Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam review: Enjoyable quagmire

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam occupies a very strange place. It's a great addition to the Battlefield franchise, no doubt, but whether it was originally intended as a standalone game à la Battlefield 1943, or as an "expansion" to Battlefield Bad Company 2, is a question that lingers. Of course, it's hard to focus on such questions while you barbecue the enemy with a flamethrower.

Vietnam is, the way publisher EA and developer DICE sell it, a multiplayer-only "expansion pack" to this year's hit, Battlefield Bad Company 2. The $15 upgrade includes four new maps (a fifth will unlock shortly) and ramps up the overall game's tension by turning back the clock on weaponry. It occupies a separate location in the BFBC2 menu and the maps are not part of the core game's rotation. For all intents and purposes, Vietnam is such a different Battlefield experience that you'll forget it has anything to do with Bad Company 2.

The four new maps are well designed for both Rush and Conquest mode, with Hill 137 (based on the real war's "Hamburger Hill") being the artistic standout for its charred environment. Conquest mode, in which each team must occupy certain sections of the map to increase the speed in which the other team loses tickets, felt like a crap shoot to me in the original Battlefield Bad Company 2. Even with a solid squad to oppose them, it felt like the other team could simply treat the whole game as deathmatch to win.

In Vietnam, Conquest feels balanced, like it did in Battelfield 1943. The maps are either designed as a free-for-all around the map, where the three capture points are scattered around the field, or they occupy a line, causing a tug-of-war that typically gets incredibly brutal at the middle station.

Vietnam is such a different experience that you'll forget it has anything to do with Bad Company 2.

Rush mode carries over the intensity it had from the core game, except that this time you can't drop buildings on M-COM stations, nor are the buildings a safe place to hide -- bullets have a nasty habit of ripping through bamboo.

Turning back time also meant scaling back weapon options. The unmanned flying vehicle (baby helicopter), guided missiles and motion detectors are out, flamethrowers are in. Also, helicopters aren't flying fortresses anymore, with basic machine guns taking down an American Huey like a paper airplane. The changes take away a lot of the clever use of technology from BFBC2 and ramp up the brutality of gunfights and explosives, which make it look like the two teams are bottles of strawberry jam being slammed into each other.

The newly added flamethrower is a great way to scatter an entrenched enemy -- as flames just take over a screen -- and it's a fantastic way to cover entry points once an M-COM station is set. Overall, it's a solid addition to the typical arsenal of bullets and explosives.

For those looking for new perks or a new weapons treadmill to grind, Vietnam offers none of that. It uses BFBC2 leveling and continues building on the badges players were working on in the previous game. Vietnam may have new levels and tweaked the weapons, but behind the curtain it's still using Bad Company 2 stat progression.

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Overall, Battlefield Bad Company 2 Vietnam -- as a $15 expansion -- is a must. The maps are excellent and several aspects of the game feel different, but still balanced, like they did in the original game.

However, I just can't shake the feeling that Vietnam should have been a standalone game like Battlefield 1943. It feels and plays like a different game from BFBC2, brutal and more personal. It's understandable that EA and DICE wanted to double-dip by forcing those interested to buy the original game, but Battlefield 1943 was a success as a standalone without requiring a Bad Company 1 purchase.

It's philosophical trauma from a consumer perspective, but it's doubtful you'll have time to consider it much when the flames start flying.

This review is based on an Xbox 360 code provided by Electronic Arts. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.