Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Single Player Review

    I finally finished Battlefield: Bad Company 2, tho I had to call in a ringer. (As noted in my Vent from 14 April 2010, I had gotten stuck during the helicopter dogfight in "No one gets left behind". Reibo took my controller and got thru the part which had stymied me for days in about 30 seconds. I was suitably humbled.) Throughout the campaign, I played with Everglide stereo headphones, Samsung HD monitors, and an XIM360 mouse and keyboard adapter. Here are my overall impressions of the game, cannibalized from two blog posts:

    After thoroughly enjoying the original Battlefield: Bad Company single player, I eagerly laced up my boots as primary protagonist Private Preston Marlowe (David Menkin) and rejoined my Bad Company comrades: tough-as-nails Sergeant Redford (Bruce Johnson), LMG-toting techno-geek Private Sweetwater (Richard Lynson), and Southern fried explosives expert Private Haggard (Nigel Whitmey, a Canadian!). (Why are so many videogame badasses only privates, anyway?) In Battlefield: Bad Company 2, as in BC1, the friendly banter of the Bad Company crew is enjoyable, with above average voice acting. Bruce Johnson's Sergeant Redford comes across as authoritative whenever he orders you, as Marlowe, to flank the enemy or get a rocket launcher to shoot down an incoming aircraft. Johnson is certainly the best voice actor of the four, delivering his dialogue in the barking manner perfectly suited to the role of a hard-boiled Army NCO. 
    Battlefield: Bad Company 2's gameplay is a bit more linear than Battlefield: Bad Company, tho it's not glaringly obvious. The developers leave a lot more options open for moving toward your objective than in any CoD game. Flanking is frequently encouraged by voice dialogue. Your AI comrades can also be trusted to keep the enemy busy while you maneuver around to get the drop on them. Unlike many CoD games, the enemy AI doesn't magically focus exclusively on you as soon as you try to get around to a good firing position.
    Your AI buddies generally perform their support roles very well, rarely screwing up. Towards the latter sections of the game, they jammed up in doorways a few times and blocked me. That might have been because, whenever the scripting permitted it, I would let the friendly AI move up first and get shot in order to spot the enemy locations. Some FPSes feature fail conditions for your comrades getting killed, but DICE doesn't add that layer of difficulty to the game. (More on difficulty later.) Your AI pals can't die, so it's OK to let them take one for the team to help out.
    Without giving away too much, the campaign opens with a World War 2 prologue which nicely sets up the backstory for the modern day plot. The prologue is tremendous fun, packed with action that could easily be the climax of another game. But the prologue also illustrates one of the few major weaknesses of both the original Bad Company and Bad Company 2: Repetitiveness in the graphics. The four protagonists of the prologue look almost exactly alike. Unlike the four primary characters of Bad Company, the faces of the four WWII commandos are virtual carbon copies, indistinguishable from each other in the cut scenes. The enemies in the main campaign are rolled that way, too. If you grease the red-beret Spetsnaz commander, his identical twin will come out of an alley 10 seconds later to blaze away at you. Likewise, if you've seen one hulking, armored Bolivian merc with a light machine gun, you've literally seen them all. 
    The extreme similarity of the NPC faces struck me as lazy, graphically speaking, but it's a minor quibble that fails to detract from the joy of demolishing building after building. As in the original Bad Company, the environments are deliciously destructible. Unfortunately, many of the smaller structures seem to have been imported directly from the original Battlefield: Bad Company almost unchanged, with only a new coat of graphical paint. The same 3-4 room garden shed-sized buildings are frequently reused. The dingy interiors with the same peeling wallpaper have a cramped, cookie-cutter feel to them, especially if you're a Bad Company campaign veteran.

 * "Will you still respect me in the morning?"

    Overall, the graphics have been amped up admirably, tho. I initially started the single player campaign on an Xbox 360 setup with only 1080i max resolution. I wound up finishing on an Xbox 360 with a 1080p monitor, and the graphics were beautiful on both. I couldn't tell the difference, really, between 1080i and 1080p. Oon the Xbox 360, the graphics are just a tiny notch below Modern Warfare 2's, mostly due to the latter's superior scaling at distance.
    While the graphics are markedly improved in distance effects, weather, and environmental effects, it's when when Bad Company 2 takes you to a totally new environment, like the interior of a huge, equipment-packed cargo plane, that the graphics really shine. The destructible aspect of the BC2 maps are then used to tremendous effect, with a more realistic feel than any other shooter.
    The audio track for the game also deserves special mention. Though I played through with stereo headphones, rather than a surround sound setup, the audio still impresses. Sound effects throughout are crisp and realistic. The ambient sounds of the different environments are also very well done, tho I wish the weapon sounds had a bit more punch. The primary sound effect for the mystery weapon ramp-up is terrifyingly memorable and was my favorite in-game sound. (Spoiler warning: It sounds familiar, too... Could it be... a riff on this?)
    Both the friendly AI and enemy AI foreign language dialogue are a bit repetitive. If you're off scrounging weapons or ammo, the friendly AIs run out of dialogue and start over until you catch up to them. Since I speak Spanish, I was able to distinguish two or three threads of dialogue which repeat in the Bolivian encounters.

