Playstation 3 owners have the unique opportunity to try out a time-exclusive multiplayer beta of the upcoming entry in the Battlefield series, Bad Company 2 (BC2). The beta features one map, Arica Harbor, and the gameplay mode Rush.
For those who don't know, BC2 is a traditional Battlefield-series game: team vs. team, class-based infantry, players can use a variety of vehicles like tanks, helos, Humvees, etc..., large maps, and objective-based gameplay (as opposed to deathmatch). I was a huge fan of BF2, and put several hundred hours into it. I've also put many hours into CoD4 multiplayer, for context.
The most striking difference from past Battlefield games, at least on the map provided in the beta, is the strong focus on infantry combat. In past Battlefield games, the focus seemed to be on vehicle combat, with infantry providing a critical supporting role with anti-tank, sniper, and medic roles. I would have to say that infantry combat may have been one of the weaker aspects of the series, but it is extremely solid in this beta. The infantry damage model is closer to CoD "hardcore" mode, where it only takes a handful of shots to bring down an opponent (or you). All of the weapons feel weighty, have appropriate recoil, and sound and feel powerful. Using iron sights to aim and burst-firing is a must, unless you don't mind spraying an entire magazine into the walls and ground around your target. Overall, combat has a slower, more deliberate feel than CoD4 and even vanilla BF2. It is still on the more arcade, rather than tactical, side of the FPS spectrum, though.
There are four infantry classes: Assault, Engineer, Medic, and Recon. Assault is your standard fare infantry class, armed with an assault rifle with grenade launcher attachment. He also has the ability to resupply friends with ammo. The Engineer carries a submachine gun, but has anti-tank capability with either a shoulder-fired rocket or anti-tank mines. He can also repair vehicles. The Medic carries a light machine gun, and can heal teammates and revive fallen comrades with shock paddles. The Recon class is essentially a sniper, dressed in ghilly. He can throw proximity motion sensors, call in mortar strikes, and plant C4 charges. All classes carry hand grenades.
The player classes are highly customizable. You are able to choose which weapon you use, which are available through a series of linear, points-based unlocks. All of these variables can be changed at any time during the match - you're not locked into a class at the beginning of a match, ala CoD4.
Right now, most players seem to enjoy Recon. This can be especially problematic on offense when you have half-a-team of snipers sitting back from the objective. Aggressiveness is very important for either team, and having too many snipers really hamstrings attackers. I am also a little wary on the Medic class, with its LMG. You can really be a one-man-army with this class, mowing down baddies while healing yourself with a thrown medpack. Some adjustments might need to be made to keep this class from being so dominant.
There is a squad mechanic that allows players to form four-person squads and spawn on any member of their squad in battle. It makes getting back into the action easy and fast, but can sometimes be overwhelming when being overrun by an enemy. Giving the ability to spawn on anyone takes away some of the strategy of preserving your squad leader, as was the case in BF2. On balance, I still like it because it suits the more arcadey shooter feel of the game. To dedicated BF2 players, it may feel like a step backward, though.
Rush on Arica Harbor
The reason I said earlier that the map in the beta, called Arica Harbor, provides a strong infantry focus is because it narrows down the vehicle selection as the map progresses. The "Rush" gameplay mode pits an offensive team (US Marines) vs. a defensive team (OpFor) in a checkpoint-by-checkpoint battle for the harbor. Offense must destroy two crates at each of five stages to win the match. It is fought in a linear manner, with the offensive team progressing to the next stage of the map only after destroying the objective crates. The offensive team has 100 collective respawns to win each stage of battle, while defense has unlimited respawns. The player size for this map in the beta is 12 vs. 12 (EA has stated that it will support 16 vs. 16 on the PC).
Offense starts off in an ambushed convoy outside a border checkpoint, while the defensive team is holed up in a fortified barracks complex, with access to tanks, Humvees, and ATVs. Also available to offensive players throughout the map are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with Hellfire missiles. It can spot-highlight players and vehicles with a carat indicator on the HUD and minimap as well (you can also do this as a grunt by pressing select with your crosshair over an enemy unit in your line of sight).
The second stage of battle moves to a very densely developed town with a road running down the middle. It's a bit reminiscent of BF2's Road to Jalalabad map, and highlights one of the major features of BC2's physics engine - fully destructible buildings. See someone enter the objective? Blast a hole in the wall with your grenade launcher and shoot them. Don't feel like arming the charges on the objective? Take down the building with C4 or tank shells. This is perhaps the most fun and dynamic areas of fighting in the map, with the buildings providing a constantly changing environment to navigate. It takes all the best aspects of BF2's city maps, and adds total destructibility. It's a lot of fun, and it is my favorite stage of the map.
The third stage takes place in a somewhat smaller area at the end of the town's road near the foot of two long, parallel bridges over a river. This may be one of the tougher objectives to attack, since defense can easily dig in around the railcars and the objectives are out in the open.
The fourth stage centers around a cargo depot. Offense is rushing across the bridge while defense digs in around shipping containers and warehouses. This is a wide area that allows for some interesting flanking maneuvers by the offensive team, and it can be a tough to defend objective.
The final objectives lie in half-finished buildings. It's a very focused area that usually comes down to a battle of attrition to determine who wins.
It's in the Game?
The map seems to be well-balanced. Typically, with the exception of well-matched teams, the same team will win during both the attack and defend stages. It seems to come down to which team is most aggressive. Having too many snipers and not utilizing vehicles seem to be the biggest causes of a team getting rolled hard.
There have been some criticisms by players that tanks are overpowered, but only very, very rarely do tanks have an overwhelming impact on the action. Now that many Engineer players are starting to unlock the more advanced Javelin AT missile system, and as players are getting savvy to using the mounted AT emplacements around the map and the UAV's Hellfire missile, tanks tend not to last very long against a cohesive team.
Of course, tanks do have the ability to flatten buildings, which has become evident on the second stage of the map where offensive tanks can park on a hill a very long distance from the village and shell the objective buildings until they collapse. These types of exploits should be addressed by developer DICE before the game ships.
It's Just a Beta
My biggest hope is that the PC version gets more options than the consoles. Right now, you can't choose which server you join, you can't choose which squad you join (although you can join squads via friend invites), you can't communicate with other squads via text or voice, there is no commander or squad leaders to coordinate squads, you can't see who is talking when someone uses VoIP, and several other issues. We do know that the PC version will have a server browser and the ability to host private servers, but little else.
Despite this, this beta is a lot of fun. I usually play FPSs on PC, and this is really the first time I've put significant time into a console shooter. Even on a gamepad the gunplay is very satisfying, the destroyable buildings add a new level of strategy to the game, and there is a great deal of variety in tactics and terrain each time you play this map. I am looking forward to getting the full product when it comes out this March!
Playstation 3 160GB
Dualshock 3 gamepad