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Battlefield: Bad Company (Xbox 360)
MSRP: $29.99
Number of Players: 1 (2-24 players via Xbox Live)
Developer: Digital Illusions CE
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Rating:
****
out of
*****

EA/DICE's Battlefield series is one of multiplayer gaming's top shelf franchises. When Battlefield: Bad Company was introduced to the gaming public, much attention was paid to the fact that the game would contain a fleshed-out single-player campaign along with the usual multiplayer action. Would a good single-player campaign bring a new audience to the series? Would that single-player campaign be an improvement over the rather barebones attempt in the previous console Battlefield game, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat?

Using a new in-game engine -- called Frostbite -- Battlefield: Bad Company introduces a second new element to the series: destructible surroundings. In previous games (and most other first-person shooters), going into a building or house meant you were relatively safe from enemy fire as long as you kept away from the windows. Not so in BF:BC. Buildings have destructible walls. Wood, concrete, and sheet metal are all capable of being destroyed in the game. Some provide more cover than others, but most all of the building material in the game can be destroyed. Also, the trees and bushes can all be blasted to kingdom come as well. Mowing down a line of trees with a heavy machine gun is entirely possible now.

The aforementioned single-player campaign puts the player into the role of Private Preston Marlow. He's assigned to Bad Company or, rather, B Company, as it's referred to in the game. Bad Company is the 222nd Army Battalion and, according to the game, is where insubordinate soldiers are assigned. Made up of Redford, a cigar-chomping, no-nonsense squad leader; Haggard, a redneck demolitions expert who is fond of spouting off one-liners, and Sweetwater, a somewhat nerdy, but dependable communications specialist, B Company finds themselves continually thrust into the most difficult situations, usually ahead of a larger force of American soldiers, as they are considered expendable. They continue to do what is asked of them until they stumble onto a cache of gold. From that point on, the company struggles to find a way to fulfill their mission while searching for more gold. Sometimes, the gold takes priority.

Like Battlefield 2: Modern Combat and Activision's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, BF: BC takes place in present day, with modern weaponry and confusing political affiliations. BF: BC doesn't try to tackle any type of political agenda, though, and even the American forces are somewhat of an obstacle in certain parts of the game. (Not quite enemies, but they stand in the way of Bad Company's ultimate goal.)

Speaking of Call of Duty 4, if you're experienced with that game, you'll have to make some small adjustments to get comfortable with BF: BC's control scheme and gameplay. One of the major differences is that, unlike COD4, you will not automatically heal when injured. Instead, you must inject yourself with a "Life-2" hypodermic needle when your health is low to regain your strength. There is a timer that prevents you from constantly injecting yourself with health, so managing your health level becomes more critical in BF: BC than in many other recent first-person shooters. Also different is the position of the weapons selection controls. The left and right bumpers on the Xbox 360 controller allow the player to toggle between items, depending on their type. The left bumper controls the "Life-2" injector, various detonators and larger weapons and the right bumper toggles through your default weapons, such as the rifle, grenades, or handgun. Overall, the game controls work well and there was never a time that I was frustrated due to their layout.

BF: BC's graphics are top-notch, although they can occasionally get grainy-looking. The weapons' damage and explosions are well-done and the sound design compliments the action. I can only imagine how close any game gets to real combat, but there were definitely situations in Battlefield: Bad Company where I was disoriented and overtaken by the sheer chaos of the battle. In addition to following the mission objectives, the player can choose to collect the gold bars and collectable weapons that litter the playfields. Doing so is not required to play the game, but it does provide a nice diversion from simply blowing everyone and everything to smithereens.

The single-player missions can be quite challenging, especially near the end, but they're never cheap or unfair. The enemy AI suffers from occasional brainfade as I would sometimes see enemy soldiers just standing around when they were clearly being shot at. The destructible buildings and foliage can create some really interesting situations. For example, in one mission, Bad Company is beset by snipers. Picking up a machine gun and wildly spraying ammo into the trees-- causing several of them to fall over -- exposed a few of the snipers' locations to more focused blasts of gunfire.

The multiplayer part of Battlefield remains strong as well. Although, curiously, there is no cooperative play available even though you're a member of a four man team in the single-player game. That's the game's biggest disappointment.

Battlefield: Bad Company is a well-constructed and solid single-player game with the added bonus of a well-designed and well-populated multiplayer community. If you're the slightest bit interested in first-person shooters, this is one you definitely want on your list.

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