With Battlefield 3 just around the corner I felt that it would be apt to take a few moments to break down why this is a fine title and a great example of an online action title. I’ll also be looking at weaknesses and how they could be improved.
The objectives are an integral part of the game. The combination of how they are presented and the style of gameplay to achieve them is fairly simple but ever so effective. What they provide is focus. In a standard deathmatch it can be a little aimless, especially when spawning is fairly random. However by providing a set location, or series of locations to go to the game is bringing players together to fight. Of course those equipped with long range weapons will take to the hills but there is a core FPS centre to the game.
What I find interesting is that both Rush and Conquest use a ticket system. Rush builds upon the Assault game mode by using an intriguing kill based system where players must achieve an objective before running out of tickets, i.e. lives. Conquest shows that rather than a multipoint Team King of the Hill game mode, it requires combat proficiency beyond being able to defend a position. Effectively the classic core gameplay has had a nice twist to make it about more than just camping or wandering around killing noobs.
Whilst this is quite interesting and works well, it is simply providing objectives that can be fought over as part of a substantial battle that make the game. This wouldn’t work without a good UI and the HUD is very clear in displaying the objectives. The positioning, colours and shapes for the world space markers is simple and very effective with a map that keeps things to a minimum in order to reduce clutter and improve the player’s ability to read it and react.
Combat is nice and gritty with solid audio and recoil to give a real bite. They have a low health effect, which whilst it is something that I’m not keen on, it doesn’t impede as much as many other games. It can take a good few hits to earn a kill but a skilled player will quickly bring an enemy down with a well placed headshot. It is quite a challenging game to play and does take some time to master, particularly sniping as players must judge the projectile path and aim above their target.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has an excellent class system. As with Delta Force: Black Hawk Down selecting your class doesn’t particularly limit your combat capabilities although the weapons do vary. Medics are armed with machine guns, Recon have sniper rifles, Assault have assault rifles and Engineers have sub-machine guns. However the range of weapons is pretty good so there’s lots of variances and picking your class doesn’t bind you to long range or close quarters combat. On top of the weapon variances, there’s also unique abilities for each class. Medics can deploy health packs and revive their team mates with Engineers equipped to take out enemy vehicles as well as repair their teams. Meanwhile players from the Assault class can upgrade their primary and distribute ammo to keep the front lines firing with Recon geared to identifying targets and taking them out.
What I think defines the class system the most is the Recon class. Rather than labelling these players as “snipers” they are there to provide recon and identify targets whilst also being suitably equipped to kill the opposition. When players engage with the roles associated with their class and work well within a squad then it builds a great foundation for success. With assault players deploying ammo, people can keep fighting and the medic can keep the team alive with recon able to quickly tag opponents.
A little gameplay point relating to medics is how they affect tickets. Reviving a fallen comrade will regain that lost ticket so by effective medic play it can maintain players on the front with less of a penalty for dying. Of course needless suicidal medics don’t really provide any benefit, shy of swapping who is dead.
The squads system works especially well. In a game where you have say 16 people on your side, it can be hard to effectively co-ordinate but when part of a squad the position of your team mates is clear, you can see what class they are and work with them more effectively. More important is the ability to spawn on your other team mates which saves massive walks and also ensures that after you die, providing your team mates stay alive, regrouping is very easy. On the flip side it is a little frustrating when you take out 3 people and in the time to take cover, reload and go after the fourth the players that you killed all return.
The combination of tanks and choppers is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It certainly does add to the intensity and I can fully understand the enjoyment in using them, however given Battlefield: Bad Company has probably the best FPS combat out there, it can be an unwanted addition. Having fought hard to take over an objective, it is a little frustrating when someone sat in a nice protected shell can annihilate you with shells and machine gun fire. I’ve actually started warming to engineer’s simply because the tanks annoy me that much. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to get much joy against helicopters yet, but I’ve probably not unlocked the right weapon yet.
This leads me onto my other more significant gripe with the game; progression. As with the vehicles, I have very mixed feelings over it. Being able to level up and get rewards is great and provides that burning desire to play one more game. However in order to provide rewards, you need to restrict what weapons new players have and perhaps more importantly, they don’t get the upgrades such as better med packs, improved scopes and the ability to carry more explosives etc. How anyone could argue that it is a level playing field is beyond me. It can be really frustrating when as a new player you aren’t quite comfortable with your weapon yet people are killing you with weapons that you don’t have, or using perks to lob that extra grenade when you’re stuck with a base loadout. That said, providing the full range of weapons to new players could be a little intimidating and it isn’t easy to experiment with weapons on the fly in hectic battles.
New players do get a bit of a chance to play with the more powerful weapons by picking up the kits dropped by dead players. Getting that one chance with a quality anti-tank weapon can be kinda cool, but at the same time it is a bit of a harsh reminder “you can’t pick this” if you quickly take a liking to the weapon. On a more combat related note, it does allow for you to adapt your tactics and loadout on the fly. Approaching a target area armed with a longer range sniper rifle? Steal the weapon of a downed foe and you might have the perfect weapon to proceed.
What I do really like is the implementation of the progression. As with many similar titles the kill notifications explain what points are being rewarded but it is very clear to see and read with a quick gland without being intrusive (although unlocking new weapons is a little over kill). Earning little bonuses are a nice touch, rewarding players for more skilful play and more importantly, working with their squad. If healing members your squad gives more points than the rest of the team, who are you going to work work? Your squad. In addition to the straight points, pins are awarded for earning several headshots in a match, saving team mates from a certain death or avenging them, all earning extra points and being another nice little touch. This is all wrapped up with a breakdown of the scores at the end of the game, showing where your points came from and progress to the next level.
Finally the one thing missing from making this game the pinnacle of online FPS action is quite simply, lack of communication. The actual text messages are buried away very discretely so you don’t really take notice and whilst there is Voip support in the options, it isn’t something that I’ve found people using. Of course given the feature is provided, users are obviously not using it but it doesn’t seem to be promoted to the player. Some other games provide umpteen references Whilst the majority of people who play it in clans will be on Ventrillo or Teamspeak, this is still an issue for new or solo players. Given that working in a group can be such an influence on your success, people who aren’t playing with a specified group on a third party voice comms are missing out. On the plus side, least there’s no annoying kids screeching down the microphone!
I’ve previously described my love of Delta Force: Black Hawk Down and I’ve not been able to find a game that provided the same experience since. Bad Company 2 is without a doubt the closest that I’ve came to finding it again. You can tell that this is what Novalogic wanted with Joint Operations. If anyone ever fancies making a game heavily modelled on the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 combat systems and match types but without the tanks, I’ll be a very happy person indeed!