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XBOX 360: Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Review

With all the hype surrounding Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) and the Call of Duty (CoD) series over the last few months you’d be forgiven for forgetting that there are other hugely successful FPS franchises out there. This month, Dice Studios aim (no pun intended) to remind you, with the release of Bad Company 2 (BC2), the latest in the Battlefield series on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

BC2 comprises a single player campaign and a multiplayer mode. No ‘Spec Ops’ or ‘Zombie Nazi’ mode as with recent CoD titles and it’s pretty clear from the outset that the producers wanted to focus on the core game modes. The Battlefield series has always been about the multiplayer experience (the early Battlefield games didn’t even have a single player mode) and this is no less true with BC2 which turns out to be both a strength and a weakness of the game.

The single player campaign puts you back in control of Preston Marlowe, the latest recruit to ‘Bad Company’; a ragtag four man squad in the US army sent on missions that no one else wants. As with the first Bad Company, it’s set sometime in the near future in the midst of a huge war between the US and Russia. Bad Company is sent on a series of mission to track down and prevent the use of a WWII era Japanese super weapon which has fallen into Russian hands. Somewhat unsurprisingly the plot is very silly, far fetched and largely irrelevant as it only serves to knit together one level to the next and a result makes the game feel pretty disjointed. However unlike other FPS with silly plots (*cough*MW2*cough*), BC2 doesn’t have the cinematic feel and so ends up feeling even more stupid. The campaign keeps things varied with tank driving missions, sniper missions and massive siege firefight missions, but it’s reliance on ‘rail shooter’ levels gets boring after a while. The whole campaign feels a little too easy. There are three difficulty levels (Easy, Normal and Hard) and while I played it on normal I raced through the game only getting stuck three or four times and when I did, the gameplay suddenly bottle necked and became uncharacteristically tricky. The single player is short and I managed to finish it in 6-8 hours and when the end comes, it comes with a whimper rather than a bang. Perhaps one of the most unforgivable aspects of the single player are the mission trigger points (an orange diamond on the map that indicates where you need to go to, to trigger the next part of the level). There were many instances where getting to the points on the map meant fighting through enemy soldiers, tanks, snipers etc yet if you just ran (or in some cases drove) toward the diamond and reached it before being killed you would trigger the next part of the mission and all the enemy would vanish. This is a pretty unforgivable design ‘feature’ and I have to wonder if this was intentional or just a result of poor design. Either way it just makes the game even easier once you work this out. It’s fair to say that the single player campaign isn’t as good as BC1. It’s feels like no fresh ideas where brought to the table and although the banter between your AI squad mates is often hilarious, it feels like the focus was somewhere else.

At this point you’re probably thinking I hate this game and nothing could be farther from the truth. Despite these flaws, BC2 is still a really fun game to play. What it lacks in story, level design and arguably proper QA, it makes up for with it’s beautiful graphics. The draw distances are fantastic and there were several levels where I was called upon to shoot enemy with a sniper rifle from a cliff top perch. The bad guys actually felt like they were a good half mile away and really added to the sniper mission. Jungle levels are lush and very detailed and some of the open mountain levels are pretty breathtaking. Coupled with the great graphics is the great sound design. Snow crunches under foot, birds sing in the jungle, enemies shout at each other in the middle of battle and everything comes together to totally immerse you in the environment. One of the best things about the game is Dice’s proprietary ‘Destruction 2.0’ mechanic which is back and better than ever and this is probably the biggest feature to set BC2 apart from MW2. Buildings, trees, water towers, vehicles you name it, it can be destroyed and just not completely destroyed, but destroyed bit by bit. Pesky sniper shooting at you from a window? Easy, blow the corner of the building out with your rifle mounted grenade launcher. Group of soldiers pinning you down? Not a problem, throw a grenade and topple a radio mast on top of them. Not only is the destruction model strategically useful, but it’s makes the game feel so much more realistic. Enemy camps get destroyed around you and whilst that concrete pillar looks like a good place to take cover, it’s not so great when the enemy starts firing at it with a 50mm machine gun and it’s starts coming down around you.

