If you’ve paid close attention to my post tags, you may have noticed one called “grim shootin’,” which I generally append to games that put on a big ol’ Serious Face under the pretense that it makes the game more fun. Most modern FPS fall under the grim shootin’ banner, which is a shame, because it didn’t always used to be so. Heck, I don’t even have to reach all the way back to the 90’s, when Quake and Doom showed gamers the simple joy of circle-strafing and comically over-large weaponry—I merely have to go back to 2008, when one of my favorite shooters of all time graced store shelves, Battlefield: Bad Company.
Bad Company was Battlefield developer DICE’s first hand at making a Battlefield game specifically for consoles; prior entries were crappy PC ports that failed to capture what made the PC series so popular, or understand what makes shooters work on a console. Bad Company, makes a few choices atypical of modern FPS, several of which dumbfounded critics and audiences back when it was first released, but those quirks combined with the game’s large-scale action give Bad Company a distinctive, enjoyable vibe that I find preferable to nearly every other shooter on the market today.
Unlike previous console Battlefield games (or, as I understand it, Battlefield games in general), Bad Company has an actual, honest-to-goodness single player campaign. You play as Preston Marlowe, a rookie to the Army’s B Company, a division comprised of delinquent troops meant to act as cannon fodder before the “real” soldiers enter. During the middle of an unspecified conflict with the Russians, Marlow and squadmates stumble upon a horde of mercenary gold and, hoping to leave B Company in the filthiest, stinkin’ richest manner they can, strike out to track down the source of the precious bullion.
Bad Company’s story favorably reminds me of every bad 80’s B action movie I’ve ever seen. Characters are given broad, over-the-top personalities, and it’s hard not to warm up to such defined (for an action game) personalities. In addition to Marlowe (who’s more of a blank slate, the better to act as an audience-surrogate), there’s Haggard, an explosion-happy redneck who keeps going on about Truckasaurus Rex; Sweetwater, a neurotic tech specialist with more than a small hint of Steve Buscemi; and Sergent Redford, a no-nonsense CO whose tough-guy attitude and long-suffering demeanor are plucked from so many Police Chief-type characters. Also heard, but unseen, is Mike 1 Juliet, field operator for B Company, whom everyone refers to as Miss July for her attractive-sounding voice. The cast is miles away from the anonymous grunts populating most modern shooters, and give the proceedings a comic, anarchic kick.
Of course, Bad Company does more to stand out than simply act as a haven for broad characters and stolen gold. Bad Company was already deep in development when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare altered FPS games forever in November of 2007, and does not follow its now-ubiquitous structure of linear levels and heavily-scripted setpieces. Instead, Bad Company’s campaign plays like a very literal adaptation of classic Battlefield gaming: players are dropped onto a large, expansive map, and must fight their way to the objective using whichever route they choose. Though Bad Company’s tension never becomes as drum-tight as the Modern Warfare series, it’s easy-going exploration is much more befitting of the game’s tone, which is heavy on jokes and light on self-serious military jargon.
Level design isn’t even the biggest way Bad Company divorces itself from other modern shooters. Battlefield employs a respawn system similar to the Vita-Chambers in BioShock, letting players respawn after dying while keeping the mayhem they wreaked before death intact. Simply put, if you shoot two dudes and then kick the bucket, the two dudes you shot stay down after you come back. This effectively neuters the game of any stakes, never causing players to worry about their mortality, but it allows the gameplay to continue uninterrupted, and encourages experimentation with different forms of play.
Perhaps the most distinct element of Bad Company’s gameplay is its emphasis on destructibility, provided by the Frostbite engine (making its first appearance here). Every building in the game can be blown up, with walls and window sills crumbling from rockets or under-barrel grenades. It’s this last element that elevates Bad Company to something special; if a guy is shooting at you from behind cover, remove it with some C4 and move in for the kill. Bad Company distributes explosive ammo frequently and freely throughout the campaign, practically encouraging players to relax, play around, and have fun blowing stuff up real good.
This, in a nutshell, is why I love Bad Company. From the surf guitar music during the loading screen to the constant banter between Haggard, Sweetwater, and Sarge, Bad Company is no less of a lark than the corny, over-the-top 80’s action movies I know and love. This levity of tone and lack of frustration completely hooked me during my junior year of college; I played it for a week straight during break, spending every day casually working my way through the campaign, losing track of time and missing several meals.
Stellar, too, is Bad Company’s multiplayer. Present and accounted for is Conquest, Battlefield’s signature mode involving the capture of control points. Far more satisfying, though, is Bad Company-original Gold Rush (renamed Rush in later, more Serious sequels), with two teams alternating between attacking and defending two crates of gold. If both crates are destroyed, the defending team retreats further into the map to protect another two crates, and the game continues until either a) the attackers destroy all of the gold, or b) the defenders destroy enough attackers. Gold Rush was my obsession for a good six months after I bought a subscription to Xbox Live, and the mode still holds up well today. Incredibly, Bad Company‘s multiplayer runs faster and more-responsively than either of its sequels, with online play practically lag-free and performance feeling buttery-smooth.
I was in a good place when I first played Bad Company, and nostalgia could easily be clouding my judgment regarding Bad Company. Still, I think its structural differences from most modern action games (Vita-Chamber respawns, huge open levels, and massive explosions) make it a must-play for shooter fans looking for a fun, leisurely way to experience Battlefield.