Demo Impressions: Battlefield: Bad Company

We’ve been following this game for quite a while. Both myself and staff writer Mark Melnychuk got some hands-on time at GDC ’08, and Mark later spent uncounted hours with the game’s online beta for the Xbox 360. The demo is still more of the same: Oasis and Ascension are the two maps, Gold Rush is the multiplayer mode, sprinting still feels terribly slow, destruction is awesome but limited, and sound effects are amazing. It does, however, allow players to demo more than just the required Battlefield multiplayer, as the demo also comes packed with a single level of the game’s single-player campaign.

Introduced in what can safely be assumed as the game’s first stage are the star misfits of Bad Company: Preston Marleau, the player character, Sweetwater, Haggard, and Sarge. Personality is something these characters do not lack, as is shown in the handful of cinematics and in-game conversations. The dialog itself might seem a bit stale, but the voice actors behind the characters put on one great performance.

While in combat, your teammates’ AI allows them to be incredibly useful. They use cover wisely, chatter important information (including enemy positions!), offer verbal pats on the back after a clean kill, and even take the time to help you take out a few baddies. The contrary has plagued other shooters that use squads to back up the player (Army of Two, anyone?), but DICE has gone a few extra yards to make you feel like you’re part of a functional, and maybe even successful, team. For a group of misfit soldiers, they sure can fight.

Bad Company offers players a few options as they progress through the first stage. When your first objective is given, you’re prompted via your teammates to head north on foot or in an armed and armored jeep; your path to the objective can take you through farmland on a direct path, or you can move along a dirt road that leads west along those same fields. DICE has commented that missions in the full game will be stuffed to the rafters with these sorts of choices, each altering the course of combat in subtle-yet-important ways.

Upon reaching your destination, a small town with no more than 5 buildings, you’re engaged in a firefight and given the chance to play around with the game’s destructible environment. Most cover can be rendered useless with a well-placed grenade launch, but when the enemy AI gets in a vehicle, such mechanics work both ways. Cityscape fights like these are a blast, since the environment is constantly changing, and when pitted against smart AI, an exciting challenge is ahead of you.

The game controls feel really great when you get ahold of the scheme: L2 cycles you through your items, R2 cycles you through you weapon’s primary and secondary fire modes, L1 aims, and R1 fires. You get a chance to play with rocket launchers and C4, but the most interesting (and possibly gamebreaking, if balanced improperly) is the auto injector. Two quick button presses and the auto injector heals you back to full health, which, considering how quickly you can die from enemy fire, is useless without some proper cover, but I am curious to see how they design the campaign with such an obvious advantage over your enemies. As your health drops, your vision and hearing begin to fade, so keeping yourself healthy is key to jumping forward, though if you do fail, respawn penalties are minimal.

I usually find myself impressed with small details, and Bad Company is no exception. Simply put, the sound effects for this game are stunning. Even on a simple stereo setup, you’re able to notice the difference between inside whole buildings, inside destroyed buildings, and outside. Weapon and environmental sounds give you clear indicators as to what is happening around you, and the game reacts well to differing levels of sound. Most games implement sound dampening immediately after loud explosions, but it seems like the Frostbite engine handles such effects in a much better way; the gradual return of sound feels tangible.

The game’s multiplayer has in the past felt rather uninspired, but the single-player demo has given me new hope. Even the single level offered here has prompted several replays, something shooters just don’t do anymore unless to unlock some Achievement or trophy. My excitement for Bad Company’s June release has doubled; look back here at TheGameReviews for our review of the full game.

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