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Review: Battlefield Bad Company 2 almost stands up to Modern Warfare 2

I took a break from Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer combat to give Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for the Xbox 360 a spin. And I was pleasantly surprised at how fun the new shooting game from Electronic Arts was to play.

I’m happy to see that one of the most competitive genres in all of video games — first-person shooter combat games — is heating up. On the one side, Activision Blizzard’s Modern Warfare 2 (made by Infinity Ward), has broken all records since it launched in November, selling at least 15 million copies. And on March 30, new multiplayer maps will be available for Modern Warfare 2 via downloadable content purchases. That new map release will keep Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer fans going for a while.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 debuted on March 2. EA announced that it sold more than 2 million copies in its first two weeks. That’s enough to make it a smash hit, but not on the same scale as Modern Warfare 2. Still, for fans of Modern Warfare 2, this game is worth picking up. I give the version I played on the Xbox 360 an 8.5 out of 10 score. In my opinion, it’s not better than Modern Warfare 2, taken on the whole. On average, Battlefied: Bad Company 2 is getting reviews of 88 out of 100 on Metacritic.com, a review aggregator, while Modern Warfare 2 got 95 out of 100.

DFC Intelligence reported that Battlefield: Bad Company 2 appeared to have a permanent impact on Modern Warfare 2 play, based on an analysis of the GamerDNA social network for gamers. Roughly 21 percent of Modern Warfare 2 gamers are playing Bad Company 2, while 81 percent of Bad Company 2 players also played Modern Warfare 2. That’s what you call head-to-head combat.

As long as they don’t expect the exact same thing as a Modern Warfare experience, shooter fans will like this game. While Modern Warfare 2 is full of menacing terrorists and intense fighting, EA’s Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has a sense of humor, sort of the like a modern version of The Four Musketeers. Of course, there’s blood in this game and harsh language, so it’s good to keep in mind that it is a mature-rated title that isn’t for kids.

In the game, you play Private Preston Marlowe, the straight man in a group of four misfits known as Bad Company.  The others include the bespectacled Private Terrance Sweetwater, demolitions specialist Private George Haggard Jr., and squad leader Sergeant “Sarge” Samuel Redford. Haggard is the funny but dumb Texan who is always cracking jokes. When he rattles off the specs for an airplane and impresses the hell out of his comrades, he deadpans, “What? I can know stuff too.” Sarge is always on the verge of retirement, but he keeps getting roped into new missions.

The game starts out in World War II, as a team of commandos storms a Japanese base in search of a scientist. They find him and unleash a dangerous weapon code-named Aurora. The game shifts to the modern era, and Bad Company’s job is to track down the enemies trying to get their hands on Aurora. They discover that the leader is a Russian named Arkady Kirelenko, who looks suspiciously like the bald Russian war criminal Lazarevic in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

On what is supposed to be their final mission, the Bad Company fights its way through Russia to find a prototype of Aurora. They tangle with lots of Russian troops in blinding snow battles. (In one particularly silly mission, Marlowe has to move from house to house, each with a warm fire, to avoid freezing to death in a blizzard. That part of the game was so lame I almost quit right there).

Bad Company escapes, but so does Kirelenko. They move to the jungles of Bolivia, where battles take place in the jungle. They hop around courtesy of their hippie peacenik helicopter pilot Flynn. The Bad Company characters are so endearing that the developers wisely decided not to make them expendable. But Flynn has no such luck, and it’s a sad moment when he is taken out of the action.

The battles move to the deserts and mountains of Chile, and then the action hops through various cities of South America. That’s where the fighting is most difficult and the destruction of buildings becomes pretty spectacular. Along the way, you get to fight with a wide array of weapons, from sniper rifles to machine guns, tanks, rockets, and helicopters.

The single-player campaign story isn’t all that creative, and it isn’t really long with about 10 levels. But it makes a lot more sense than the convoluted story of Modern Warfare 2. There are some pretty intense cinematics — the movies that play in between game levels — that set the story and give you a laugh break in between intense street battles. As you close in on the goal of the game, you fight a battle in a concrete canal, where the enemies just keep coming at you. That part of the game is particularly hard. The game ends with a pitched battle aboard an airplane and closes with a nice skydiving scene where the player finally goes head to head against Kirelenko.

The best part of the game is the destruction. The environment, from trees to buildings, is entirely destructible. You can shoot an enemy through fences, but you an also blow a hole in the wall of a building. You can use that to your advantage, creating paths around machine gun nests by planting explosives on obstacles.