As mentioned at the top of this review, BC2 is divided into two parts and where the single player disappointed, the multiplayer delights. Although it’s a shame that a Battlefield game has a lackluster single player, it’s no surprise that the multiplayer is the true jewel in the crown. Unlike MW2 with it’s multiple multiplayer game types, BC2 only has three. Conquest is similar to MW2’s Domination, where both teams must fight to control several bases around the map and reach a score limit. Rush is similar to Headquarters, where one team must defend two bases against an enemy who are trying to destroy them and Squad Deathmatch, which as it sound is a deathmatch mode but with the distinction that both teams try to control a vehicle in the center of the map that will give them a significant advantage. The first thing you will do when entering a multiplayer game… is die! You better get used to this as in all likely hood it’s going to happen a lot until you work out what the hell’s going on. BC2’s multiplayer is totally different to MW2. The maps are all huge, the battle unrelenting and the general atmosphere is chaotic to say the least. Because the game types all revolve around a central objective(s), the action is always focused on one part of the map. It’s hard to know what’s going on at first, but when you die you are given the choice of re spawn locations based on the different objective points on the map, assuming you control them. Each team has a home base that cannot be lost and is usually (spawn killers not withstanding) a safe place to re spawn. The game also has a squad feature that allows you and a small group of other players to work together. If you are in a squad and you die, you can re spawn next to your squad mate wherever they may be. A really cool feature that makes dying less of a an inconvenience. There are four classes in the game as well and each one gives you a distinct advantage, playing as a particular class will unlock upgrades and new perks and make things easier. Combining these classes with a squad means that a group can always have a medic who can heal and even resurrect players, an engineer who can repair your vehicles and easily destroy enemy vehicles and a couple of assault or scout classes who can lead the fight or hang back and snipe respectivley. When you consider that the multiplayer mode also has the same amazing graphics, sound and destructible environments as the single player, you can begin to imagine what an incredible experience it is. Whilst MW2 multiplayer felt like minor skirmishes, BC2 feels like a fully fledged battle. With helicopters circling above firing miniguns, machine gun fire from boats and jetskis, heavy bombardment from tanks and soldiers racing around the map in humvees and on quadbikes, there’s something for everyone. A little side note on helicopters; everyone wants to fly one and why not, but not everyone can. I will admit that, at great disappointment to myself, piloting is not my strong suit and hanging out the side on the minigun is more my speed. Not everyone is so self aware however. Be¬†warned now. 90% of the time if you jump in a helicopter with someone else flying, be prepared for, at best a firery crash in to the side of a mountain or at worst, hovering 20 feet above the enemy taking RPG fire while they try and work out the controls! You might be feeling a little burnt out on multiplayer after playing MW2, but BC2 really steps it up with an epic feeling experience. Unless you’re a Battlefield veteran it’s going to feel disorienting and chaotic at first, but stick with it and you’ll soon see why Battlefield has always been and still is, all about the multiplayer.

In summary, BC2 is a very good game, perhaps even a great game although some disappointing missteps in the single player take it down a notch. However if you’re more of a multiplayer gamer you owe it to yourself to check BC2 out. Whilst it might not have the refined feel of MW2, the overall gameplay experience is so much more fun if you’re willing put in the time to adjust. Vehicles, team objectives and squads mean that BC2 is all about the team play. Whilst you can go it alone, you’re going to have an easier and more fun time if you work together and BC2 thankfully attracts a slightly more serious gamer than MW2. Add to that beautiful graphics and sound design and you’ve got an epic feeling multiplayer experience that’s sure to keep you awake far too late on many a school night!

Review

ProsCons
Epic feeling multiplayer, Destructible environments, Beautiful graphics and sound designUnderwhelming single player mode, Single player too short and too easy, Multiplayer can have a learning curve after playing MW2
Rating
78%
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XBOX360: Halo 3: ODST Review

Let’s get something out of the way before we go any further. Halo 3: ODST is not a sequel to Halo 3, it is also not a fully fledged title in the Halo first person shooter lineup despite the full cost $60 price tag. Halo 3: ODST should be correctly viewed as an expansion to 2007’s Halo 3, hence the presence of “Halo 3” in the title. But more of that later.

Halo 3: ODST differs from previous Halo titles, in that instead of playing as the infamous Master Chief, you are controlling a new Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, known simply as the rookie. The action takes place in the earth city of New Mombassa before the events of Halo 3. The human race is fighting a loosing battle with The Covenant and earth has become the last line of defense. The game starts with a group of elite ODST dropping in pods to the surface to mount a counter offensive. Unfortunately the squad gets separated from each other and after being knocked unconscious in a crash landing, the rookie awakes in a deserted New Mombasa, to a trail of destruction left by a recent battle. Your character takes it on himself to try and regroup with the rest of his squad and resume their mission.

Most of the game is spent traipsing through abandoned streets moving from one checkpoint to the next, occasionally running into groups of enemy. The sense of isolation and solitude is done very well, in part due to very atmospheric music (a staple of the entire series) but there is a question in my mind as to wether this actually makes for compelling gameplay. You can spend 10 minutes at a time not really encountering a whole lot of resistance and it does feel repetitive. The gameplay gets a sudden jolt however when you encounter occasional clues to your colleagues recent presence. These clues trigger a flashback sequence of sorts that transfers you into the role of that ODST. Gone are the abandoned and darkly lit streets and you are thrust in the heat of battle against waves and waves of enemy. This feels a lot more like Halo and frankly is a lot more fun. Some of these flashback sequences put you in driving missions, in tanks and also in aircraft. From a story perspective you can see what Bungie were trying to achieve but it feels a little disjointed and you don’t buy into your character’s story as much as you did in the other Halo games. As you are no longer a superhuman Spartan in ODST and simply “a man”, you have to pick up health packs to regenerate health. As Halo has never been a heavily tactical FPS, you’re going to need to pick up health fairly often. Thankfully there are easy to come by. There are a few new weapons in the game too, including a suppressed sub machine gun that is your default gun and I’m pleased to announce that the pistol is back to it’s former Halo 1 glory. It’s an extremely accurate weapon and when used with practice can achieve many a headshot. Of course for the bigger enemy you might want to consider a rocket launcher! Dual wielding is notably absent from this game however and whilst this might fit in with the games premise, it’s feels a little regressive. The campaign mode is also notably shorter than in other Halo games. Even on the harder difficulty settings you can blow through it in a few hours.

