Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Capitalist pigs, very nice.

Much like a reanimated corpse will rise from the grave to consume your brain, so will this blog, lurching out of the fog ridden shadows to ingest your gray matter and...Wait, where was I going with this?

Oh right, I wanted to talk about the Battlefield series, along with a review of the newest game, Bad Company. Not about eating brains...Nope.

So, if you're a gamer with a serious pedigree, you've played at least one of the hojillion Battlefield games currently on the market. Stretching all the way back to 2002, the Battlefield series has become the staple of the PC user's first-person-shooter arsenal. It's first iteration, Battlefield 1942, was extremely successful, being critically acclaimed, and winning several awards. This version of the game also spawned two expansion packs and ate up several of my weekends.

Battlefield: Vietnam came next, and, while it was not as well received as it's predecessor, it still managed to be fun for a while. Hopping in a Huey and blasting "Flight of the Valkyries" as loud as it could go while trying to recreate the airborne beach invasion from Apocalypse Now was still entertaining, and had some of the Battlefield "heart" in it. Unfortunately, it didn't have the longevity of 1942, and my friends and I quickly abandoned it in favor of other games.

Battlefield 2 was released just about a year later, with marked improvements over both of it's forerunners. Eschewing past conflicts for the modern theater of war, it pitted the brave lads of the United States Marines against a fictional Middle Eastern Coalition and the Chinese army in areas ranging from arid deserts, lush valleys and tropical islands to dense cities and industrial zones. BF2 was a notorious "graphics hog" as my friends liked to call it, requiring a pretty buff PC(or as buff as a bunch of high-school students could afford). Still, that never stopped my friends and I from sinking much of the summer of 2005 into that game. BF2 also introduced a persistent-stats mechanic into the game, something which has carried over into many other shooters, such as the widely popular Halo and Call of Duty series.

With the stat-tracking mechanic, computer-chair generals could advance through the ranks of the Marines, starting from raw recruit up until the four-star general rank, with only the most stats-obsessed players holding the top stop of the five-star general. With the rank advancement came weapon unlocks, where online warriors could earn new weapons and tools for the different classes in the game. When the BF2: Special Forces expansion pack was produced, it added some new unlocks for the classes, including my personal favorite: the G36 rifle for the Medic class.

BF2 also introduced a first for the series, the Squad mechanic. While in a Squad, soldiers could see what others in their squad saw, be it an enemy tank or hidden sniper, and spawn on their leader deep behind enemy lines without having to make the arduous trek from a distant spawn location. With this, Battlefield became a bit more team focused, with Squads of six players working together to support each other and take down the enemy.

Battlefield 2 proved to be immensely popular with the online shooter crowd and, even though three years have passed, it is still very easy to find a populated server. However, even with the success of Battlefield 2 and it's iterations, DICE(the developer of the series) wasn't done yet.

Next came the first console release for the Battlefield series, entitled Modern Combat. Admittedly, I didn't play this game, so I can't really comment on it, but it did decently for DICE's first foray into the console market.

Battlefield 2142 was to be the next game in the series, moving beyond past and modern conflicts in the realm of future warfare. Set during a fictional ice-age 134 years from now, 2142 featured two factions, the European Union and the Pan-Asian Coalition battling out over the frozen tundra of Europe and the slowly freezing desert plains of Africa. BF2142 carried over everything that made BF2 so successful: the rank system and the weapon unlocks were still there, but DICE added in class-specific tools that had to be unlocked. Grenades, defibrillator, and many other essentials had to be obtained before the more powerful weapons could, adding sort of a "race" mechanic to the game, to see which players would have the upper hand on their enemies, pelting them with grenades while the less-fortunate players ran around helplessly, unable to be revived due to the lack of defibrillator-equipped medics.

However, this was only temporary, as it was made easier to rank up in BF2142 than in BF2. While in BF2, I am still in the sergeant ranks, in BF2142, I quickly advanced through the enlisted ranks, into the officer ranks, and through to the Field Commissar rank, earning my unlocks quickly and easily.

BF2142 also introduced two new game types: one of which is Titan mode, which consisted of the two opposing teams trying to capture missile silos placed around the map to bombard the enemy's Titan and bring it's shield down. When the Titan's shields go down, the teams have the option to board the Titan and take it down from the inside, or protect the silos and rely on them to destroy the enemy Titan. The former is quicker, but riskier, as the narrow corridors of the Titan is sure to be full of opposing players, lining the hallways with sentry turrets and anti-personnel mines.

The other game type was brought in with the game's first(and currently only) expansion pack, Northern Strike. The game mode was called Assault Lines, which introduced a new variation on the classic Conquest mode. One team would hold 95% of the spawn points, and the enemy would have to capture them in sequence before they could assault the defending team's main spawn point. To me, this game type tried to address the issue of Conquest mode, which would have both teams spread out over the entire map, trying to capture the different control points leading to sporadic firefights. Conquest mode didn't really enforce the team-play of Battlefield, so having to conquer one point after another seemed to concentrate the players more into one area, where the battles would be fast and furious.

So, that was a not-so-short overview of the history of the series. Before I go onto my review of Bad Company, I'd like to examine what it is that made this series so successful. In my mind, the reasons behind this are simple. DICE started with a fairly unique idea, and continued to iterate on it throughout it's various versions, trying to perfect the formula. Rather than just release the same game with a palette swap, DICE tried to work down to the core of what made Battlefield a hit. As the games went on, it became more focused on team-play, while at the same time trying to maintain the huge battle feel. Classes became more streamlined, having very specific supporting roles, while at the same time, still able to put a dent in the enemy. While the anti-tank class could harm the enemy armor, it still needed the medic for health, and the support class for ammunition, prompting squads to equip themselves to help their team better.

