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Battlefield: Bad Company
Score: 82%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Digitial Illusions (DICE)
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 24 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Welcome to Bad Company! As the newest recruit in America's premier B-Team military unit, you've been given the chance to forgo jail time and serve your country. The regular army may be trained to be first to fight, but you are literally the first guys in and act as a speed bump for enemy forces. Of course, being tagged as expendable doesn't do much for your crew's loyalty, so when they come across some mercenaries who are paid in gold bars, they decide to take a slight detour and make a few extra bucks.

Battlefield: Bad Company features some of the best audio on the PS3. How good is it? While playing in a particularly overcast area, I thought it was incredibly cool that the far-off rumbling of thunder was included. Then I looked out my window and realized that the thunder was actually outside my window, not in the game. Everything else sounds just as real, from gunfire to massive explosions, so those with expensive sound systems are in for a treat.

The game isn't a visual slouch either. Bad Company uses DICE's Frostbite engine, which allows for environments that can be torn apart. Though you can't flatten entire structures or blow a hole to China, it's still fun to leave towns in worse condition than you found them. Most walls will buckle under any explosive force and trees topple after a few rounds of a high-caliber machine gun. There are some noticeable hiccups, like wood crates than can withstand direct rocket attacks, but when you can hollow out entire houses, little things like that are easy to overlook.

Battlefield: Bad Company is a fun, solid game, but the characters that accompany you on your trip are what make it worth playing. Except for Sarge, the other two guys in your company aren't really soldiers and their attitudes prove it. Haggard spends most of his time wondering if a "Truckasaurus Rex" could take on a Russian tank and Sweetwater constantly pines over "Miss July", your team's mission operator. The dialogue between the group is miles beyond what other games have attempted; it's smart, snappy and doesn't feel the need to drop the F-bomb every other word.

Missions take place in a large area of operations while Miss July directs you on individual objectives. In one mission, you are charged with protecting one of the unluckiest caravans in the military from countless attacks. One objective asks you to take out a group of mortars laying suppressive fire to the convoy's path, while another has you clearing out a suspected ambush point along the way. You can use vehicles to travel between areas faster and even give yourself some extra firepower, though I found going on foot a better option for the added maneuverability.

While the underlying gameplay is great, the ability to destroy things in the environment is the rum that makes the Coke fun. This opens up a whole new avenue for strategy that frees you from having to slog through labyrinthine streets. Tank in your way? Just walk into the next street, blow a hole in a nearby wall and get the drop on it. Later in the game, you'll gain access to air and mortar strikes that can clear out an area in a few seconds, opening even more doors.

Multiplayer has always been the series' forte and Bad Company lives up to its pedigree. Up to 24 players can take part in online battles which are a slight variation of the traditional Capture and Control game types found in other games. Attackers attempt to blow up crates of gold; if they are successful the map opens up, revealing more areas to attack. Players choose one of five specialized classes before each match and earn experience points based on their performance in matches. These points go towards a progressive unlock system that rewards you with new items, like the health injector or different firearms.

Suicide missions are sort of Bad Company's specialty, so most of your objectives will stack the odds against you. This is magnified by the lack of participation from your squad. They're good for a few laughs and keep things entertaining, but they aren't incredibly useful on the battlefield. They'll shoot a few enemies, though you're the one who has to do the really hard work. At least the large area of operations and ability to take down walls offers you some freedom as to how you approach each objective. If one way doesn't work, you can always loop around and find another.

Enemies aren't incredibly smart and will usually stand out in the open even when cover is only a few inches away. However, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, especially when they have guns and your cover has a way of disappearing on you.

Game Mechanics:
Eschewing the current trend of allowing you to hide and heal up, you instead use an injection needle to heal up. The system feels goofy when it is first introduced; press (L2) to bring up the needle, then press (R2) to use it. You'll eventually pick up the rhythm; though until then, you'll grow really familiar with the overly-friendly respawn system. When you die, you pop up a short distance from where you died. Rather than reset everything, you still get credit for all the mayhem you caused before dying.

The system is similar to Bioshock, but without the strategy. You can't "run out" of respawns and nothing resets, so there isn't much of a reason to think before going into combat. Just run in, take out a few enemies and buildings, die and respawn. At least after popping out of a Vitachamber, you could still find yourself in a bad situation. Here there's no real consequence. It also detracts from the whole "no place to hide" element. If you can't really die, then why should it matter that your cover won't last more than a few shots?

The rest of the controls work, but are counterintuitive. Weapons are assigned to the shoulder buttons; the Right buttons control your weapons, while the Left ones bring up tools. Until you get a feel for the layout, you'll constantly find yourself pulling up tools when you want weapons.

As long as there's something new to throw at you, Bad Company is at its best. Once it runs out of new toys for you to play with, which is about two-thirds of the way in, it begins to lose some of its fun. The single-player campaign is short and the ending has a, "I guess that's it" quality. It's a solid experience, but not particularly high in replay value unless you delve into the multiplayer aspects.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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