    Bad Company 2, unlike shooters like Call of Duty, also gives you unparalleled freedom in your weapons loadout. Your kit is one primary and one secondary weapon and a special use item, like a target designator for air strikes or the famous repair tool. Thru the use of strategically placed weapon drops in the game, these can be any weapon you want. This freedom of choice comes in handy, as certain missions are better handled with different weapons. The default assault rifle is the XM8 with an ACOG sight, but I ultimately fell in love with the AN-94 with RDS and grenade launcher and the Carl Gustav rocket launcher. With that combo, I felt fully prepared to take on pretty much anything in the game. With the AN-94, you could spray up close, burst-snipe more distant targets, with the grenade launcher in reserve against light armored vehicles and enemy gun emplacements. The Carl Gustav rocket launcher is moderately effective against aircraft; it's a slight learning curve for leading flying targets. But the rocket launcher makes short work of hardened enemy positions like the armored machine gun turrets. There were certainly moments where shotguns, sniper rifles or light machine guns were handy, but I always switched back to my personal winning combo whenever possible. 
    Weapons handling, at least of the infantry weapons, has a realistic feel to it, also. When I missed an enemy, I felt it was because of my own sloppy aim, not because of some artificially introduced inaccuracy. If you lined up your sights properly, the enemy would go down. Ammo is generously provided; it can be scavenged from dropped weapons. DICE has also included ammo points, stacked crates of ammo, which automagically replenish your ammo when you approach them. Likewise, your ammo is also resupplied from the weapon drops. All of these items, including downed enemy weapons, are displayed on your HUD mini-map to help track them down. For those who enjoyed the original Bad Company's collectible weapons achievements, Bad Company 2 also rewards you for picking up battlefield trophies during the campaign.

    The health system has been revamped in Bad Company 2 as well. DICE has discarded the auto-injector of BC1 in favor of the CoD-style health regeneration. After finding cover, you wait for your POV to clear, signaling that you've recovered your health. Though vision-obscuring effects are used to symbolize the effect of your injuries, DICE has wisely avoided the "strawberry jam" effect that's so profoundly annoying in MW2.
    One aspect of the game which does annoy is the frequent use of fade-to-blacks. And there are a lot of them. It seems whenever the Bad Company 2 heroes have three or four lines of exposition, it requires a brief fade to black before that few seconds of talking. Sometimes you'll come out of the cut scene, be in the game for a few seconds, and go right into another cut scene. Some portions of the game that should logically be playable moments instead play out in cut scenes. I'm not saying these are game-breakers, but the frequent fade to blacks definitely take me out of the moment.
    Another thing that took me out of the moment - indeed completely out of the single player campaign in a ragequit that lasted a couple of days - was an unexpectedly difficult chapter. After moving steadily thru the campaign, I got hopelessly stuck at the helicopter dogfight in "No One Gets Left Behind". (Spoiler warning: YouTube link goes to 3m:40s with Spiderbite of NextGenTactics effortlessly getting past the exact point where I was stuck.) When I got shot down the first couple of times, I wasn't all that annoyed. After 20 tries, I was really, really pissed off. Even on the crankiest CoD levels with the unfairest, cheatingest AI ever in the universe, I've never been that pissed off before. Before my blood pressure red-lined, I turned the Xbox 360 off and cooled off for a few days. According to my Google research on that chapter, a lot of players had problems getting through that section. I simply couldn't get my weapon to traverse quickly enough to target the second attacking helicopter, tho über-player Reibochief managed it for me easily. If Reibo hadn't helped me out, I probably would never have finished the campaign.
    The FPS controls which work nicely for targeting enemy on foot didn't translate all that well for me for guiding vehicles, especially aircraft. DICE provides timely onscreen hints to assist in the transition, but, thru no fault of the game, they were scant help to me using the XIM360 mouse and keyboard adapter. I pretty much hated the obligatory tank and UAV portions of the game, tho they were no great challenge on Regular difficulty.
    I had blogged earlier that I wasn't going to be as charitable to Battlefield: Bad Company 2 as I was to its predecessor. I'm backing off on that now, tho. Battlefield: Bad Company 2's campaign is much more enjoyable than Modern Warfare 2's. The sights, sounds and experiences are a feast for the senses, and the storyline doesn't make you want to punch your monitor (or the story's authors). Aside from the one infuriating point where I got stuck due to my own lack of skill, the campaign at Regular difficulty was challenging enough without being unduly frustrating. (Some reviewers have complained that the campaign is a little too easy.) 
    The campaign's climax is over the top in a satisfying, James Bondian way. Nowhere did I stop and say, "WTF?!? That's impossible!" Tho something of a cliffhanger, the conclusion is both visually cool and stylistically satisfying, and it's marred only slightly by the intrusive fadeouts. Unlike other cliffhanger endings I could mention - *cough* Modern Warfare 2 *cough* - it's a strong and satisfying finale to the game. And, like all good franchises, the game fades out with an epilogue setting up a suitably epic sequel: the inevitable Bad Company 3.
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