In a major failing, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 displays a complete lack of originality, relying upon themes and ideas developed countless times over in different games and different media. This dearth of originality only prevents the game from ever forging its own distinct identity – matters sometimes seem soulless and uninspired, even as some efforts were made to inject life into the narrative and gameworld, much of this injection centering around the titular squad – Bad Company, composed of four members, each decidedly unique, with Preston Marlowe being the protagonist; the apparent camaraderie existing between them carries the narrative somewhat, prohibiting total destruction, or a complete embracing of mundanity. They bicker with one another, they feud, they interact playfully, despite being placed into a perilous situation owing to their military rank – their exchanges are incredibly compelling, seeming a literal band of brothers, and rather excellent writing expertly conveys the extent of their camaraderie, even as writing fails outside of their squad dynamics, again relying on the generic, the plot fast growing derivative, focusing on an extension of the Cold War, where Russia has emerged victorious, and where she wishes to exert her control over all dimensions of the globe, expanding always. Rather than subtle ambiguity, though, they are cast in a villainous role throughout, never showing any depth, this shallowness applicable to their leader, the corrupt Kirilenko, acting vilely always, his motivations cliched – seize power, more and more power; that is the extent of his character.
Admirable sense of scope is embraced when considering the wide-reaching nature of the conflict, as Bad Company leaps from beautiful environment to beautiful environment, in the snowy wastes of Russia one moment, in the humid swamps of South America the next, showing Russian power as extending towards all regions, no matter the geographic distance between the entities. But both Russia and Kirilenko – ever the villains – again display their insatiability for power; one conquered nation is not enough. Knowledge of an ancient device forged in Japan at the height of World War II finds itself upon Kirilenko’s desk. Given the immensity of power attached to the device, it can expedite the Russians’ plans at global domination. And so it is sought, the rush for and fight over that device propelling much of the narrative, prompting Bad Company to plunge into the fray, all in efforts to save America and her allies from this devastating “scalar weapon.” With great regard for country, they are mostly acting altruistically, seizing upon their responsibilities as soldiers. But a secondary motivation also drives them – the promise of home, the quitting of duty if this one final objective can be realized. It is all very human, the men heavily desirous of home no doubt because of the horrors of war to which they were subjected. In one instance are perpetual gunfire and grenades, violence overtaking all. In another instance, here is bliss and tranquility, a loving wife or an innocent, plucky youth, eager to display its affections. Given these dreams relative to reality, understandably home is heavily desired – Bad Company’s motivations strike true. With the return to normalcy again being some distances away, they are forced to forge a makeshift family for solace. And so they do.
Environmentally, Bad Company 2 is almost universally triumphant, owing greatly to the abundance of diversity. The arctic wastes are singularly beautiful, snow flakes blowing in the winds, frost on the window panes, large mounds of the white substance forming on the untrodden streets – here is a tranquil, inviting beauty, everything tinged an arresting blue. While not a fantastical environment, still manifest here is much creativity, even as some of these creative ambitions cannot totally be fulfilled when considering the game’s technical limitations, much of this limitation attributable to the game’s age. A thick fog hangs ominously and deliberately in many of the environments, cutting down sharply on the draw distance to maintain performance, while the distant objects which do remain in view are all characterized by poor texture quality. But again these technical failings are offset by creative brilliance, as when regarding some of the South American environments, where color and vibrancy are affectionately embraced, trees shining brightly in their beautiful autumnal glory, their beauties only enhanced by excellent lighting, resulting in a certain crispness. Large clusters of ramshackle buildings have formed alongside the base of mountains, the game showing some emphasis upon urban combat, though just as fast the isolated is return to, sprawling desertscapes and malaria-infested waters both navigated by vehicle, atmospheric fog characterizing the latter landscape, overwhelming, stifling brightness characterizing the former. In the journey also navigated is a derelict ship, long stranded in those sandy wastes; navigating this environment evokes claustrophobia, especially when considering the openness of all other environments, an openness which serves a gameplay purpose, creating further tactical freedoms. Owing to this largeness, vehicles are quite frequently needed for navigation, and here is somewhat of a failing, as such locomotion is rarely engaging or exhilarating, disrupting the brisk pacing. But no matter the environment explored – or how it is explored – no level ever outstays its welcome, resulting in a constant maintenance of freshness.
