Battlefield: Bad Company was a game that had a lot of things going for it, but one of the best parts of the 2008 first-person shooter from EA and DICE was its charming sense of humor. You and your accident-prone squadmates in B Company were always getting into some elaborate headache or another, and the absurd conversations that came of those situations were easily some of the high points of the game. That same squad returns for the sequel, and though its antics have been toned down a little bit, the result is a game that feels much improved yet still manages to squeeze in plenty of laughs.
Early in the game, the cutscenes are pretty straightforward and serve mainly to lay the foundation of the game's globetrotting story of illegal weapons and paramilitary conflicts. But it's not long until the sense of humor that the first game was known for creeps back into the experience. At one point, a squadmate begins remarking on being shot at by enemies wearing cowboy hats. When asked why you're being shot at by cowboys--who haven't been in a war in a century--your squadmate Haggard replies, "The Dallas Cowboys go to war every Sunday. Sometimes Monday!" Then, there's the argument in a Bolivian jungle about the best kill scenes from Predator, your spacey helicopter Pilot Flynn who can never seem to get a hang of Tuesdays, and a host of other eccentricities that add a nice sense of levity to what's otherwise a very mature military shooter.
It's a good thing the guys in B company are able to keep themselves entertained because they're dragged all over the world throughout the course of the game. You'll begin in a snowy Russian village. This level--accented by towering, snow-covered mountains--puts you on a mission that alternates between chaotic front-yard shootouts and white-knuckle vehicle chases where one well-placed shot on your enemy could send a truck full of his buddies careening off a cliffside. Environments switch up quickly and soon take you to a Bolivian logging camp in the middle of the forest, as well as a remote outpost up in the mountains. Unlike the relatively flat and plain Eastern European countryside of Bad Company, these levels have a lot more character to them, with giant peaks dominating the skyline and rolling, atmospheric mist being frequent occurrences in these heavily forested areas.
Mission designs are different from the first game, as well. Whereas Bad Company's levels tended to be pretty open-ended cities that could be approached from a variety of angles--thanks to the aforementioned wide-open fields--the levels in Bad Company 2 more structured and deliberate. In other words, levels are more linear, but they're also quite varied. From that chase scene that weaves recklessly through mountain passes to a tense sniper sequence where you have to mask your shots with the sound of thunder, the missions seem to gain quite a lot from this new design. There are still a number of vehicle sequences to be found as well, and the game seems to do a nice job of balancing you as the driver with you as the gunner.
Destruction--that other Bad Company calling card--makes an improved return in the sequel. DICE has been quick to point out that entire buildings are now capable of being knocked down, whereas in the original, there was always a stubborn frame left over that refused to come toppling down. To be honest, the only time we got to see this in action was when we called in an air strike on an enemy tank. This air strike's explosions were generous enough to eviscerate a nearby building…and radio tower…and a few unlucky soldiers standing nearby. And while that sequence was cool--if a bit sloppy on our part---we noticed the enhanced destruction on a smaller scale far more often. See, now surfaces are capable of being steadily chipped away by incoming gunfire. In other words, hiding behind a stone bench means your shield will be shaved down and rendered far less effective. The fact that destruction is much less all-or-nothing really forces you to stay sharp in battle.
Judging from these first few missions of the campaign, the single-player component of Bad Company 2 is going to be a lot of fun. The environments are varied and impressive to look at, the gunplay is just as solid as ever, and firefights are almost gleefully chaotic thanks to the improved destruction engine. And, above all else, it helps that the game has managed to maintain its sense of humor. You can expect to see Bad Company 2 released on March 2 for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.