… has yet to ruin my fun.
The Battlefield series always followed a large-scale, strategic approach to its game play. Big maps, large teams and the option to play a slow-paced, methodical game were there since the series’ inception, and that’s what’s won it a lot of followers on the PC. In the last five years I myself have poured hundreds of hours into both Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142, as have a lot of my friends and clan mates. Now I am by no means a competitive player or über-skilled, but I have always enjoyed a more or less relaxed game with friends.
Battlefield Bad Company, the second console iteration of the series after Modern Combat, took a somewhat different approach. Smaller maps, less players, faster pace. Bad Company 2, the latest installment of the series, also made it to the PC, but it continues the paradigm shift of the console version. Which caused a bit of consternation with Battlefield veterans, who saw the new direction as a nod to other major franchises like Call Of Duty, and as an attempt to draw players of those brands over to Battlefield.
So far every Battlefield game was released with flaws that, over time, were more or less addressed in numerous patches. Bad Company 2 (in this article I am talking about the PC version) has got a few fundamental flaws, at least by the series’ prior standards, that are worth talking about. Inconsistent hit detection was a staple flaw in Battlefield 2 which, as of patch 1.5, is still there, albeit not as grave as it was in the release version. BC2 takes it to new levels at times, where it is possible to finish off opponents with the minimal amount of shots needed one day, and the next day a whole magazine (the word ‘clip’, in the context it’s used in, is incorrect) will not take them down. Developer DICE have attempted to fix the problem in several patches already, with differing results and, on the bottom line, unsuccessfully. The hit registration appears to be affected by higher latencies and connectivity issues. There are a few unofficial tweaks running around on the net but so far no one has been able to conclusively say if these will work for everyone.
That being said, DICE have always had issues with their QA. It has happened numerous times that a large patch fixed a few things but then broke others. I remember well the occasion when a BF2 patch (I think it was 1.12) hit the frame rate so badly that the game went from acceptably playable to completely unplayable on my (then fairly low-end) system, prompting me to shell out some money for system upgrades. So far BC2 has got a similar track record. It has been suggested for DICE to take a page out of Valve’s book. Their STEAM-based games receive small patches that individually address very few issues at a time. However the patches happen in greater frequency. It seems that with the multitude of things to address, DICE might fare well in doing something similar. Resolve two, three issues at a time, QA the patch, roll it out, then move on to the next issues. The question remains if the Frostbite codebase allows for that kind of work. But having an 890MB patch be delayed for two months and then having it introduce new bugs, while only half-fixing some of the more pressing ones, can severely rub a player the wrong way.
Not all the flaws are of technical nature. The map design has moved from large and open maps in BF2 (and to a mildly lesser extent in BF2142) to smaller, corridor-based maps in BC2. This type of design encourages faster-paced playing styles and reduces the squad-based, tactical approach. Especially in the Rush game mode it is fairy difficult to develop variable tactics, since there’s usually no more than two ways to your objective. It also encourages some major a-hole tactics which can ruin a fairplayer’s day in ten seconds flat. In the older games it was rarely if ever possible for one squad to steamroll a full server, but in BC2, one squad playing tightly and ruthlessly can upset the balance of the game completely.
Let’s not harp on about the completely and utterly pointless profanity filter in the in-game chat. It makes perfect sense to mask out ‘stuff off’ (which I told some kid the other day who kept screaming about hacks every time someone killed him) when at the same time the in-game voice-overs are blaring f-bombs and other profanity into your ears. Which does absolutely nothing for in-game communication, by the way. Neither does the lack of voice comms. At the time of release, the in-game Voice over IP, which allows you to communicate with your squad mates was not working. It is supposedly fixed now, however most people I know have since gotten tired of trying and instead started using TeamSpeak or a similar third-party application. Myself, I have the BC2 VoIP turned off completely at this stage. Which is fine enough when we play among the clan, but if you’re alone on a server without clan mates, every idea of teamplay goes out of the window. Never mind the social aspect that was much more prevalent in BF2 – there you could start out in a squad with total strangers and end the day with new pals or even recruits for your clan. Right now I can’t even talk to some of my non-clan friends because they usually are in a different TeamSpeak channel or aren’t using it altogether.
Last not least, DICE are being a bit too obvious on the practice of releasing additional maps. Since the game was released, it has received four map packs, each consisting of two ‘new’ maps – which are without exception maps that are already in the game, just for different game modes. The interesting part is that all these maps existed at at the time of release, every PC user and every ranked server already has this content installed. It just gets unlocked at a later stage, there is no download or installation needed. The business idea behind this? On the console versions, if you didn’t buy the game first-hand, you don’t have the so-called VIP code, which gives you all this ‘new’ content for free. But you can still get these maps – you just have to buy them. On the PC, there is no such thing, because you can’t sell the game to someone else anyway (well, you sure as heck can try).
I was very skeptical about BC2 initially. So after reading this rant one might think I’d have tossed this game out of the window like no-one’s business. Strangely enough that’s not the case. Battlefield has got a long history with my clan, and even though it took me a while to get into the game, right now there’s no better unwinding mechanism than to hop into a game with a few clan mates, duking it out with all weapons and in all manners possible, while ragging each other about every kill, every slip-up, every set of dogtags taken and generally talking crap. And despite all the flaws there are a number of game elements that I hope will make it into Battlefield 3, which is apparently in production. A mix of the more sophisticated BF2 gameplay and mechanics, along with the more innovative and sensible parts of BC2, minus some of the traditional bugs and flaws – that can only spell awesome.