Even now, the internet ionises as gamers prepare to take sides in what will no doubt be a forum-flaming battle of rampant fanboyism. Be assured: digital faeces will be flung; someone will say “no u”; moderators will stay up late wearily wading through the yapping and the dung as if they were the proprietors of a Chihuahua kennel with global reach.
But when it comes to the PC, there is no elephant in the room. Last year’s woefully disappointing console port of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to the PC bears no comparison to DICE’s latest instalment in the Battlefield series.
A standout success on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Modern Warfare 2 barely scrapped the grade on PC. A disjointed singleplayer campaign, accompanied by an online matchmaking service that usually saw Kiwi gamers pinged by banana bullets as they dared to compete in games hosted in the US, made for an experience better forgotten.
Of more interest is the development history of each franchise. Call of Duty’s origins has been decidedly cross-platform, formerly with a nod to the capabilities of PC. Battlefield existed exclusively on monitors until Battlefield 2: Modern Combat was released on consoles.
The original Bad Company followed three years later as a console exclusive. Now, after an absence of four years from the PC market (the free-to-play Heroes aside), DICE has brought its console offshoot back home.
But the lack of any credible competitor on the PC is hardly a blessing for gamers. Should the Swedish developers deliver a mediocre experience, the PC market could be left waiting up to nine months for Treyarch’s Call of Duty 7 – a franchise that has already left the PC community once-bitten.
Fortunately, DICE’s PC offering feels like the return of the prodigal son. Divided into a singleplayer campaign and online multiplayer, Bad Company 2 for the PC’s enhanced features should allay any concerns that the title would merely be a glossy port.
Bad Company 2 features dedicated servers. The server browser includes a variety of filters such as “not full” and “not empty” and includes a name search. A friends list helps players to find their friends online and join the same game.
There are four caveats: There is no prone, crouch cannot be toggled, and iron-sighting is toggle-only, health is still not displayed on the user interface. These are significant oversights on DICE’s behalf. (As to why, we’re not yet sure, but we have set up an interview with the developers and put those questions to them. Stay tuned.)
But for those of you who played the PC beta, rejoice: Pings and your kill-death ratio are now displayed on the scoreboard, alongside points earned. Hit registration, already patched in the beta client, appears sounder still.
The multiplayer is spread over eight maps (10 once you’ve cashed in your Project 10 Dollar VIP voucher – 12 come late March). For those left snow-blind by the Alaskan Port Valdez map of the beta, the full release takes players globetrotting from that frigid north to the stunning jungles and deserts of South America. Each is finely balanced for team multiplayer and all are realised as a carefully crafted corner of nature that war has imposed itself upon.
This comes courtesy of DICE’s Destruction 2.0. Its country cousin made its awkward debut in the original Bad Company on consoles and bears little comparison to the 2010 iteration. Aside from truly imposing structures such as pipelines and temples, all battlefields can be completely levelled. Jungle foliage crashes, huts and abandoned houses collapse in on themselves.
Destruction 2.0 means that no two encounters play out quite the same way. Moreover, how players must approach and appreciate cover has been redrafted. A wooden fence is no protection against assault rifle fire, to say nothing of an RPG. It can take some getting used to, especially since the condition of your shelter must be judged on purely aesthetic measures and if it collapses on you, you’ll die, but it’s a significant step forward, and one that makes its competitors' pristine, inviolate settings outmoded.
There are four classes to choose from in multiplayer: assault, medic, engineer and scout. Each has advantages corresponding to their roles, as they always have. The game’s levelling system is finely balanced, offering players more options as they level up specific classes. The item upgrades unlocked while levelling offer varying advantages that largely cater to different play-styles rather than wholesale advantages over lower-level players – as it should be in a first-person shooter, this isn’t World of Battlefield.
There are four multiplayer modes. Rush, on display in the beta, sets the offensive team a phasing series of objectives to destroy on a more linear map. Squad Rush pits two smaller teams against one another, without vehicles, and with only two objectives. Squad Deathmatch pits four squads against one another, but Battlefield’s defining open-play game mode, Conquest, returns unspoiled.
The whole package is tied together by unparalleled audio. Feet crunch twigs, a shell obliterating the concrete wall you’re sheltering behind leaves your speakers ringing with a tinnitus sample that would make Ridley Scott dribble. As a matter of fact, the game employs Dolby digital.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is DirectX 9 and 10 compatible, and features some small DirectX 11 enhancements, including soft shadowmap filtering. It does not support DX11 multithreading however, which is arguably the latest version’s most advantageous feature. That said, Bad Company 2 visually pleasing. DICE are less fanatical about graphical bloom effects than many – sun strike occlusion is inoffensive.
The singleplayer campaign is a witty, kitsch action tale that sees the return of B Company as they unravel a Russian military plot involving a secret weapon engineered by the Japanese in the closing days of World War II. The prologue, featuring American GI’s extracting a Japanese scientist at the end of the Second World War, is some small acknowledgement of the series’ first title, Battlefield 1942. It’s also a pleasant tease as to what we can expect when the oft-delayed Battlefield 1943 hits PCs.
B Company is composed of the same strong-willed characters that headlined the original Bad Company game. Their comic banter punctuates the casual story and is peppered with some none-too-subtle digs at Modern Warfare 2’s more “grim visaged” take on contemporary combat. No controversial scenes here.
You play as the mute Marlowe. Your squad companions leave something to be desired once the action begins, however. They’re invincible, which is terribly convenient, but belief is often suspended as they nonchalantly brush off a shell taken to the chest. They’re also horrible shots next to your one-man army. They do cause an awful racket however, and draw enough fire to let you use the terrain to your advantage.
Enemy AI is middling. They display environmental awareness but a poor understanding of its newly-destructible nature, nor are they particularly cooperative with one another.
It’s hard to care. It would be easy to quibble about AI faults in the singleplayer if it served any greater purpose than being an entertaining distraction for players when the multiplayer servers run quiet. We doubt that will happen for quite some time. DICE have reinvigorated a genre that was in mild decline on its native platform. The experience is equal parts nostalgia and evolution. We only wish more were striving in this space.