I just finished Battlefield Bad Company and really liked it despite some insane difficulty spikes and some other minor stuff that bugged me.
The single-player maps are just non-linear enough to give me a bit of the approach-from-several-vectors thrill. The game makes good use of a few general purpose tools and supports some degree of plan formulation on the part of the player. (My favorite tool is the recharging air strike. I used it constantly through the middle of the game and it greatly enhanced the experience…allowing me to crawl into a risky position and take out a critical target. Even a minor option like this–on top of straight-up combat, vehicle use, explosives and sniping–makes gameplay a little richer.) There are side areas scattered through the missions, giving the game some exploration appeal. When low on supplies, sometimes I’d make little runs against side areas and stock up. The “next” area can be scoped out, approached in numerous ways, including vectors enabled by ground vehicles or boats. Again, additional play options—driven by the player’s own planning—make the entire game more interesting.
The most interesting aspect is the way the battlefield doesn’t reset when you die and restart an area. It’s a little weird at first, but not only does this make the world seem more lived it–and reinforces that I, the player, have been here–it also makes the game easier to crawl through. That reduces redundant replay. Instead of “Damn, I have to replay an area,” it’s like, “Well, I died, but at least 3 of those guys are dead and I know more or less where the others are hiding out.” That has the disadvantage of feeling like it’s committing the “don’t teach by death” faux pas, but it’s worth it for the two reasons cited above. It’s an interesting choice and overall it’s a win in terms of making the world feel alive/dynamic instead of canned.
Information economy in game design fascinates me. Lack of information is actually one of problems with BF:BC…a tank is shooting at me through some pines, several guys across the road are firing. I take cover, heal myself, prep my weapon, but still can’t tell exactly where the enemy is. As such, I sometimes die in a way that doesn’t feel fair. Later, once I know where to focus, the same tactical situation is really fun. The radar should help with the information situation, but sometimes I haven’t spotted an enemy yet and–even though my squad mates are engaged–the enemy doesn’t show up radar.
Deviating from my normal preference for medium, I played on Hard (on the Xbox 360). Playing on hard difficulty makes BF:BC more tactical without restricting movement. In this case, like Mercenaries a few years ago, hard just means that you’ve got to study the environment and try out strategies until something works. Most of the time “tactical shooter” means “press this button and stick to something so you can’t move–read interact–any more.” It’s really interesting to me that in a game like Gears, I wanted a setting that was easier than their easiest. In CoD4, I couldn’t play on the hardest setting for more than a third of the game. But in games like STALKER or BF:BC, I wanted more difficulty.
Sadly, if you get an Achievement for finishing a chapter on a harder difficulty mode, you don’t automatically get the lesser difficulty Achievement for that chapter too. I thought that was standard now.
I’m really glad I played through Battlefield Bad Company. Kudos to the game team and the engine team (for Frostbite).