Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has really nice graphics, but its design has some glaring issues. With all of the cheerleading done by reviewers (not that they cover game design much in their reviews, anyway), I think some criticism is in order. Here are a few aspects of BFBC2 that have annoyed me repeatedly in my first 10 hours of playing the game, mostly in multiplayer.
They hate newbies and want them to fail.
BFBC2 has vertical advancement in its multiplayer. Lots of it. You advance as a player through god-knows-how-many levels and unlock equipment. You also advance in each class—assault, engineer, recon, medic. Your class-specific advancement takes the form of unlockables you earn by doing positive stuff (killing enemies, getting assists, capturing points, etc.) while playing as that class.
These unlockables add significant utility to your character. You cannot use your class-specific utility ability until you’ve unlocked it, which may take many matches. This is hideously awful design. Not only is a newb hampered by a lack of knowledge of the basic game mechanics, he also cannot be useful at a base level as his class would indicate. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare mitigated this issue by giving all characters, regardless of level, a full compliment of weapons and perks—increasing level unlocked a wider variety of weapons to choose from, it didn’t outright add new abilities on top of existing abilities that made your character significantly more powerful than someone of lower level.
It’s noticeably easier to get XP once you’ve unlocked your class abilities, as well—this means that the newbie is put through a slog of slow XP gimpiness and he has no way to avoid it. This is terrible design both as a vertical advancement system and as a mechanic in an FPS that should be entirely skill-based.
Taking one grenade’s damage will kill you. Modern Warfare took note of this peculiarity and added a “grenade danger indicator” graphic that lets you know where a nearby grenade has landed. BFBC2 gives you no indication that a grenade has landed nearby—the only way you can tell would be to actually see the grenade thrown. When you’re busy aiming an innacurate gun at your opponent and praying you’ll hit them, it’s difficult to see every little flying detail around you and differentiate between a grenade and, say, a piece of completely superfluous garbage fluttering in the wind.
In Global Agenda, grenades can’t kill you in one hit. There’s no grenade indicator graphic, but there is an audible “CLICK” sound when the grenade hits the ground. Grenades are also huge glowing balls of death, easily visible. Global Agenda’s third-person perspective allows a wide-enough field of view that you can usually see where grenades are coming from and react reasonably. Grenades are balanced in this fashion.
Grenades in BFBC2 are instant and near unavoidable death because there are no audio or visual cues unless you’re staring right at the person throwing the grenade. This is not balanced and it is not fun.
Big Maps Mean Marathons
My pinky hurts from holding down the shift key half the time so that I can get between parts of the map at a reasonable pace in the standard case of not being near any vehicles. The Conquest multiplayer mode will wear out your shift key in this fashion.
Big maps are great for vehicles—piloting a tank doesn’t make much sense in a small map. But the maps in BFBC2 are annoying large if you don’t have a vehicle. You usually won’t have a vehicle. The maps are large, but you still will regularly find that it makes no sense to drive a tank through much more than three or four clearly delineated pathways through the map. This makes vehicular combat usually pretty boring and predictable, because mobility is limited to a large enough extent for strategic maneuvering to be minimal.
Big maps cause gun balancing issues. Suddenly, the range of a weapon is critical information for the player to have, because he will regularly encounter situations where he can see enemies who are beyond his weapon’s effective range. Outranging your opponent can win you a battle in such an environment. Most weapons, unfortunately, aren’t particularly accurate at any but short-to-medium range—unfortunately there’s no indication of weapons’ effective ranges. Obviously snipers will dominate in such an environment.
Ever try drawing battle lines among 32 players who can spawn just about anywhere on a big map? So seldom is it clear who is attacking from where that the little pinhole first-person perspective through which I see the game is even more inadequate than usual to the task of giving me reasonable sensory data on my surroundings.
Other Assorted Annoyances
- You need a shocking amount of XP earned before you gain access to the red dot sight. As I said in my post about CoD4, using iron sights is almost strictly inferior to using red dot sights. This is yet another example of how vertical advancement in an FPS can be surprisingly frustrating.
- There’s no clear indication of the effective range of different weapons in BFBC2. This game has huge maps—you need to have a good feel for how far the gun will fire if you’re to gauge combat situations appropriately.
- No clear sound when you hit an opponent. When firing a relatively inaccurate weapon at range, the little symbol that appears to indicate you’ve hit an opponent does not provide enough feedback for you to gauge the amount of damage you’ve dealt.
- BFBC2 punishes you for being near an explosion by distorting your sound for several seconds. The game’s sound is already suspect—occasionally an appropriate echo or some such dazzle will be cool, but the sound isn’t as useful to me as the sound was in CoD4—punishing players who are already besieged by explosive-wielding enemies by stripping them of one perceptual input is unnecessary. If I don’t have my headphones on while playing, tanks can sneak up behind me without me noticing the audio cue.
- There is so much bloom, random particles in the air, and camouflage that I find it very hard to see enemy combatants at range unless they’re moving. My eyes aren’t particularly good, but I notice that in this game, particularly, I have lots of trouble seeing enemy combatants.
- Every vehicle and combatant icon on the radar (which could be quite nice otherwise) has a bloom effect on it that makes reading the radar completely impossible if there are more than a few players or vehicles in the same place. This is terrible primarily because you rely on the radar to choose where you want to deploy, and deploying in the right place consistently is a huge contributor towards capping points in conquest and winning games.
- You can be a part of a squad of up to four players. Anyone can spawn on top of a squadmate anywhere they are on the map as long as they're alive. This means that where one enemy is, 3 more can instantly appear. This renders strategic movement moot to some extent, because a dead enemy will just be magically respawned with full health and ammo where his one remaining squadmate is camping right near where you just whooped his ass a minute ago.
Overall Impression So Far
I would give BFBC2 a mediocre review. It does nothing particularly well, but could be reliably enjoyable if I could see well enough to be effective in combat. 2.5/5.