By Nick Suttner 06/20/2007 A few weeks ago, we ventured to the Dolby Digital Labs to check out EA's newest Battlefield installment, Bad Company. D.I.C.E. has been working hard on its first proper console-built Battlefield experience (for PS3/360, with PC and PSP versions somewhere down the line), and is striving to create gameplay only possible on this new generation of hardware. Patrick Söderlund, vice president of D.I.C.E., claims that for all its presentational prowess, Gears of War could have been done on the Xbox; it just wouldn't have looked as good.
Despite the military trappings, Bad Company isn't about the patriotic glory of war. Refreshingly, it's about personal gain, and protagonist Preston Marlowe and his boys are after all the gold they can carry. One of the first scenes we witnessed was the squad standing around discussing whether to invade a neutral country. In response to the concern of whether they should check for clearance first, the rough n' tumble commander barked "That's the army way; we do it our own way." Another mused out loud, "That is of course the cool response." There's a snideness and dark humor to Bad Company, seen quite clearly in the teaser released on Xbox Live a while back.
SCREENS: Click the image above to check out all Battlefield: Bad Company screens.
After a brief introduction to our three squadmates (who you don't control directly) and the quick decision to invade, we headed down into a small village, seemingly ready for our intrusion and ripe for destruction. Bad Company's bread and butter is its environmental damage, and D.I.C.E. has built a new engine (named Frostbite) to make the most of it. The details look great -- walls shatter and splinter convincingly, chunks of debris have individual shadows, smoke billows true to form -- but more importantly, gameplay actually revolves around using the mechanic every step of the way. With essentially no permanent cover -- only destroyable walls, trees, and sandbags in between you and the enemy (which is good or bad, depending on the situation) -- your options and approaches to combat expand quite a bit. Sure, you could simply shoot that guy on the second story if you get an open shot, but you could also C4 the floor out from under him, or shoot a tree down so that it crushes that side of the house.
While it doesn't yet have the visual polish of Battlefield: Modern Combat on 360 at this point, the game looks damn fine considering it's not due until 2008. The developers were keen to show us just how much detail they're packing; they froze the action in the middle of an air strike, zoomed up into the sky, and focused on an actual falling missile, showing us its detail from mere inches away. Totally unnecessary, guys, but cool nonetheless. The 32x32 Kilometer level we saw is apparently average in size for the scope of the game (though there will certainly be larger ones), which should more than accommodate the vehicle gameplay we've come to love. And distant hazy mountains, High Dynamic Range lighting and fancy-pants weather effects really flesh out the ambiance. Factoring in the focus on destructibility, it's shaping up to be a real looker by the time the game ships.
While what we saw and played impressed us visually and technologically, it's still a bit of a mystery as to what will keep the game fresh for an entire campaign. It's a pretty tech demo at the moment -- and it's still early -- but the standards for destructively satisfying games will be that much higher next year with the likes of Mercenaries 2 on the way this Fall. EA isn't speaking about the 24-player multiplayer either, except to say that all of the impressive tech would extend to the online portion (and we got the impression that online co-op might be in the works). There's already a lot to like for Battlefield fans; we're just hoping for a meaty, distinct experience for jaded veterans to enjoy too.