Gripping the barrel of my M16A2 firmly, I move slowly through the wreckage of a South American dockside rail depot. The roof is all but gone, and the railway tracks are barely visible beneath the piles of rubble. I wend my way through the debris, occasionally glancing over to the medic, who inches his way along the remains of the depot's concrete wall. We know that well-equipped Russian mercenaries are in the area and contact could come at any time.
Without warning the wall erupts. Lethal chunks of concrete shower the depot as a HEAT round from a Russian tank smashes into the building. My ears ring from the blast - I can only dimly hear the chatter of the assault rifles as the combat begins.
But not to worry! This is Battlefield. And that medic whose corpse is cartwheeling through the air before me, limp and lifeless? It's none other than our very own Felix_GD!
If you've never played any of the Battlefield games, read on and feast yourself on the majesty of delights ahead. However, please permit me to quickly address those veterans of the franchise:
Welcome back, guys. It's business as usual. Same old youngsters waiting until the helo is full of people, then stacking it immediately into a cliff. Same old arguments about whether the highest scorer really is that good or if he's cheating. Same old hooligans running each other over before parachuting from a first-story window. Get in there.
Right, now, back to the review. Battlefield is a long-running franchise of first-person war games that can be played single-player, but are generally recognised as designed for multiplayer. While there have been World War 2 and Vietnam iterations in the past, the fashionable way to go these days is modern warfare. Meet Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
There are three distinct ways to play BC2. Firstly, there's the single-player campaign. While this is better than most Battlefield games (which have merely been the multiplayer maps, devoid of any real structure, played with armies of bots), it's still a lacklustre offering. If you were paying full price for just a single-player game, you'd hope to get a little more than the four or five hours Bad Company 2 will provide. The story and characters are... the only word that comes to mind is ‘obvious'. The dialogue is ‘hilarious' insofar as it's full of ‘amusing' referential jokes about how much better it is than other modern shooters such as Modern Warfare 2 and Ghost Recon. It serves as a fairly good tutorial for the multiplayer, but not much more.
Second of the three ways to play BC2 is multiplayer - with people you don't know. So it'll probably come as no surprise, then that the third and best way to play is multiplayer with a gang of friends. The difference is really staggering. It's fun to just jump onto a multiplayer server and have at it for a couple of hours, of course, but when it's your drinking buddies, or Nigel from work, or your best friend who has been loyally at your side since you were both nippers... well that's something else altogether. This isn't really something unique to BC2 though, it's a multiplayer thing.
And what of the multiplayer? There are a handful of maps at the moment, which are fairly varied but smaller than I'm used to from previous Battlefield games. This appears to be intentional, to limit the advantage of sniper rifles and to give more of a ‘front line' feel to things. There are no jets, and helicopters are rare. 32-a-side servers are common and as players are poached from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, these servers are getting more and more crowded daily. Classic Battlefield ‘conquest' gameplay is the norm, where control points have to be captured and held against the enemy, and a few other game modes are thrown in for good measure - ‘rush' features a pair of computer consoles that must be defended by one team against the destructive tendencies of the other team, then when the two consoles have been destroyed the defenders must fall back and defend a further two, and so on... effectively giving the feel of a shifting front-line. Of course, there is the compulsory ‘squad deathmatch', if you and your friends want to take on the world. Be warned, though - this seems to be the go-to game mode for some serious players, so prepare to have your behind repeatedly handed to you in a formal ceremony, tied with a nice little ribbon.
Battlefield 2: Bad Company system requirements are pretty greedy, and there are a few technical quibbles that bear mentioning. Even with my Radeon HD4870 I was under the recommended specs and the screen flickered like billy-oh whenever it wasn't in first-person view. I fell off a couple of servers and only had intermittent microphone use as well (a big deal when you're playing with chums, less so when you're just battling with all-comers). The multiplayer lobby interface leaves a bit to be desired as well; I couldn't find the friends tab at first, and the check boxes have crosses in them. Does this mean they're selected or not selected?
So it's Battlefield. If you've never played it before, and fancy playing war with your mates, welcome aboard. There's never been a better time to get involved in one of the most wickedly enjoyable ways you can use your computer. If you've followed the series since 1942 (the game, obviously, not the year), you'll probably not see a ton of new features which make the game more fun than it's ever been. This isn't really a criticism - the problem is merely that it's already so fun that the changes are minor and cosmetic. The destructible environments are a nice touch of realism, not to mention the tactical options they open up to canny players. New weapon and equipment unlocks are paced at such a rate that there's always something else available really soon to coax you into that ‘just one more turn' at three in the morning. When it comes to the crunch, though, you're not enjoying the game because of these things. What Battlefield: Bad Company 2 does that is real magic is capture that "Bang bang! Your dead!" breathless excitement that schoolchildren feel playing war in the playground.
Come and find us! Baron_Squee and Felix_GD can occasionally be found pwning no0bs on a server near you!