Battlefield: Bad Company
The latest in the phenomenally successful Battlefield series, Bad Company is something of a departure for developers DICE. Not only is it the first in the series to be designed specifically for consoles but it'll also be home to the strongest single player campaign element found in the series so far. However, for the purposes of this preview we're going to be focusing on the area the series is famous for, online multiplayer.
It's becoming almost expected now for high profile shooters to offer some kind of multiplayer beta and Bad Company is no exception. For those lucky enough to have access codes the beta offers a tantalising look at one of the game's multiplayer modes, Gold Rush, and two of the maps.
There are five classes of soldier on offer, Assault, Support, Recon, Demolition and Specialist. They all do pretty much what they say on the tin and come complete with their own set of upgrades and unloackables to add extra spice to proceedings as you move up the ranks. Moving up said ranks involves earning in-game points, the more you earn the higher rank you earn and the more goodies you're able to get your hands on. As console gamers found in CoD4 this kind of experience based promotion system works well and it's nice to see a similar system in play here.
Into the game itself and the one mode on offer, Gold Rush, is a variant on the traditional Capture The Flag game that thankfully does more than simply replace the flag with a pile of gold. Players are divided into two sides, attackers and defenders, and pairs of chests holding gold provide the focus of each side's task. It's not all quite that simple though, a couple of twists make things a whole lot more interesting. First up is the idea of respawn tickets, the attacking side has a limited number of these and once they're used up it's game over, victory to the defenders. Defenders meanwhile have to worry about being pushed back through their territory. As the attacking force claim a pair of chests a new area opens up containing another two chests and pushing the defending team deeper into their own terrain. If the attacking team claims four sets of chests then it's their turn to dance a victory jig.
It's a simple set of changes to the formula yet they prove to be immensely enjoyable giving the action a real sense of ebb and flow. Last gasp stands in the final area against a dwindling attacking force give a much more urgent feel to the end of games than a simple flag or frag counter could ever do.
The two maps that come with the beta are both impressive in their own way. The first, called Ascension is based around a rural village while the second, Oasis, takes place in a much more open desert environment. As you'd expect the village offers more in the way of close quarters street and building based combat while out in the desert snipers come into their own with less cover and smaller buildings making the game more open.
All the clever modes and pretty maps in the world mean nothing however if the thing plays like a dog, thankfully this is far from the case here. It may seem faint praise but the best thing about Bad Company is that it all simply works. Weapons feel perfect, aiming is fast and accurate, the maps are well designed and everything flows like a well oiled machine. There's no noticeable lag and there's more than enough people on the servers to have given them a damn good test as well as keep things interesting at all times. If I has one grumble it would be that identification of enemies can be hampered a little by the colour coded gamertags that float above player heads sometimes taking a few seconds to kick in which led to some comedy moments of shall I/shan't I but no doubt will be fixed come release.
Graphically things are looking very impressive with little or no slowdown even in the most frenetic fire fights. Not only do the environments look beautifully realistic and come complete with some well implemented physics, but they're also highly destroyable which always adds to the fun. Who needs pin-point accuracy when you can just blow the side off a building after all?
It's fair to say that we'd kind of expect the multiplayer aspect of a Battlefield game to be pretty hot, so there's little surprise to be proven right by this beta. What will be more interesting will be seeing how they've forged the single player campaign and story when the game gets released in the summer. However, if the other multiplayer modes and maps prove to be half as much fun as the content found in the beta then there's every chance Bad Company will sell on the basis of its multiplayer alone despite the apparent single player focus.