Battlefield: Bad Company Multiplayer Hands-On

We see some more single-player action in Bad Company and try out multiplayer for the first time in EA's new take on the Battlefield series.

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EA's Battlefield series may have appeared on console systems in the past, but the latest title--Battlefield: Bad Company--is unique in a few regards. To begin with, it's the first game in the series to be built from the ground up specifically for consoles, in this case the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. Secondly, while large-scale online multiplayer has been the series' trademark, plenty of attention seems to have been paid to Bad Company's single-player campaign and story, with a strong Three Kings-like mercenary feel introduced for the game's four main characters. That's not to say multiplayer has been left by the wayside, of course--this is still a Battlefield game after all. We got to see more of the single-player campaign at an EA event held in the midst of GDC last week, as well as take to the field ourselves with some multiplayer action.

Even though you'll always be in a squad, you will control only one character in Bad Company.
Even though you'll always be in a squad, you will control only one character in Bad Company.

The last time GameSpot previewed Bad Company, we spoke a lot about the game's other new addition to the series: the suddenly-fashionable-again concept of destructible environments. Bad Company's developer--DICE Stockholm--says that up to 90 percent of Bad Company's world can be destroyed. While building foundations will remain, you can destroy walls, ceilings, fences, barricades, and most other obstacles should you have the firepower on hand. This game mechanic was demonstrated to good effect during a DICE rep's demo of the single-player component of the game.

The demo mission--the second mission in the game--started off with the four members of B Company being ordered to take out all enemy resistance in a tiny, rustic-looking village. At one point, enemy soldiers were seen running into small houses to take cover, which proved to be a not very effective tactic, because the demo tester simply used his rifle grenade to blow straight through walls and take out anyone hiding behind them. The rifle grenade also proved to be useful, not only in dispatching hidden enemies, but also in forging new paths--namely straight through buildings rather than running around them.

After taking out all opposing soldiers in the village, B Company was ordered to proceed further into the map and take out an enemy weapon depot and a fuel dump. As this is a Battlefield game, DICE has promised large maps in Bad Company similar in size to those in previous games, and this demo level seemed to be no exception. To get to the next objective, B Company had to get into small speedboats and cruise down a river, where there was plenty of opposition waiting to be fragged. And when we say plenty, we mean it--the demo tester was put under a significant amount of fire and had to continually rely on health packs to stay alive (in this game, health packs take the form of what seems to be adrenalin boosts, which, in a wicked piece of character animation, are administered via a syringe stabbed straight to the heart). DICE reps tell us that the game's AI will be set at a quite high difficulty level when the game ships, which in part is aimed at replicating the mayhem of a multiplayer battle. To further enhance that feel, players in the single-player game will respawn after dying instead of having to restart the level at certain checkpoints.

During the brief single-player demo, it was clear that the sense of humour apparent from Bad Company's first trailer was still a key feature in the game. While final story details haven't been revealed, we do know that you will spend your time as Marlow, one of four soldiers in B Company who at some point during the game become disillusioned with war the way the US Army fights it and decide to strike out on a different path as gold-seeking mercenaries. Marlow's squad is made up of Sarge (your typical gruff military commander), Haggard (the demolitions guy), and Sweetwater (the machine gunner). Each will play a key part in propelling the story, although they won't be directly playable or controllable (think Delta Squad in Gears of War).

Thematically, the acquisition of gold looks like it'll be a key element in the game, with gold caches hidden in all of the single-player levels for you to uncover. Gold also plays a strong part in multiplayer. The focus in Bad Company's main multiplayer mode--titled Gold Rush--is on keeping control of large gold crates. Gold Rush pits two teams against each other in a checkpoint-style mode with a twist. The defending team has to protect a pair of large gold crates, while the attacking team needs to achieve the exact opposite. Each time both crates are destroyed, more of the map becomes available, with two new crates appearing and needing to be defended. Destroy those, and even more of the map opens up, and so on. You have two spawn points to choose from at all times--either back at your home base (which is where most of the game's vehicles will be stored) or right in the middle of a firefight with the rest of your squad. For the attacking team, destroying gold crates will open up more of the map and will also add more "reinforcements," which are essentially how many times attackers can respawn. Defenders have an easier time with this, as their team receives infinite respawns.

Of course, defenders don't get it all their way, because Bad Company's destructible environments force you to change the way you approach what is essentially a capture-the-checkpoint game. We played Gold Rush on one map during EA's GDC event in seven-versus-seven matches (all on Xbox 360s--the final game will support 24 players for both the 360 and PS3). The map--called Ascension--was set in a high mountain village with plenty of different levels connected by steep paths. At 1km by 1km wide, it's one of the smaller maps in the game. In most other multiplayer shooters, defending a checkpoint involves finding some good cover from which to pummel any approaching attackers, as the onus is on the attacking team to continue moving. However, being able to blow apart any cover (and any player hiding behind it) changes the strategy of defending in Bad Company, as we saw firsthand during our multiplayer games. Gold crates were usually hidden inside buildings and other structures, but it was folly to stay behind cover in one spot since all that was required of an attacker was one well-placed rifle grenade shot to blow a camping defender to smithereens. Thus, both defenders and attackers are forced to continually keep moving in Bad Company, and we look forward to playing through some fast-paced matches when the game finally ships.

Gold Rush is the game's multiplayer mode.
Gold Rush is the game's multiplayer mode.

The rest of Bad Company's multiplayer offering is pretty much standard for online shooters nowadays. You will be able to select from different classes before each match, with each class receiving different loadouts. On the US Army side, we saw pretty typical Battlefield classes: assault, demolition, recon, specialist, and support. Each class also has a series of unlockable weapons, which are earned as you play more of the multiplayer game. And while no vehicles were available to ride on in Ascension, DICE assures us vehicles will indeed play a strong part in the full game.

Battlefield: Bad Company hits the PS3 and Xbox 360 in June this year.

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