Graphically the game look pretty with plenty of detail, but it is started to show it’s age. As ODST shares it’s graphics engine with Halo 3, it uses graphics that are over 3 years old. The designers have done a decent job with creating some new effects and some of the landscapes are quite alluring, but this game also suffers from a problem that has plagued all of the Halo titles before it; repetitive scenery. It’s quite common to be walking down a street in the city and have the feeling that you’ve accidentally doubled back on yourself and have begun walking in circles. In reality, the same corridors, streets and buildings do get used again and again and whilst there is enough variation for the most part, it can give you a sense of deja-vu and confusion. It’s a shame that in 4 games Bungie haven’t managed to work this out. It’s not a problem I’ve ever noticed with any of the Call of Duty games.

What does work very well is the sound. This has always been a great feature of the Halo titles and ODST is no different. The score is powerful and rousing when it’s needs to be, such as in the heat of battle and very atmospheric and calming when you’re picking through the debris and carnage on your hunt for your squad.

Probably the biggest change from previous titles, is the addition of Firefight mode. This game mode is completely new and pits you and up to three fellow players (although you can play it by yourself) against successive waves of bad guys, each wave harder than the last. If you’ve played Horde mode on Gears of War 2 or Nazi Zombies on CoD5 than you get the idea. It’s an increasingly popular addition to FPS titles these days and it’s good to see that Bungie have their own approach to it. One of the major differences between Firefight and Horde mode or Nazi Zombies is shared lives! This really puts the pressure on you not to die and you do find that you’re less likely to run across the map on a selfish suicide mission, knowing that if you die, you deprive the rest of the team of an additional re-spawn. Each wave also has it’s own characteristics, such as “Grenade Happy” where you’ll find grunts will shower you in sticky grenades or a mode where you can only recharge your shields by melee attacking the enemy. These dramatically force you to adapt your gameplay and definitely keep you on your toes. Probably the best aspect however is the AI. The enemy don’t simply run at you, but hold back, use cover and flank you, it really works and all adds up to great gameplay and more than a few late nights.

The bad news is that multiplayer is a total bust. Instead of creating any new multiplayer functions, Bungie decided to add a second disc which contains the multiplayer mode from Halo 3 lock, stock and barrel. Ok it does include all of the map packs which were previously available to purchase in the marketplace and there are two or three new maps, but let’s not kid ourselves, this is completely recycled content. As such, any of the new features of ODST, weapons, enemy, graphical enhancements etc are absent. Truly there is no different from playing the multiplayer mode of ODST or Halo 3… they are the same. This kind of leads me to back to my opening comments. While ODST has some fun moments in the albeit short campaign and Firefight is a great addition, it never feels like a full game. This is probably because originally it wasn’t going to be. Bungie had intended this to be an expansion for Halo 3 to bridge the gap before the next full Halo title, Halo: Reach, which comes out next summer. Unfortunately they obviously decided against this and turned it into a full price game instead and with the help of Microsoft’s hefty marketing buzz, were able to justify the $60 price tag. It’s not that ODST is overtly bad, it’s just that it’s not great value. Bungie should really take a leaf out of Rockstar’s book who have released two highly enjoyable expansions for GTA:IV both of which added hours of gameplay to an already excellent game, but more importantly, cost under $20 each. There’s a lot to be said for the relationship between enjoyment and perception of value and unfortunately for ODST it falls short when measured against this equation.

In summary, Halo 3: ODST adds some fun elements to the series, but the presence of a recycled multiplayer mode and a pretty short campaign mean that it’s longevity is questionable. Given that we are now in the golden season for new game releases and especially with the much awaited CoD: Modern Warfare 2 as well as Left 4 Dead 2 about to come out, I would advise going elsewhere for your FPS fix or at least wait until you can pick it up used for half the price. True Halo fans however will to pick it up regardless I would imagine.

Overall, fun but nothing that justifies $60. I would have given it an extra point if they had just left Halo 3’s multiplayer mode out all together. Adding it just seems lazy and insulting somehow

Review

ProsCons
Firefight Mode, Atmospheric & immersive gameplay,It's a Halo game! Recycled multiplayer, Repetitive level design, Doesn't feel like a $60 game
Rating
60%