Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Let's go save some cheerleaders."

I recently finished playing the single player campaign for Dice's latest masterpiece, Battlefield: Bad Company 2. The game mirrors COD:MW in many ways, but improves upon most of the aspects of the gameplay in its overly self-absorbed cousin.

What, no smiley-faced grenades?

The game is a sequel to the very enjoyable Battlefield Bad Company. Once again, we join our squad of miscreants and follow them as they battle through a brand new story. Where the last game took place in a fictional eastern bloc nation, this one takes place in real places as the US battles against a global Russian offensive. The game centers around Bad Co.'s search for a "scalar device" - essentially a large-scale EMP device a la "Ocean's Eleven", taking you from icy tundra (in Alaska, I think - see my complaint about this below) to jungle to desert (in Chile - yay!) and then ultimately back to Texas (airspace, anyway). (I apologize for the number of parentheticals in that sentence, but I don't get the benefit of Colbert's overlay when he does "the Word".) Oh, and the game starts in WWII-era Japan, because screw you, that's why.

First, the gameplay is awesome. It's fast-paced, much more so than it's predecessor which felt like the enemies were too few and far between. It's also varied, giving you a lot of different things to do including your standard running and gunning, sniping, shooting from a tank, jeep, helicopter, and four-wheeler (or "quad bike", as Sweetwater gayly calls it). Some of these elements worked really well, like the time you have to provide sniper cover to your team as they insert into an enemy base, but with the catch that you time your shots with the thunder that's going on around you. Or the time you run down a snowy mountain but have to periodically stop and warm yourself up. However, some of the gameplay elements fell a little flat, like designating targets with a laser designator or flying a UAV helicopter, which felt an awful lot like the AC-130 level from COD:MW, but not as much fun. On the whole however, these things worked out really well and made the game different and entertaining, with each level giving some surprises. Oh, and the opening level in Japan - hugging awesome.

Not only is the action great, but the engine is awesome. Pretty much everything can be exploded (yes, exploded) and there are plenty of opportunities to do so. You can level entire houses, destroy every bit of cover and otherwise wreak havoc on the countryside. The game does a good job of incorporating opportunities to do this, including a couple of great levels using a helicopter-mounted mini gun.

Yup, exploded.

The story was also pretty good. Nothing earth-shattering, but entertaining in its own right. It moved along quickly enough to keep my attention, but seemed to miss some important stuff, like where the eff you were a lot of the time. (Seriously, where does that first level take place? Alaska? Russia? On top of some mountain?) Oh, and it was a little unclear why you were doing a lot of the stuff you were doing. But I have that same complaint about COD:MW, and just about every other video game I've ever played. I always have a hard time following the plot. Nevertheless, despite the fact that they left it on a cliffhanger, setting it up for a sequel, I still immediately restarted the campaign and played through it again. And again. And again.

Where the game really shined was in its characters, dialogue, direction and voice acting. A lot of people really didn't like the characters and their banter from Bad Company 1. Not me. I loved it. Sure, it was silly that your squadmates would be goofing off right after a firefight in hostile territory while facing court martial, but the entire premise of the game was silly, so it fit within the world they created. I really enjoyed them playing rock-paper-scissors and annoying each other. It was a nice touch. Well, they dropped that for Bad Company 2, but what they did still works. Each character has more personality which comes out both in the cutscenes and in the in-game dialogue, which is better than pretty much any game I've ever played. There's a particularly good moment when Haggard sees a huge explosion and solemnly declares, "That is the greatest thing I have seen in my entire life."

Which brings me to my next point, the voice acting was great. The lines were all very well-delivered and properly timed, there were no annoying accents (Halo:Reach, Rainbow Six Vegas, COD:MW, I'm looking in your direction), and they fit into the scheme of the game and the story perfectly. While I liked Marlowe in the first game, I grew to love him here. He was sympathetic, emotional, and vulnerable, but also funny and skilled.

He's about to mess somebody up. You know, like nice guys do.

