly named Bad Company. After a very short journey on the back of a truck all hell breaks loose and you're in the thick of action. Although level based, with the action moving from one location to another via load screens, each level is large and set in a fully explorable mini open world. Objective locations are fixed but how you approach each situation is up to you, allowing you to manoeuvre around the side of a target or take it head on.
Soon enough doing the right thing goes out of the window, with a huge amount of gold being the new reason to keep fighting. The storyline touches on serious issues but for the most part veers towards the comedy side of the fence, with team mates often making jokes and the sense of danger never as strong as you might expect. The action is often pretty intense and death will occur frequently, but at every possible opportunity the tension is lowered by a one liner.
What also helps make Bad Company feel very different to the impending doom of Call of Duty 4 is how death doesn't mean you're thrown back to a checkpoint. If you fail to complete a time sensitive objective then there's no option but to restart, but death at any other time will simply see you re-spawn at the last save point, with the action continuing from where it left off. It's reminiscent of the Vital Chambers in BioShock and, although lessening the difficulty somewhat, makes for a game that never gets bogged down.
Of course, dying is still annoying, especially if you've got a trek to get back in the middle of the action, so it's essential that you stay on top of your health. Throughout the game you have unlimited use of a health pack injector, restoring you to full health anywhere on the battlefield. Its use is restricted somewhat by a recharge time, so it's impossible to rely entirely on it, but before too long you'll have mastered the ability to select it, inject, and then switch back to your main weapon.
Speaking of weapons, Bad Company features quite a few, although you can only carry one primary set and a secondary weapon. Your primary set is often a machine gun that also doubles as grenade launcher (ideal for blowing holes in buildings), but you'll get access to a Sniper rifle and handgun combo, or automatic weapon and grenade combo. Your secondary weapon usually depends on the situation. At times you'll be carrying an RPG or C4 charges, but at other times you can take a more distant approach and mark a target for an air strike. There is certainly no shortage of variety in Bad Company.
Being a Battlefield game vehicles obviously play a big part too, although it's slightly disappointing that for the most part you can't take the gunner position. It's not that the game doesn't allow it (you can easily switch seats) but that your team mates don't take over the driving, making you a sitting duck. One section of the game features a lengthy helicopter section (which thankfully lets you fly and shoot at the same time), but other than that you're mainly restricted to driving, be it a jeep, truck or boat.
Bad Company's single-player campaign is action packed from start to finish, but a few things prevent it from being up there with Call of Duty 4. The biggest problem is the twitchy controls. Even on the lowest sensitivity both versions of the game simply don't feel right. It's too easy to lose control of your aim, and the zoomed in view doesn't help too much, although it is easier. After a few hours you get used to it, but compared to the near perfect console controls found in CoD4, Bad Company is a disappointment.
The other major disappointment stems from the amount of explosive barrels and crates scattered around every choke point in the game. The explosions look great, but it's rare for them to be of any real use. Enemies are more often than not nowhere near them, making them nothing more than eye candy. Almost the same is true of the building destruction. Yes, you can blow a hole in a wall, and yes it does look great, but it's not as damaging to enemies as you might think. If these two most exciting aspects of the game had tied more closely to the gameplay Bad Company would have been a far more exhilarating experience.
Still, the levels are massive - although there are only seven of them - and the sense of being in a conflict can only currently be matched by CoD4. Given the free-roaming nature of the environments the game looks great too, sporting some stunning lighting and highly detailed gun and character models. For the most part both versions of the game run very well too, although the PS3 game seems ever so slightly more solid and suffers from less screen tearing. Audio work is truly exceptional, with a surround sound set-up being essential if you want to get the most out of the game. The sound of gun-fire echoes in your ears (and in the in-game buildings) and there's a great soundtrack to boot.
Single-player is only one half of the Bad Company package, with online multiplayer also on offer on both consoles. Sadly there's no co-op play (which would have worked brilliantly) but there is large-scale competitive online play. Oddly, you only have the game mode Gold Rush (the variant on traditional base attack and defence, as seen in the online beta). You get eight maps to play in, each being pretty large compared to those in your average FPS. Vehicles most certainly play a part and the action is constantly moved as territory is captured and objectives are completed.
As in any good online shooter these days, Bad Company includes a number of different classes (Assault, Demolition, Specialist, Recon and Support) and a promotion system, which should give the game the kind of life-span and addictive quality seen in Call of Duty 4. As you score points you edge ever nearer to another rank, which when reached allows you to buy an item from the in-game store. These items really can change the way your chosen class can play the game, with such items as the mortar attack for the Support class opening up new offensive opportunities.
Our early online matches proved to be quite the learning experience as the destructible environments make Bad Company a very different game to the majority of other shooters. To begin with we struggled to overcome sneakily placed snipers, but soon enough we realised what game we were playing and launched a grenade into the hiding spot, blowing the building and said sniper into oblivion. Of course, being behind a wall is often still better than standing out in the open, but finding other cover that won't see the roof collapse on you (perhaps just behind a crest of a small hill) is a pretty good alternative. The only real concern is the lag we experienced during a number of online matches. For the most part this was minimal, but occasionally it made for completely unplayable games.
There was a worry that Battlefield's multiplayer would take the back seat in Bad Company, but that isn't the case at all. In fact it's the multiplayer (even with only one game mode at the moment) that wins out over the single-player campaign. The use of the destructible environment is more exciting in the multiplayer arena, making up for its cursory use in the campaign. With one new game mode guaranteed to arrive for free at some point after the game's release, CoD4 may have some competition on its hands.
Battlefield Bad Company might look like just another FPS but it feels very different. The open-world levels make for some unique gameplay opportunities and the multiplayer mode looks like it should gain a very large online community. The lack of any stand-out set-pieces and the initially twitchy controls prevent Bad Company from earning top marks, but it's a solid effort from DICE that any FPS fan is advised to pick up.