Why Bad Company is Best / 28th of July 2014
Not all high profile videogame series launch as guaranteed mega-hits, stockpiling pre-orders like your weird survivalist uncle. Not so long ago any franchise looking to establish itself had to earn its stripes with a well-made and - maybe more importantly - popular game. Only after having built up sufficient goodwill could a series begin to gorge itself, like the videogame equivalent of Mr Creosote, on development and marketing budgets. The end result was the rise of industry colossi such as Battlefield and Call of Duty that have come to dominate the much coveted pre-Christmas release schedule, year upon year.
Both began as relatively modest first-person shooters on PC before graduating to consoles, and out of the two, it was Infinity Ward’s excellent Call of Duty 2 that first caught my attention. With its solid campaign, tight shooting and slick movement it was easily the more appealing game. Not to mention the fact that it was one of few good launch title for the 360, and after to the crushing disappointment of Perfect Dark Zero, the only worthwhile shooter. It wasn’t until 2008, and the release of Battlefield: Bad Company that I began to look at Dice’s particular brand of FPS.
Unfortunately after playing it, the original Battlefield: Bad Company failed to win me over. Despite the admittedly impressive terrain destruction - something I hadn’t seen since Red Faction 2, several years earlier - it fell short of excellence due to its average level design and bland campaign. Not to mention the fact that by that point Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had been released just six months earlier and was, in almost all respects a far superior game.
It wasn’t until Battlefield: Bad Company 2, released in March 2010 that my allegiance switched. After years of struggling to develop a campaign with solid level design, and an engrossing story with memorable set-pieces, Dice finally nailed it. Not only was the campaign a step up, the multiplayer - regarded as the mainstay of the series - was borderline perfect. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s one of, if not the best FPS multiplayer ever made. It had more depth than its immediate rivals, more variety than tournament shooters such as the Unreal series, and was more robust than ‘classic’ titles from previous generations. Dice had created their very own triple-A shooter, the golden goose of videogames as far as publishers are concerned. And they had managed to do it all without compromise, balancing technical achievement with engrossing gameplay, Bad Company 2 was their vision of what a triple-A FPS should be. The end result was a game which drew near universal praise from critics and still currently still holds a score of just under 90% on Metacritic.
And at that point EA and Dice threw it all away. After taking such a leap forward with Bad Company 2 Dice inexplicably chose to revert to the numbered titles for future Battlefield games, dropping the Bad Company name and tone with about as much sentiment as your average serial killer. The reason it seemed was that although critically acclaimed, Bad Company 2 had initially failed to rack up the same level of sales that its latest rival, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 had managed. Sales were solid if not remarkable at first, but Bad Company 2 was consistent, and as of 2012 the game has sold in excess of 12 million copies worldwide, nothing to be sniffed at. But regardless EA wanted a bigger slice of that pie and so Battlefield 3 was announced.
Admittedly looking impressive when gameplay footage first broke, it became apparent that after a few hours of play that Battlefield 3 just didn’t cut the mustard. The series had traded in its colourful aesthetics for a haze of orange and blue neon lights and was no longer the same game. It had sacrificed the humour that ran throughout the Bad Company series and adopted the same soulless military realism that had proved to be so fruitful for Call of Duty. Something Bad Company had previously lampooned to great effect.
Battlefield 3’s campaign lacked the flair and confidence of Bad Company 2’s. Once again the series had become dull and unimaginative, as Dice attempted to imitate Call of Duty rather than play to their own strengths. Surprisingly however, Battlefield 3 also failed where the series was traditionally at its best. Both in single and multiplayer, large sections of maps didn’t allow for the level of destructive freedom fans of the series had grown accustomed to. And having become as synonymous as vehicles to the series, these shortcomings were hard to overlook.
The final nail in the coffin was the introduction of a premium subscription service for all future DLC, a decision which directly contradicted the policy of previous Battlefield games. Around a year after the release of Bad Company 2, Dice’s then senior producer Patrick Bach had been quoted as saying; “We don't ever want to charge for our maps and insisted to EA that this attitude was crucial when it came to keeping our community happy and playing together”. The commendable approach Dice had previously insisted upon had been abandoned. Battlefield 3’s multiplayer became segregated, and if you didn’t purchase the necessary maps, then you would be kicked from the lobby when the next map in the cycle was one you hadn’t bought. This isn’t to say I’m against any and all sorts of paid DLC, Bad Company 2 did have paid DLC in the form of the Vietnam pack. But when not buying an optional extra negatively impacts my experience, then I take issue with DLC. The Vietnam pack was more akin to a major PC expansion, wholly separate from the standard multiplayer, it was something that would have merited a retail release in years previous. Bad Company 2 had never charged for additional maps which would feature in the standard multiplayer, instead all packs - of which there were more than a few - were released free of charge. Dice had recognised a problem, and developed a solution that satisfied both sides of the fence, if you wanted to buy additional content you could, but not buying it didn’t hamstring you either. Again Dice and EA had gotten it right, and then forgotten that fact in their next game.
Despite failing to eclipse Call of Duty and become top dog in the FPS genre, EA and Dice opted to continue with the numbered Battlefield series releasing Battlefield 4 in November of last year. However due to the demands of launching on five platforms the game did not arrive in a playable state, beset with game breaking bugs the multiplayer was all but out of bounds for the first few months of release. Since then things have thankfully been remedied, but the damage was already done, despite EA CEO Andrew Wilson conceding; “The situation we had was unacceptable. For the team it was unacceptable”. Although an eventual improvement, Battlefield 4 failed to match the standards of Bad Company 2. Instead the series continues to adopt a premium subscription policy for all DLC, and mimic Call of Duty, both in design of its clichéd set-pieces, and its insistence of crowbarring in Hollywood stars in an attempt to up the appeal.
Unlike Crytek or Guerrilla Games, Dice has proved it has the talent to make a game both staggeringly impressive from a technical standpoint while still delivering an exciting game, so it’s disappointing to see them fail in their final delivery once more. If they simply gave up trying to chase the Call of Duty ghost and focussed on making the game I know they’re capable of then things may change. With the smell of stagnation beginning to emanate from Call of Duty, Battlefield: Bad Company 3 could be the game to steal the FPS crown, whatever happens I guarantee Battlefield: Hardline isn’t the answer.