Existing alongside environmental successes are gameplay successes. Mechanically, the gunplay is almost flawless, guns possessive of believable – and sometimes immense – recoil patterns, all appropriate to the weapons’ fire rate. Excellent sound design furthers this commanding sense of impactfulness, especially when firing a sniper rifle or some other heavy-caliber weapon, their firing accompanied by a loud, echoing boom, rattling the air. This sound design also marks a considerable success, Bad Company able to convey the visceral nature of war, the chaotic, frantic nature of combat; constant is enemy gunfire, constant are explosions, constant are screams of agony and anger – the game shies away from none of this, and succeeds in a unique fashion, truly engrossing the player. But while weapons are weighty, their fire impactful, their modelling can be occasionally basic and undetailed, perhaps owing to the game’s age. While this armory is quite sprawling, with the expected inclusion of various assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns and the like, very little creativity is on display here, perhaps reflecting the game’s ambitions at tight believability. A bit more whimsicality here, a weapon that breaks from the norm of the traditional military arsenal, would certainly be welcome. What is here is serviceable, and owing to each weapon’s unique handling, exchanging one weapon for another can drastically alter tactical flexibilities, opening up new opportunities for success in combat. A two-weapon limit carrying capacity is in place, though scattered throughout the maps are certain supply drops, which permit the changing of current loadout; rare is boredom, though given the overabundance of ammunition, the tension accompanying ammunition scarcity is unobtained – here is no survival horror, but here instead is a bombastic military shooter.
As the campaign progresses onwards, many attempts are made to break up the monotony of this pure infantry gameplay – vehicles are manned often, both more navigation and for combat. Again reflecting the bombastic tone, tanks are piloted on multiple occasions; situated therein, blessed with the immense fire-power inherent to the vehicle, a strong sense of empowerment emerges. While theoretically possessing a health bar – which would point to noticeable vulnerability – mostly the opposition is effortlessly vanquished, and in spectacular fashion; all are swiftly and totally dispatched. But while empowering, tank piloting is not particularly novel or imaginative. Compensating for this unoriginality is great originality, as when piloting a flying drone, possessive of fire-power not dissimilar to that wielded by the tank. Marlowe controls the vehicle from a monitor some considerable distance away from the targets under fire, existing in complete safety; technology does all the work, this drone reflecting modern military advancements. Destruction is immense here, too, missiles falling from the skies, explosions erupting all around. While the sequence itself is brief – lasting no more than five or so minutes – it is very impactful, serving to stave off tedium, and was empowering as was the case with the tank. Also continuing this trend of empowerment, a few times in the campaign a mini-gun – mounted to a helicopter – is employed, possessive of infinite ammunition, an unending supply of firepower – everything is ruined in the wake of these bullets, while carefully (if arbitrarily) placed explosive barrels only amplify this destructive nature, sending enemies sprawling, houses and other structures eventually collapsing if enough damage has been sustained.
Something further must be said of this destructibility – central to the gameplay, it also marks the game’s greatest source of novelty, originality. Almost all objects are vulnerable to destruction, collapsing on the instant if struck by protracted firepower or explosives – a carefully thrown grenade, a carefully positioned satchel charge. In most games, such weapons would be reserved for infantry and armored opponents, respectively. Here, though, they take on added significance, having greater usefulness, both for Marlowe and Bad Company proper, while also being useful for their opposition, who can similarly employ explosives in clever ways, while basic gunfire can literally rip through cover, making it inconsistent, protective for only a finite period, a period which is frequently rather brief. Seeing a tank or a mounted machine gun is especially horrifying, given this abundance of power, their greater efficiency in destroying this cover, be it large or small. Blowing a hole in some house opens up new avenues for flanking, highly rewarding. Using a circuitous, handmade route to get to that intimidating machine gunner, to silence him forever, to permit Bad Company’s continued advance, is similarly rewarding. Cleverly, too, explosives exist in abundance, grenades littered generously throughout the environment, right alongside under barrel grenades and the particularly devastating C4 charges; the opportunities for destruction are always in the player’s hands. In many titles, these destruction elements are forced inclusions. But in Bad Company 2, this destructibility is central to the game’s very identity.
