For the past few years, I’ve only played Battlefield games when they’ve arrived at no additional cost on PlayStation Plus. It was true for Battlefield Hardline, Battlefield 1, and now Battlefield V which has been added to the service a mere month before the big reveal of the upcoming Battlefield 6. I used to be a big fan of the series but for this past generation or so I’ve just failed to work up any excitement for the next instalment, and playing Battlefield V has really reminded me why. The game lacks life and energy. The very things that made the Bad Company sub-series special.
God forbid Battlefield be fun again. The historical settings of the last couple of games have meant that they need to skirt the line between being reverential to real events and the horror of actual war and the fact that we’re playing a video game where we shoot bad guys and blow stuff up for fun. There are elements of the single player ‘War Stories’ that work but overall, they’re depressing, appropriately so for the world war settings, and not entertaining. It’s hard to be having fun while playing as a Nazi officer brutally massacring Allied troops in a Tiger tank. We know that the upcoming Battlefield 6 will return the franchise to the present day (a time period which isn’t depressing at all, right?) and hopefully this change in time period also ushers in a change of tone.
Bad Company, and its sequel Bad Company 2, were a blast to play and I remember playing through the single-player campaigns multiple times just for the fun of it. Rather than generic foot soldiers or elite commandos, the games focused on a four-man fireteam composed of Marlowe, Sweetwater, Haggard and Redford – a team with personality who were out for themselves rather than simply troops following orders. Bad Company retained the specifics of the Battlefield experience, from the combat, destruction, and atmosphere, but inserted a sense of humour and personality that is now lacking from modern Battlefields. The present tone is much more serious and any time Battlefield V tried to lighten the mood it felt so unnatural given the rest of the game, such as the bizarre sing-a-long to ‘A Long Way to Tipperary’ during a climactic battle.
Bad Company 2 was a globe-trotting, high-stakes, war-time adventure about the hunt for a superweapon and it’s possible EA DICE wanted to distance themselves from that style to avoid comparisons with rival franchise Call of Duty, but at times Battlefield V feels like Call of Duty anyway. In the first mini-campaign, you’re paired with an NPC called Mason voiced by Craig Fairbrass, the actor for Gaz, Ghost, and Walcroft in the original Modern Warfare series. It was the most Call of Duty thing I’d played since, well, Call of Duty. By contrast, Bad Company 2 actually openly mocked Modern Warfare 2 and its “special ops douchebags with pussy-ass heartbeat monitors on their guns”. And remember, “snowmobiles are for sissies”. Instead, Battlefield V tries its best to embrace stealth despite having a terrible, over-sensitive detection system and copying the alarm system from the Far Cry series.
The single-player component of the Bad Company games is so engaging because you come to care about the characters and enjoy their (bad) company. The opposite is true for Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V. The games open with missions in which the playable characters quickly die and you switch to another to show you the human cost of the war. Sadly, it also has a cost on the game. The short vignette style of the War Stories means you don’t have time to connect with the characters, who aren’t usually that charismatic anyway. Most of the time, the game forces you into a lonely, silent existence in enemy territory. The lack of a squad dynamic is sorely felt. When characters do speak its startling. I actually jumped when the playable Solveig in the Nordlys storyline spoke to herself in the middle of a quiet stealth encounter. The Tirailleur story offers talkative characters but sadly they were speaking French, and while I’m fine with subtitles for movies and TV shows, I could not read the subtitles and stay alive in high octane action that required my full attention at the same time.
It’s crazy to think that Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was released 11 years ago to massive critical and commercial success but the series has remained dormant ever since. A remaster of the games was rumoured to have been in development but later shelved. While I enjoyed Battlefield 3, and to a much lesser extent Battlefield 4, there’s a reason why the Bad Company games are so fondly remembered and the more recent games are failing – Battlefield V being seen as a failure even by EA themselves. Bad Company and its sequel had a strong focus on a fun single-player experience as well as innovative multiplayer and I guess that’s what I miss the most. I doubt we’ll ever get a Bad Company 3, although if we did it would likely be a reboot simply titled “Bad Company”, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. But even if the Bad Company series itself is long dead, the spirit of those games is crying out for a return.
What are your hopes for Battlefield 6? Are you a big Bad Company fan? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.