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(This review is single player only. I've only just started with the mulitplayer and while that is frustrating to me too it might just be me sucking at it.)
I am severely disappointed. I hate to say it but Bad Company 2's single player is not an impressive entry in the crowded shooter market. Keep in mind reading forward with this review that I could maybe see how other people could like this game, but it is really not my cup of tea and I'm going to go into every last bitter frustration soaked detail as to why it isn't. This is a standard Jeffrey Sandlin Review. All rage all the time baby! So don't go complaining to me about how I never write about games I like. None of you acknowledged my very positive thoughts on Bioshock 2 so you deserve to be deprived my moments of joy.
There are parts of this game I liked, like I liked mostly the same things in the first game. The sound design is stunningly nuanced, the destruction elements are a welcome change of pace (though still not up to 'blow up anything I think should be blown up' standards) and the characters, while not at all my personal taste, can be funny at times.
Still I am just blown away by exactly how much of what I hated about Bad Company 1 is still here and how little the game delivers on it's posturing about competing with Modern Warfare 2 from a single player standpoint.
I don't have the patience and this game doesn't have the breadth of experience for me to go into detail about every last mission and plot detail like I did with my Modern Warfare 2 review. If you want me to review the missions in this game then I can sum them all up with one word. Bland. Repeat the word bland over and over and over. Even at its best the game strikes me as too uniform and one note.
Say what you will about Modern Warfare 2 (and I did), every mission in that game had a hook. You were in a specific place doing a specific thing. In Bad Company 2 you are in generic wilderness fighting through the same generic enemies in the same generic way until you occasionally find yourself in a generic town that still has a great deal of wilderness around. Then you finally make it to a generic facility and find yourself strangely relieved to see boring corridors and bland grey buildings again. Sometimes their is snow on the ground, sometimes that snow is cold. Then you make it to a desert. Their are less buildings and you get to visit some castles and a busted boat. It's not that interesting.
The few times that the game attempts to be pulse pounding and varied feel very forced in. Predictable genre staples like gunning for a helicopter, gunning for a jeep, driving a tank, and racing a moped are all here with no attempt to improve upon them. I already find most of these activities to be largely pointless exercises in guessing what I'm supposed to be looking at, so the fact that the developers made no effort to fix the shortcomings of any of the tropes they were using was a let down. The one mission that feels notably different is the last mission, and even that isn't particularly fun for being different.
The basic shooting itself doesn't fare much better. Bad company 2 is very constrained compared to the first game. They chose to avoid the attempts at a wide open battlefield that bogged down Bad Company 1 in favor of following a similar approach to Call of Duty with more linear and scripted missions. This ends up being a blessing because the first game was an unfocused clusterfuck. The second game, by comparison, is a much more focused and guided clusterfuck. It's an improvement but the better focus just allowed me to finish the game (I quit the first one out of frustration) It didn't allow me to enjoy it much.
In the process of pacing the game like Call of Duty the designers seem to have completely forgotten to change any of their AI systems from the first game to fit the new focus. So your enemies can still see you from half a mile away and pluck away at your health rather constantly. This is particularly frustrating when half of the levels have smoke and dust cluttering your view and making it almost impossible to sight long range targets…and yet those same targets rarely have problems finding you.
Your squad, meanwhile, is a group of completely blind storm troopers with no aiming skill, tactical intelligence, or interest in preserving themselves or you. They will constantly stand in the open and fire uselessly at the enemy while the enemy hides behind cover and ignores them in favor of shooting you every time you pop out from behind cover. Playing this game is basically like playing the game solo, only you have three ineffectual ghosts following you around telling you what you should be doing in a heavy handed fashion like you were a three year old. At least occasionally they can be useful as meat shields.
The sole improvement I noticed in this game's approach to the concept of having a squad helping you is that they removed the rocket launcher from your demolition's expert Haggard's back. So while in the first game he completely and totally failed to use it properly to destroy enemy vehicles you had few ways to defend yourself against. Now he doesn't have it so you don't question why he isn't doing his fucking job.
Stop talking about Texas and blow up the goddamn tank, moron!
Vehicles themselves are a constant annoyance. Since this game is trying to be Modern Warfare now it rarely gives you a chance to drive a vehicle and when it does it's on a very scripted path. For some reason, however, that doesn't stop them from throwing enemy vehicles at you for an arbitrary spike in the combat tension every five minutes.
This frustrated me to no end (just like in the last game) because there is no reliable way to take out an enemy vehicle besides rockets or missiles. So because they show up so often you have to dedicate your secondary weapon slot to a rocket launcher you will almost never use just to deal with the potential of an armored threat.
Granted they always provide a rocket launcher somewhere around you whenever a vehicle shows up. Still taking the time to look for it will often get you killed since most vehicles chew through cover like tissue paper. Combine this with how the enemy AI targets you and only you most times with the skill and persistence of the most seasoned of whack a mole players and it's just easier and safer to never be without a noob tube.