On this one feature, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 beat Modern Warfare 2, where the destruction is only partial. And Battlefield: Bad Company 2 also lets you drive or ride in vehicles. You can engage in intense tank combat battles or rain death from above as a door gunner on a chopper. The vehicles have so much firepower, they can bring down entire buildings. You can get at hard-to-shoot enemies who are hiding in cover. As in real life, the tank armor is toughest in the front; the vulnerable spot is in the rear.

As with Modern Warfare 2, the real value of the game is the sweet multiplayer combat. When you log in via Xbox Live, the PC, or the PlayStation Network, you can choose what role you want to play: assault, medic, engineer, or recon (with a sniper rifle). Engineers can repair damaged tanks on the battlefield, and medics can revive wounded soldiers.

You have the option of joining a four-player squad or going solo. You can talk to your squad mates if you have a voice headset. The game remembers which kit you last used, meaning which weapons etc. You can spawn at a base or on a friend’s location or your squad leader’s location. Squad mates are highlighted in green in the mini-map so you can see where they are at any time. Anything marked in blue is friendly; anything orange is the enemy. The maps are very detailed, with rubble, dust, smoke and burning fires. It makes you feel like you’re immersed in the battle.

When you’re killed, you can see which player killed you, so you can seek revenge. But you don’t know exactly where that player was, since the battlefields are pretty vast. It would be nice if the game showed your stats for kills and deaths at that point, but it doesn’t. So the respawn time is kind of dull as you wait to get back into the game. It takes quite a few matches to reach new levels, in contrast to Modern Warfare 2, which gives you promotions almost immediately.

In the Rush multiplayer mode, your squad leader can set objectives to take, so that you can coordinate your attacks. You go to an objective and set a demolition charge. An alarm goes off when you set it, so the defending team immediately knows they have to disable the charge or lose the objective. At the end of a round, you can view your stats with kills and deaths, how much you scored with each weapon or kit, what pins you were awarded, and dog tags you have taken from the soldiers you killed. You can see how far you have to go to get your next promotion.

There are lots of tactics. You can use a drill to make a hole in a cement wall so you can create your own sniper’s perch to take out enemies before they see you. If you level up enough, you can get an armor bonus so that your tank can take more hits. You can also hide as an infantry soldier behind a flaming wreck. Others won’t be able to see you as well, but you’ll be able to live longer as you pick off rivals from afar.

I still believe that Modern Warfare 2 is a better game because it has better graphics and the game play happens without delays. Bad Company 2 has its delays that hamper the accuracy of your fire. That means you have to focus your fire on an enemy for a longer time to confirm a kill. And that leaves you vulnerable when you’re surrounded by multiple enemies. Modern Warfare 2 has wonderful speed, allowing the best players to really shine in battle.

On the plus side, the action feels a lot more frenzied in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, because there is always some kind of explosion kicking up debris into the air. The explosions are sometimes a little too big, like when a machine gun takes down an entire fence, or sometimes even a building.

The lucky thing for EA is that it timed Bad Company 2 well. It avoided the blast radius of Modern Warfare 2, which dominated the minds of hardcore gamers during the holidays. And it appeared just as many gamers maxed out on level 70 of the multiplayer gaming. Those players, who had hit the pinnacle with Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer, were probably hungry for another fix, before the multiplayer maps for Modern Warfare 2 come out on March 30. New multiplayer maps for Bad Company 2 are coming out on the same day. For those who input a one-time VIP code, the maps are free (this is one way EA is discouraging the sale of used games). EA has said that hours spent playing multiplayer on Bad Company 2 add up to about 3 million hours per day.

The question for Activision Blizzard is when the next Call of Duty game will appear. Treyarch is probably making a version of Call of Duty World at War for the fall, but the next Modern Warfare 2 is sort of up in the air, given the turmoil at the Infinity Ward studio that involved the firing of two co-founders. Activision Blizzard says it has plans for the franchise, but we’ll see how quickly a new game arrives.

While Bad Company 2 is a good challenger to Modern Warfare 2 and will help EA cash in on the appetite for modern combat games, the real rival to Modern Warfare 2 is EA’s Medal of Honor. The latest version of that game debuts this fall and is set in the modern era for the first time, with combat taking place in Afghanistan. Compared to Medal of Honor, Bad Company 2 is probably the comic relief in the interlude between major acts.

Now, if you don’t like my review, check out this Zero Punctuation cartoon-style review posted on The Escapist. It’s pretty hilarious and is in keeping with the humor in the game itself. Activision Blizzard has its own one-two punch with the Modern Warfare and World at War versions of Call of Duty. Now, EA should stay competitive by continuing to invest in both the Battlefield and Medal of Honor series. If you want to get a feel for the multiplayer combat scenes, check out the video below.


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