The focus on team work in a large multi-player game became the crux of the series, something which DICE has come pretty close to perfecting. Only Team Fortress 2 has managed to get the team-play elements right, just not on such a large scale.

Still, with all those improvements made to online multi-player, the Battlefield series was still missing something. Something which many other shooters had done successfully while having renowned multi-player as well. That's right: a well-crafted single player mode. With this in mind, the team at DICE set out to make Battlefield: Bad Company, a console only game. With this version though, DICE set out to raise the bar. Not only does Bad Company have a engaging story, it also had destructible environments, something that I feel many shooters seriously lack.

Built from the ground up for next-gen consoles, the Frostbite Engine could produce good looking environments while at the same time enabling player to blow the whole area sky-high. Trees could be knocked down, massive craters could be blown into the ground, and whole building can be demolished down to their frames. 90% of the environment can be destroyed, the rest remaining intact for the game-play reasons.

So, the single player game. You take control of Preston Marlow, a new transfer to Bad Company, where the US Army sends all of it's misfits and wash-outs. Sent into clear the area before the regular Army moves in, Bad Company has the highest mortality rate in the service. Your squad consists of three other ne'er-do-wells, with only your Sergeant being transfered to the unit of his own vocation. You start the game doing various missions for the Army at the behest of "Miss July", your mission controller. However, your squad quickly discovers something very interesting. The Russian army is employing mercenaries, which in itself wouldn't be unusual except for one thing: these mercenaries demand to be paid in gold bars. This sets of a whirlwind of events which ranges from accidentally invading a neutral country to capturing a flamboyant dictator to chasing the gold halfway across the Middle East.

The story also has a distinctively humorous tone, but avoids Delta Farce territory. The game made me laugh out loud a few times, and the dialog is fairly constant and amusing.

However, the single player game does have it's short-comings, mostly in it's fairly simple AI. The enemy in brutally punishing, and will kill you quickly if you're not careful. However, it takes very few bullets to put an enemy down, so if you're quick enough, you can wipe them out. You can also heal yourself at any point with a health-dispensing syringe.

Your squad mates don't do much to help you, unless you count occasionally shooting a fence with a rocket launcher. They'll blindly follow you thorough battles, impervious to all forms of enemy fire, and rattle off one-liners fairly consistently. Occasionally, Haggard, your demolitions expert, will nail a Russian vehicle with his rocket launcher, but it's mostly up to you to win the battles. Not to be unexpected, but the squad AI could have used some beefing up.

The missions are also fairly long, as well. There is a relatively small number of them, but the first mission alone could have been split up into two or three smaller levels. While blowing stuff up in fairly amusing, trekking across a huge map to blow up four radar towers can get pretty tedious if you can't find a mode of transport, or an enemy tank blasts you into oblivion. To counter this, save points are dolled out pretty often, usually saving you from having to repeat most of the journey from one objective to another.

The sound design in this game is also pretty impressive. While it's not on Metal Gear Solid 4 level, which is probably the best use of sound I've every heard in a game, Bad Company does pretty well on it's own. The guns sound loud and the rumble of tanks going by is always a impressive crescendo of grinding gears and crunching rock. The music in the game is also well done, bringing back the classic Battlefield theme, as well as having several radio stations for you to listen to as you drive the various vehicles the game offers.

The multi-player is also classic Battlefield, but it's here that DICE manages to improve on the formula again. Instead of shipping with Conquest mode(which is now downloadable for free over Xbox Live and the Playstation Network) Bad Company has a mode called Gold Rush. Basically, it's a attack and defend game type where the attackers try to destroy gold crates, and the defenders try to stop this from happening. The attackers have a long bar at the top of the screen which represents how many times they are able to die until the attackers exhaust their reinforcements. If the attackers can destroy the two gold crates at a base, the map becomes larger as the defenders have to fall back to secondary bases, and the attackers gain more respawn tickets. With the game-play focused into small sectors, the teams clash often, with the destructible environments adding new ways to destroy the opposing team. Want to collapse a silo onto an enemy sniper? Go for it. Two enemies hiding inside a barracks building? Blow that wall open with your grenade launcher and mow them down.

The environments remain consistent, meaning that if a wall is blown down, it never comes back. It adds an amusing "before and after" element to the matches. Often, the starting bases will be destroyed to the point where they are no longer recognizable.

The game brings back the rank advancement and unlocks, but it still remains fairly easy to rank up and gain new weapons and gear. None of the unlocks seem unbalanced, each with their deficiencies in the three areas: Accuracy, Damage and Rate of Fire. Each class can unlock different tools, ranging from the health syringe for the Assault class, to the mortar-guidance system for the Support class.

If I do have to criticize the classes, I'd say that the Support class is the most unwieldy. It's the machine gunner, medic and engineer all rolled into one, and it's often difficult to balance the different responsibilities. However, try attacking an enemy tank with your power-tool. That alone can be a good reason to play Support.

Overall, Bad Company is worth a purchase if your a Battlefield fan, or a shooter fan in general.

So, that brings my review of the Battlefield series to a close. Stay tuned for my next update, which will come out...Whenever.

1 comment:

bubbanake182 said...

good job dude. well written. i wish i could have gotten you to write my university papers.

you start off very well in discussing the continuing saga of BF games. I would have liked to see a section at the ending that tied in all the BF games that you talked about at the beginning. As well, it could have used some funny examples of online play antics that a critic such as yourself has most definitely endured.

Other than that, SICK!

Dictated, but not read.

Signed: The Demo-Whore

"Lois, read that back to me."