Given the namesake of this column, it was easy for me to justify using DICE's Battlefield series as a target three times already - more than enough to leave the series alone for awhile and focus on the buffet of other military-style games. But to be completely frank: I haven't played much else. The last six weeks have been a gamer's nightmare for me, and so I find myself falling back on the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 multiplayer demo, which has a taste of the full game's persistent ranking system but can be turned off in a jiffy when real duty calls (oh, by the way - it turns out that when an Xbox Live chopper strike challenges diaper detail, the less fun one wins).
As was the case with the first Bad Company, this demo turned me off at first. And I was ready to fall in love with it, trust me. Modern Warfare's ornery hijinks and rapidly declining community are only going to be tolerated for so long. But first impressions aside, I was destined to be hooked at some point. In fact, I can describe that very moment: one last futile RPG was fired at a passing helicopter...the rocket looked like it would miss, but actually clipped the helo's tail rotor (seriously) and exploded...the chopper went into a fiery spin directly overhead and crashed into a huge, white fuel tank. The resulting fireball and chaos was so fantastic that I yelled out loud with glee, and I knew that my hype for the game was not only renewed but exponentially increased. I've since caught several chances to play, and relished each one. My initial trepidation has been laid to rest. I'm ready for Bad Company 2 to trump my list of favorite games.
Unfortunately, these semi-frequent sessions coupled with active discussion have brought forward some very apparent drawbacks - the most prevalent of which is the lack of an option to go prone. "Going prone" in the language of tactics is basically just the act of taking a shooting stance in the lying position. In most shooters these days, the prone position limits movement the most and provides the best shooting accuracy. For whatever purpose - be it to limit "dolphin diving", an annoying evasion technique used by many Battlefield 2 griefers, or simply to balance gameplay by essentially nerfing the sniper class - DICE removed the ability to go prone in Bad Company, and despite gamer outcry the gap remains for the sequel.
Decisions like this make me realize what a conundrum developers often find themselves in. It seems ridiculous to me that in a game with incredibly intricate physics (so intricate that your bullet will drop over distance) you can't lie down on your belly. Yet if DICE followed realism to a T the terrain would not be so interesting, the weapon selection would be severely limited, and the players that would win every fight would be the ones that squatted behind a wall and waited everyone out. There is such an unclear line where games cross into the "unfun" category, and I'm not talking about matters of taste. Getting field-promoted to a four-star General? Get outta here. Spending hours unlocking the ability to use a red dot scope on a rifle? You must be mistaking this for the Coast Guard.
DICE is preparing to unseat Infinity Ward as being able to provide the most appealing and satisfying online military shooter. They're juggling every aspect of the experience, trying to find that balance between realism and accessible gameplay. Because no matter how unrealistic a persistent rank system or ragdoll animations are, gamers have to be motivated to play the game and pass the word around about how much fun they're having.
Judging by the demo so far, I think they're onto something (minus a few sticking annoyances, like the no-prone thing). If you haven't played it yet, give it a shot before it expires on February 25th - next Thursday.