Oh, there’s a difference. A substantial, telling difference between ‘I like’ and ‘I don’t hate’ that I am not so much as tempted to bother concealing. EA’s Battlefield is a regularly-recycled series of multi player military shooters with single player campaigns shoehorned in on-the-fly by the courier delivering the disc to production. One may have picked up on the fact that I fucking hate that. All of it.
Michael Bay Shall Not Pass
Missiles go swoosh in a dramatic chase-cam shot into a big ka-boom. Buildings – landmarks, preferably – go k-ka-boom in deafening slow-mo. Tanks fly straight into the camera, super-hip bullet-time shots revolve around attacking helicopters before everything goes k-k-ka-boom, making space for a few wings of low-flying jets. They then go… you get the idea.
All this pornographicised destruction, tragedy and death makes me want to vomit. No, not for ethical reasons. Or because of motion sickness. No, it’s because this is being shoved down my throat as some sort of compelling, gratifying entertainment seconds before I’m thrown into the shallowest possible mechanical form of a video game; Moorhuhn. And then it’s done all over again. And again, until there’s, presumably, nothing left to go ka-fucking-boom.
(I do however admit that that Eminem thing was pretty fucking awesome.)
2010’s Battlefield: Bad Company 2 does away without nearly all that. It’s not trying to pretend something it’s not. It’s focused on topic, it’s absurd only when it can afford to be, it’s human and relatable not because it’s expected to be. It never seems to rely on cheap shock-value gimmicks to make an impact as a game, or as a war story.
Beyond “Ra-Ta-Ta-Ta, Sometimes Faster”
True feel of weapons in most of these conveyor belt shooters doesn’t go far beyond Comrade First Lieutenant Tronik’s “exact” description of a ‘vzor 24’ submachinegun in Czech military classic, Cerni Baroni. They’re nondescript, characterless and disposable.
I’m no expert on how a rifle does, or should, ‘feel’ in the real world. I’ve only ever fired a 9mm Glock pistol (and it nearly broke my hand). I’m neither trying to argue that a real-world firearm – or its ‘simulation’ in a video game – is anything else mechanically than a device to point and shoot with. The meaning of choice of gun in Bad Company 2 doesn’t go beyond ‘yeah, I like this one better’. But in a type of game Bad Company 2 is, it doesn’t really need to.
It’s about authenticity, immersion. Because if that’s not what these stupid games go for, I honestly have no idea what. The tragic part is, vast majority fail even that. In Bad Company 2, the guns are not that different from cars in Gran Turismo or ships in Elite: Dangerous. They all do the same thing, but you shoot particular ones because you enjoy shooting them. None are perfect, but they’re fun to discover, they’re fun to learn, they’re fun to ‘git gud’ with.
“You Don’t Know Man, You Weren’t There”
In early-to-mid nineties, the video game industry made a promise. Playing a game will be like watching a film, only better, they said. It will be like you were living the film, they said. The FMV-based attempts have either ended up being a heavily lacklustre game (Urban Runner) or a rather confused, choppy, horribly paced film (Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within). The concept is nothing but a corpse now I know, but still, I’ve been finding myself wanting to know what a good one would be like.
With FMV waving us good bye a bunch of years later, the broken promise’s legacy was, for me, carried by linear, scripted first-person shooters. Most are bad games, sure, but, sadly, bad films too. Generic stories and blank characters buried under tons of aforementioned explosion-porn, far-fetched plots and twists nobody ever cares about, all with direction not dissimilar to that of some Sharknado VII.
Let’s not fool ourselves, Bad Company 2 doesn’t work awfully better as just a game than its cookie-cutter kin. But my goodness me, is it one properly executed interactive film! Both the pre-rendered cutscenes and playable segments, importantly identical in fidelity, are as much fun to feel involved in as they’re fun to watch. The experience is natural and fluid, seldom unnecessarily distracting.
Tell you what, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is one of miserbaly few (if any at all) games where I’m willing to overlook the fact one can’t skip the cutscenes. Yeah, that’s something. It’s, again, not a masterpiece by any stretch of imagination, but… grab it on sale. Close the curtains. Crank up the volume. Thank me (or not) later in the comments.