The cutscene direction was also very good. While some of the cutscenes were a little dry and expository, they were interspersed with enough interesting and sometimes, very cool stuff to keep my interest. In fact, there were a few points were I actually yelled because I thought they were so cool. One in particular comes to mind, where the squad is riding in a helicopter and they're suddenly barraged with rockets. The pilot (who was a very cool side character and had the best line of the game which can't be republished here due to my moderate self-censorship) takes evasive maneuvers which causes the aforementioned scalar device to fall out the side of the chopper. Marlowe, without even thinking, just jumps out after it. It was very, very cool.

Additionally, I'm not sure how these guys did it, but they managed to make the CG characters look and feel real. So often I find that the more real the animation, the less human the characters seem (see: the uncanny valley). But here, they didn't. It might be a result of the stellar voice acting, but it felt like there was something more that made the characters real and believable and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. However, my praise for this realism ends at the core squad. The other characters, including the character you play in the first level, had that same sort of hollowness that you find in most video game animations.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the game's sound. The sound is just unbelievably cool. From changing sound effects (guns are louder indoors) to engine-linked particle effects (you can hear dust and debris falling around you depending on where you are), the sounds really complete the gaming experience. That, and the gun sounds are very realistic. Having fired a lot of guns in my day, I can say that the gun sound effects in this game are more realistic than they are in any game I have ever played.

That's not to say the game is without its faults.

My main complaint with the campaign is the lack of checkpoints. This isn't really a problem in the early sections of the game, but becomes worse as the game goes on, hitting its obnoxious climax on the level "Sangre Del Toro." Despite the fact that this level takes place in Chile - which is awesome as I used to live there - I found myself shouting at the screen several times during this level and won't play it any more. The level takes place over a very large map and you have to drive to various points, get out of your car, fight off the bad guys, and then perform certain tasks. The problem is that the game checkpoints you immediately after you've performed the tasks, but not in between. What ends up happening, is you drive for minutes at a time to get to the next action and then die, having to start over again, driving for minutes at a time. There's a particularly annoying part where not only do you have to drive a whole bunch, but you have to stop, sit through an annoying and useless cutscene (there isn't even any story-related dialogue), listen to Sweet tell you that the obnoxious thing you just did was "cool", and then drive some more, through the blinding dust into an ambush that you won't survive on your first, second or third try. I think I wasted 20 minutes on that part the first time I played it. Now, I just drive to the point where I know they're waiting and blindly throw grenades into their midst. Not a very fun way to play, Dice. Neither is driving in the dust. I'm glad that your engine can realistically simulate wind and dust. Congratulations. That doesn't mean I want to constantly drive blindly through snow drifts and dust storms at the expense of your otherwise beautiful backdrops.

You will come to hate this place.

Along with this, I was also frustrated by how often you sit through a cutscene, then drive a whole bunch without doing anything, only to get to another point that initiates another cutscene. Why make me drive? It's not fun or interesting, so why can't you just transition to the next scene like they do in movies?

Another big complaint I have is with the cutscene transitions. In COD and sometimes in Reach, the cutscene transitions pretty seamlessly into the gameplay. Here, at the beginning and end of each cutscene, they fade in and out of black, respectively. It's very annoying, especially at the end where there is a series of cutscenes in pretty rapid succession which take place over the course of a few minutes in the story. The fades took me out of the story a bit and were distracting from the gameplay.

Finally, it's only a minor concern, but give me better gunsights, for crying out loud. Only a handful of the guns have acceptable gunsights. More often, you find that you are looking through your scope trying to line up a stupid carat, or worse, series of carats against a backdrop that makes them invisible. Use an effing red dot. Or if you must insist on using the carat, at least light it up on all the guns and not just the one scoped machine gun. And definitely don't use it for the sniper rifle, you jackoffs.

Guess how much time you spend looking at the only white space on the map.

Despite my complaints, which are really not that significant compared to the many, many awesome aspects of the game, I was really happy with the campaign and look forward to replaying it a whole bunch. It's a great game and well worth your time.

P.S. I haven't played much of the multiplayer, which is why most people play this game, but I plan to. The reality is that I don't buy games for the multiplayer as playing online is often an impossibility for me due to the lack of a pause feature.


Anonymous said...

LOL @ your desperation for the pause feature... That made me giggle..(not laugh)..

Daniel said...

I can't tell you how many times people have heard me yell at my kids through XBox live. I can't get up and make them go back to bed and keep playing, so I'm left with little option.