Rest assured that easy and safe is what you want with this game. Dice has fallen into one of the newest trends in games and made their easy mode the only mode that can be finished without constant frustration. I played the game on normal and while the first few missions were tolerable the later into the game I got the more I found myself not just frustrated, but loudly proclaiming to myself that the game was garbage. (Always a sign of a ranty review coming to Bitmob soon after.)
The cheap enemy AI has already been addressed so let me explain the other two points where the game tries my patience. The checkpoint system and the health system.
The health system is punitive to a fault. After as few as three bullets (one from a sniper or rocket) you are on the edge of death. It then takes around 6 seconds to recover. If you take even the smallest amount of chip damage from being just on the barest edge of a grenade explosion or having a small opening in your defenses shot then the wait seems to start almost all over again, if you are lucky enough to still be alive any way.
The end result of this is that every fire fight the most common sight you see is a blank wall you are hiding behind and a haze of blood on the edges of your screen. You have to wait for your balls to grow back after being shot up from about every other person you poke your head out to kill. This may be different for some but I have to actually line up my shots and find enemies rather then snap instantly to them with near psychic perception and aiming skill so spare me the 'but It was easy for me' comments.
So if you have to kill 10 people and you assume the worst case scenario (you are being shot at constantly after being pinned down and your squad is missing constantly, both so common that they seem to be a tradition the AI practices as religious observation) then you find yourself spending at least 25 seconds of what will probably only be a 40 second fire fight hiding from your enemy and dodging their constant attempts to blow up or shoot through your cover and flush you out with grenades.
I understand that DICE is very impressed with and fond of their destructible environments and how they give a sense that there is no completely safe place on the battlefield, but the enemy AI is FAR too aggressive for a health system this time consuming to be in place. Just because it works for the multiplayer does not make it acceptable or fun in the single player.
Many of us have heard that old saying spouted by the designers of Halo about their game design being about finding that 'five seconds of fun' Well for DICE the five seconds is a unique experience.
The First second you shoot an enemy, Second second you get shot. The next three seconds you run in fear and cower in corners, trying to avoid one of the ridiculously common chip damage deaths you have to endure as all of your safe hiding spots evaporate around you at random.
Some might call this realistic. I call it pathetic. You want realism, play a game where that first bullet kills you or makes you unable to use your gun or walk. For the rest of us who want our games to be fun we would rather not spend most of our time in a first person shooter afraid of trying to shoot things and running for the hills any time we get a boo boo.
This is made even worse by the checkpoint system, or as I affectionately nicknamed it on the spur of the moment 'fucking horse shit.'
For how easy it is to die just from being withered to death under constant fire there are far FAR too few checkpoints. There are half as many checkpoints as I think I have ever seen in a console shooter in my time. While most games are content to have each fire fight be it's own self contained event, book-ended on both sides by a checkpoint, bad company 2 would rather you fight 3 or 4 small skirmishes before you have proven you are worthy of progress in some cases. To illustrate some of why I am fed up with this system (and every other frustrating system in this game) I will tell you about my worst experience with the game, in the second to last level.
I was approaching an area where enemies were being dropped off in a helicopter near the entrance to a tunnel. The first two times I fought them I was surprised by how fast they moved, how little cover their was, and how I would die almost instantly if I was hit because one of them had an auto shotgun. I adapted and the third time I killed them and took their guns. I was very low on ammo so after I picked up the auto shotgun and a rifle to replace the SMG I had regrettably tried out and found next to useless I went back to pick up some ammo from the ammo crate a short walk behind me.
Then I entered the tunnel, and suddenly the tunnel door was breached, I was flash banged, and went down in a hail of gun fire from 4 heavily armed enemies. Their was only a second of warning, this was the only time that being flash banged or door breached on happened in the entire game, and their was no cover or route of escape after you crossed the trigger point. (This game relies very heavily on events happening when you cross a specific point, and hides it very very poorly. This also isn't the first time I was killed by a scripted event in the game that seemed designed to be a beginners trap.)
So after I died from that unavoidable death (I wasn't even looking in the direction of the threat as it happened, their was no hint that their would be trouble at all) I was back to the fight before the tunnel with the enemy with the auto shotty, and died to that fight again twice before beating it, then picking up the auto shotgun and walking back to get ammo from the crate again. Then going back into the tunnel, rushing strait at the door breach with the auto shotgun and spending an entire clip blasting them in half while half blinded, then walking through the door (only then, after the fight is done, did my squad enter the tunnel after me.)
After the tunnel is a fight between you and a group of enemies on the other side of what looks like a mix between a sewage duct and white water rapids. I died on this a few times, (each time having to fight the enemies with the auto shotty, then go back and pick up ammo, then deal with the door breach again) and finally beat it. Then as I tried to cross the rapids, which looked to be about ankle high and completely harmless, I accidentally stepped in the water and died…..