Some frustrations inevitably arise when considering the gameplay. Many cheap instances arise, and while some of that cheapness can be explained away by my choice of difficulty – I elected to play on the hard difficulty – much cannot be explained away. While exploring the maps, oftentimes a predetermined point is deliberately positioned. Upon reaching that point, a trigger is activated, causing opposition to spawn. Playing through these campaign missions for the first time, that trigger could never be known or expected – death follows suit, given this death of knowledge, the spawning of enemies. Even when knowing of this trigger, death is still a common occurrence; the trigger is normally placed in an open, vulnerable location, with no cover available. The end gameplay result, then, is: 1) the activation of the trigger. 2) then the prompt retreating to cover, often a fair sprint away. A soldier should never turn his back on an opponent. But here that behavior is encouraged. The damage output of these opponents is also immense, necessitating a near constancy of cover, cover which is not always accessible, or which is unreliable given the destruction engine. Accordingly, with this power imbalance, the gameplay is of a cautious, more methodical nature. Other, perhaps smaller frustrations are also present in combat – and in exploration. On the bottom left portion of the screen, present always, is a large mini-map, greatly cluttering the HUD and thus also destroying immersion. Inevitably, given its constant presence, it will be relied upon, and in the menus is no way to disable it, to preserve immersion, to preserve the joys of exploration, its more organic nature. As an object, it shows always the position of nearby enemies, while showing also the locations of various collectibles or unlockable weapons. Were this one, intrusive object removed, the gameplay would be improved considerably. The map may communicate too much information, though when regarding Marlowe’s health status there exists too little communication. If the decision to muddle the HUD was already decided, the developers could at least have included a numeric health bar to communicate Marlowe’s current strength. Also, the remainder of Bad Company is present with Marlowe for almost the entirety of the narrative, logical given their united nature. But while they possess infinite health and thus must not be monitored, their damage output, their effectiveness in combat, is very slight – rare is immense assistance.
Despite the narrative successes arising when regarding Bad Company as unit, the admirable heart each of its members frequently conveys, at times the game can seem rather generic and uninspired, suffering from a very derivative status, never able to carve out its own distinct identity. Russians are combatted – Russians are bested. It would be somewhat unfair to condense the narrative into that one succinct statement, as some intrigue is present, as when the Russians are linked to wartime Japan, showing the potentials for global destruction have been gestating for some considerable duration. Betrayals and reversals occur a few times, while an endearing character’s death stirs up some emotions. But looking for these narrative strengths is almost like grasping. One thing that cannot be denied, though, is the excellency of Bad Company’s portrayal, their collective dynamics. Whatever be the darkness brought on my unoriginality and blandness, meanwhile, brightness is evoked in the gameplay, varied and consistently engaging, a brisk pace maintained almost always, with a vacillation of gameplay systems and environments, navigating city slums one moment, tundra the next, beautiful and majestic. Guns are impactful, each having individual quirks while remaining intuitive to wield, and the destruction engine opens up profound strategic and tactical possibilities. Despite these strengths, the mentioned burden of soullessness cannot be totally cast off – no poignant statements are ever made, no considerable player / protagonist link ever created, the generic embraced to the last. Just enough originality is present, though, to prevent the game from becoming totally forgettable – there is Bad Company, after all, that beautiful band of brothers. With an odyssey lasting no more than eight or nine hours, the time investment is slight; here is a journey worth taking.