First impressions / Battlefield: Bad Company multiplayer beta (X360)

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Battlefield: Bad Company will make its way to the current generation of consoles this summer. But a few lucky gamers are getting the chance to check out a little chunk of the game in a multiplayer beta that began on Xbox LIVE today. The beta is focused on the Gold Rush game mode, which comes down to different squads attacking or defending gold treasure chests. DICE has put a nice amount of options into the beta, allowing you to play ranked, unranked, custom matches, choose your character class, drive a variety of vehicles, and blow a lot of stuff up.

Once you select a character class, you’re not restricted to it for the whole match. Should you fall in battle, you’ll be able to switch your class. The player has 5 character classes to choose from:

  • Assault – the standard grunt, with machine gun and grenades
  • Demolition – explosive expert, has a rocket launcher, and grenades
  • Recon – shotgun, binoculars and a motion sensor
  • Special Ops – pistol and some C4
  • Support – pistol, can heal, and supply units

For my first few matches I chose to go with the standard Assault class and, with the exception of demolition, I felt that the other classes were pretty useless. Maybe they have their uses in different match modes, but when you’re involved in an assault trying to attack or defend, the last thing you need is a pair of binoculars, or a lowly pistol to fend off that artillery tank on your six.

After you make your class selection you spawn on a team which is either attacking or defending. At the top of the screen are three status bars: one large one showing the strength of the attacking team, and two smaller ones which represent the gold chest. Whichever team depletes the opposing teams bar first wins the match. You’ll know where the gold chests are at all times – a gold triangle on your radar points to their general direction and, if you’re in their general vicinity, on your screen as well.

The only map I’ve played so far is Oasis, with another map called Ascension also available. Oasis is basically a desert with a base on one side for the attackers and a camp on the opposite side for the defenders. The base holds a bunch of vehicles, tanks, humvees, a helicopter, and some speed boats. Every single vehicle has a weapon of some sort, and can transport at the minimum 2 people at a time. While in vehicles, one person drives, and the passengers offer fire support. If you enter a vehicle by yourself you’ll only be able to do one thing at a time, but you can switch your seat from driver, to weapons support at the press of a button. The only exception to this is the tank, in which you can drive and fire at the same time. The defenders base has far less vehicles than the attackers base, I noticed maybe 2 tanks and that was it. Vehicles are first come, first serve, and provide a huge advantage, so once matches start everyone makes a mad dash for them.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the games “destructible environments” and to be honest that portion came off a little sketchy. At one point I was in a heavy artillery tank and I must’ve fired ten straight shots at a wall in this building, and there was maybe a slight hole where I was firing. Now I understand that the way the game engine works, you won’t be able to totally level a building, but I had a huge artillery gun for crying out loud, I just was expecting to take out the whole wall and gold chest inside. But I guess there are gameplay considerations here.

Gameplay is fast and hectic, you can determine who’s on your team by the color of the the name on their character or on the radar. Blue is a teammate and red is an enemy. Maps are huge and you must keep moving, having strong vehicles such as tanks and assault choppers make it virtually impossible to find that “sweet spot” and just camp there and pick off the opposition. This is cool, but I found the gameplay between vehicles and foot soldiers to be a bit unbalanced. The curse of creating a somewhat realistic shooter I guess. If someone is in a chopper, they have missiles and machine guns, so the only feasible way to down a chopper is by a tank or if you’re playing the demolition class and have a rocket launcher. The same goes for tanks but they can be destroyed with C4 and grenades. Tanks are a little easier to take down because they move a little slower, but they can still make a pancake out of you.

If you fall in battle you’re given the option to respawn at your base or camp, or in battle with your squad. The safer option is the base, because if you happen to spawn in battle you could get killed almost immediatly, but the spawn points weren’t that bad. I’m guessing because players hadn’t learned them yet.

My impression of the graphics is that they were very moderate. With the current state of technology that we have, I was dumbfounded that during huge explosions, and bullets flying everywhere that there was “pop-in” in the many tree shadows. The player models look good and crisp when moving around in the chaos, the only bad model I noted was in the Ghillie Suit (camouflage worn by snipers). The suit looked really patchy and the player movement was rigid and not fluid at all. A small gripe I know, but just a minor observation.

All the things you’d expect to hear in a chaotic war confrontation is there and sounded good. But characters were screaming, “Medic! It’s really bad!” almost every 10 seconds. I can get that DICE is trying to add some sort of immersion to the war experience, but I just hope in the actual final version we get some different responses besides that.

The biggest problem I had with the gameplay is you cannot pick up weapons. If you kill someone you can pick up a “supply” pack giving you more health (no regenerating health here), ammo or both at the same time. But you’re stuck with whatever class you choose until you die again. Which is unfortunate. If I kill a character with a rocket launcher I’d like to be able to pick up his weapon and dispatch that tank coming at me over the hill.

Overall, Battlefield: Bad Company has a lot of potential. From my brief time with it I did enjoy it for what it was, and the game wasn’t short on fun. I’m sure the game will have a fare share of fans, just for the vehicle and destructible aspects alone. I just hope some of the complaints that I made were just a result of the game being in beta and don’t make it to the final version. Fingers crossed that EA and DICE are listening closely. But, we’ll have to wait until June to find out!

[See also: Battlefield: Bad Company gallery]

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