Think about that for a second. I died from stepping into a drainage ditch I couldn't even effectively drown myself in. Their was, of course, no warning that this might be lethal
So I then went back to the checkpoint before the tunnel AGAIN! Fought the same first fight again. Went to get my ammo refilled AGAIN! Then I tossed a grenade as I triggered the door breach to blow them up as they entered the room (that's realism for you, all shooters that force you to learn the level through trial and error are technically shooters about soldiers with precognitive powers or the rewind dagger from prince of Persia.) , and then fought the same uninteresting fight over the 'rapids' as my team continued to just get in my way and do nothing for themselves. After that I finally crossed the rapids, and ONLY after I crossed them was I granted a checkpoint. I personally think that their should have been a checkpoint before the unpredictable death trap from the tunnel door breach. Perhaps one after it as well.
This was not the climax of the game, this section was not dramatic or tension filled. Compared to the rest of the fire fights this was horribly small scale. It was just such a purely negative and game breaking experience for me it ended up being the defining moment of the game sheerly on the power of it being awful. The most memorable part of a game should not be when it's mechanics broke down and made you sorry that you were too stupid to turn it off for the night.
Going back to my overall impressions, the pacing is a slow burn and the difficulty and scripting are so uneven that I found myself constantly assuming I was playing the game in a way the game makers hadn't even intended. It's as if when play testing they never conceived of the fact that someone might move slowly and look for flanking routes or that they might not have the twitch reflexes to react instantly to sudden and stupid shooting gallery style 'enemy jumps out from behind a corner out of nowhere' moments.
On the presentation and storytelling end every big set piece and concept in bad company 2 is smaller then Modern Warfare 2 and their insistence on using normal cutscenes instead of immersive first person gimmickry like MW2 makes the game seem somehow unambitious and uninterested in itself in comparison.
You might argue that this is to make your main character, Marlowe, more developed and believable, but honestly he is so bland that it seems like they were trying to go for a silent protagonist and forgot to tell him to shut up. He is such an everyman that he doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the group at all, and by association I don't feel like I fit in with them either, and I certainly don't sympathize with him.
Stop Narrating, Preston. I don't care what you think.
There are even clear points where they cut corners on what could have been impressive interactive sequences. You are tasked at one point with chasing down a plane, you do this by running underground in a set of sewers, never seeing the plane. Then when you climb up the ladder that leads out of the sewers you are brought out of the action to watch a cut scene where everyone has already caught up with the plane.
It's story is painfully generic and predictable. Every twist seeming to be something that is included just because it is the exact thing that happens in every boring big budget military action movie. The main characters are two dimensional stereotypes only made to give out plenty of snappy humor to win over people who confuse good jokes with good storytelling. (It's as if they designed the commercials for this series first and then tacked a story and game onto the characters after the fact.)
In the end Bad Company 2's single player is a barely upgraded sequel to the first game that seems to be unable to overcome the fact that all of it's balancing decisions are ill informed and seem to only be made to create a solid foundation for the multiplayer at the expense of the single player game's fun factor and creative drive. The proof is in the pudding, as the front of the box completely ignored the titular 'Bad Company' in favor of a tacky looking multiplayer focused box art. The single player seems to have been sent out to die at the whims of the multiplayer's needs.
Seriously, floating gamertags do not belong on a game's box art.
All in all what could have been a scrappy underdog to challenge Call of Duty's crown ends up being nothing special at all on the solo front. I technically hate it roughly as much as I hate Modern Warfare 2. So I would call my hatred of both a sort of grudging acceptance that they are both technically decent games that I find offensively stupid and lazy. Modern Warfare 2 simply wins out in the end on the single player simply because while it was just as stupid a game, it's over the top first person gimmickyness made it a much less bland kind of stupid and it seemed to be trying harder to do something memorable.
I really wanted Bad Company 2 to be the better game as the plucky EA property to combat eeevil activision. I wanted it to be everything Modern Warfare 2 wasn't for me so I could finally have a military shooter that didn't piss me the hell off. Instead it ended up being everything I didn't like about Modern Warfare 2 plus a few things I didn't like about it all on it's own.
On my one word scale of how the game made me feel I give it a “let down” (yes that's two words…its…uh….ONE THOUGHT! Yaah!….okay just say "underwhelmed")
PS. Full on Spoilers below for both this and modern warfare 2.
Also were they TRYING to re use big concepts from modern warfare 2 or did they just come across the same tropes when digging in the military action dust bin? Both games prominently feature an EMP wave taking out a city (which modern warfare 2 did much better.), and the cheap ass cop out sequel teaser ending of Bad Company 2 says the next game will be also using the concept of Russians invading America. (which Modern Warfare 2 has already done, and at the end of the day will probably have done better.)
The entire single player of Bad Company 2 feels like they wanted to challenge Modern Warfare 2 in a one on one slugfest in both single player and multiplayer and then ended up just throwing in the towel before the fight even really began on the single player to focus on the multiplayer. Which I haven't played much of but I'm not as impressed as I was hoping to be with either.