A question I've been asked a lot this week: "I barely played and/or didn't really enjoy the first Battlefield: Bad Company's multiplayer. How does this stack up?" The sequel is more Battlefield 1943 than Bad Company. It's a more balanced experience like developer DICE's summer hit, but with a modern setting and delivering the scope one would expect from a full-priced retail experience.
Squads. It's one of the most important elements to Battlefield and a feature that has gotten better through each iteration. A squad is your mini-team within the game; working with them just makes sense, since you'll be respawning with them when you die. In previous Battlefield games, squad members would sometimes be switched to the other team, even as total strangers were inserted in your squad. (As one comrade-in-arms aptly put it this week: "It's like being invited to a Rock Band party, but you're accidentally given the address next door and they're playing Guitar Hero. Sure, it's almost the same, but that's not the party you wanted to attend.") Thankfully, the biggest problem with making a squad is resolved in this outing.
While squads are almost working exactly as they should – they're still not flawless – almost all of the anger and frustration of just trying to play a Battlefield game with your friends is gone. Better yet, your friends who aren't in your squad, but merely on your team, actually stay on your team. It was a shocking revelation when eight or nine of us were actually able to play together on the same team for hours.
Even when a friend tried to join the game and was put on the other team, by the next round they were switched over to our side. Everything worked so well that it actually brought up a minor annoyance: Why can't a squad be more than four people? This wasn't something I'd ever asked myself in a previous Battlefield game, but started questioning it constantly this week. In light of MAG's 8-player squads, the limitation seemed a notable weakness. Particularly when we had a consistent group of five to eight civil players in an Xbox Live party chat.
Currently, the two main game modes are Rush and Conquest. Conquest begins with each team having a set amount of "lives" for the round. Each team then scrambles to hold objectives (like in BF:1943) and whichever team has a majority of the nodes begins to automatically chip away at the other team's supply of lives -- naturally, each kill will also tick off another point. It's a mad scramble and requires coordination, which may be frustrating if your squad is doing its job while everyone else can't decide which objective to take.
Rush, on the other hand, is where the game really shines. The map is divided into several sections, with the attacking team having to set a charge at two crates before being able to move on to the next section; meanwhile the defenders use everything at their disposal to stop them. The attackers have a limited amount of lives to complete the objective, while the defenders have unlimited respawn. If the attackers destroy the crates by setting the charges (or in some cases bringing down the building the crates are in), they get to progress to the next section. Though each section of the map gets progressively more difficult for the attackers to complete their objective, players will likely appreciate the change of scenery and variation in tactics each new section requires.
The game also features Squad Deathmatch where four squads fight to fifty kills and will eventually include Squad Rush (once the GameStop pre-order exclusive time is over), where two squads kill each other in the pursuit of then blowing up two crates. DICE already has a section on the in-game menu of planned updates, so it appears the developer and EA will continue to support the game and expand upon it ... unlike Battlefield 1943. Yes, we're still upset about that. More maps and character variation are on the docket in the coming months.
As one might expect, the game is full of unscripted "Battlefield moments" that produce the same type of storytelling you find when relaying a game of Left 4 Dead after the fact. You'll just barely escape a building as it comes crashing down and scream half-laughing as you jump out of a tank right before it blows up. You'll find yourself holding an objective against horrible odds, then die, but then find yourself revived by a medic, just in time to hold back what is almost certain defeat.
The multiplayer keeps you hooked with definitive character progression and weapon unlocks. Watching the experience bar for different classes tick up at the end of a level becomes a fix you just keep fiending for. You'll find yourself switching classes and learning how to play them properly to unlock more items and specializations (perks). There are also the constant pop-ups of points and medals in battle, serving as positive reinforcement that you're doing well -- even if you have a 3:17 kill ratio. This game knows how to keep you hooked on that narcotic drip of multiplayer level progression.
Finding fault in Battlefield: Bad Company 2's multiplayer is really difficult. It's an excellent progression for the series, adding new elements but also fixing existing features (like the controls and playing with friends). It's possible to enjoy the multiplayer solo, but there's an indescribable element of going through the experience with someone -- without that, it's hard to shake the feeling that something's missing. But If you surround yourself with a good crew, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 brings a balanced multiplayer experience that easily fits in the rotation of any FPS junkie and even makes those with moderate skill feel like a battlefield hero.
Editors' note: This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy purchased at retail. The score is an average of our multiplayer and single-player review scores, which were 5 and 3 respectively.