One thing you've always been able to count on in EA's long-running Battlefield series is a chance to take a breather. Pinned down while you're awaiting some air support? No problem, just crouch down behind a wall or duck inside a building to buy yourself a few seconds of cover and a chance to catch your breath. But judging from our early look at the next game in the series, Battlefield: Bad Company, that might not be the case anymore, thanks to intense action and destructible environments that look to change how you play the game.
While it isn't fair to say that everything in Bad Company is destructible--the base skeletal architecture of buildings can't be ruined--walls, trees, and other free-standing objects are as vulnerable to weaponry as you on the battlefield. Bullets won't be able to penetrate the walls of building, but if you (or your enemy) have access to any sort of an explosive--from a grenade to a rocket-propelled grenade--then taking a breather behind the drywall just isn't going to cut it anymore.
With walls and other barriers no longer a problem, or as much of an advantage in the environment, it changes how you approach movement in the game. In the single-player game demo we tried, our four-man squad of renegade soldiers were tasked with invading a neutral country (yeah, we'll talk more about the story in a bit). However, to do so, they had to get through a heavily fortified border crossing. Thanks to the open-ended nature that's built into the design of Bad Company's single-player and multiplayer modes, you'll have multiple options for how you want to attack. Do you flank the main entrance and cherry pick the outlying enemies or barrel through the front door with guns blazing? In our case, we preferred the direct route, and the lack of permanent cover meant we had to move--and keep moving. In fact, with enemies everywhere, few--if any--places to hide, and an artificial intelligence that was tuned to be higher than normal, the action was always intense.
While we've established that you'll be moving a lot in Bad Company, what we couldn't have known until playing it is that the increased destructibility also changes how you move in the game. For example, take the heavy caliber machine gun that was nested toward the back of the border crossing. In other shooters, your tactic might be to dart around buildings while exposing yourself to crossfire. In Bad Company, if you've got an RPG or a grenade launcher equipped, you can blast right through the walls of buildings and more or less take a straight shot to your objective. We found that this direct approach also worked on the walls and fencing that surrounded the outskirts of the checkpoint. Instead of looking for a path to sneak through, we simply blasted a grenade and traipsed through the wreckage.
OK, now, about that "invading a neutral country thing." Yeah, that probably requires some explanation. As the developers behind Bad Company told us, the team working on the game wanted to make its single-player experience different from previous Battlefield games, both in look and feel. In doing so, they reached toward some well-known inspirations; namely, such movies as Three Kings and Kelly's Heroes. These are war-time movies that aren't necessarily about war, but rather the soldiers caught up in the struggle and their various motivations. In Bad Company, you've got a squad of soldiers who, like the protagonists in Three Kings, are tempted by the lure of gold to do some things that...well, let's just say they aren't really spelled out in the U.S. Army Field Manual. This is where invading the neutral fictional country of Serkozache comes in, although it's far from the only environment you'll be exploring (and likely blowing up) in the game.
Of course, there's more that's new in Bad Company than simply buildings that go boom. If you've seen the original trailer, you know the game is going to have a distinct sense of humor that hasn't been seen in the Battlefield series before. You've also met two of the main characters. Marlow is the main character you will control, while Sarge, as you might expect, yells a lot when keeping you informed of your game objectives. Rounding out the quartet is Haggard, a demo expert who's big on explosions but short on brains, and Sweetwater, who's got a light machine gun to go with his quieter, more cautious demeanor. Your squad will always be together in the game, though curiously, you won't be able to give squad orders as you go nor are your squadmates able to die. In all, there seems to be a definite Gears of War type of vibe happening among the four wise-cracking meatheads that make up part of B Company.
Tough soldiers need big weapons to get their job done, and Bad Company's weapons won't disappoint. You start off with a basic kit that comes with a machine gun and a grenade launcher. You'll also get some extras, such as grenades, knives, and more. As you fight, you'll come upon different kits that feature a variety of weapons. There's a demo kit with a shotgun and explosive weapons, as well as a sniper kit with a high-powered rifle. In addition to the guns, there are more indirect weapons, including a remote-controlled mortar strike weapon and a cool laser guide, which you can use to call in a missile strike. When you're tired of humping it on foot, you can always take control of one of the many vehicles and weaponry in the game, including jeeps, tanks, antiaircraft guns, or helicopters.
After clearing out the checkpoint on the border of Serkozache, we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves. But then the tank showed up--a big tank. Because the tank's main cannon was set to make mincemeat of any wall we hid behind, we were presented with the problem of taking it out with practically no place to hide. Luckily, we had the laser-guided missile system at our disposal. To use it, we aimed it at the tank then pressed the left and right trigger together. After a few anxious seconds where we fully expected the tank to send a cannon blast down our throats, we got the shot off. We were immediately transported to a shot high above the earth and behind the called-in missile. Here, we had to guide the missile to its target by moving up or down with the analog stick. Though it isn't that difficult to do, we got lucky with our first shot and blasted the tank to kingdom come. Or at least we blasted the bridge that the tank was rolling on, which caused it to take a nosedive into the riverbank below.
All the battles in Bad Company will be taking place in the same large environments you've gotten used to in the Battlefield series. Thanks to DICE's new Frostbite engine, those massive maps will look great on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The hallmarks of the new engine include improved lighting and shaders that give the game a dynamic and realistic look. Serkozache's dim woodland area was oppressive in a way that only a fictional former Eastern Bloc country could be--with its muted brown and green color palette. Beyond the subtleties of the textures and lighting, the engine is also able to create some powerful-looking explosions, which is in keeping with the game's focus on destructible environments.
Currently scheduled for release in 2008, Battlefield: Bad Company still has a good ways to go before it's ready for primetime. The developers also aren't ready to talk about the game's multiplayer gameplay, though we expect we'll find out those details later this year. With a strong single-player element and a sense of humor that helps to keep things fresh, Bad Company looks to take the Battlefield series in a new direction while still preserving the things that have made the series successful to date. We'll be keeping you up to date on the game's progress throughout the rest of the year, so stay tuned for more.