Battlefield and Me

*Salutes and sighs simultaneously...*
*Salutes and sighs simultaneously…*

I remember my first confrontation with the Battlefield series fondly. I was growing more curious of PC gaming and my big brother had recently set up his own rig with the help of a friend in his tiny, cramped room. As he booted it up he talked to me about a new game he’d bought and what it was like. I’d not heard anything like it, and console games of the time couldn’t hope to offer an experience on the scale of what PC titles were, especially with multiplayer. Then he launched the game saying I could play it… Seeing the discomfort and unease in my expression at the notion of playing a PC game, he fulfilled his role as big brother by finding it hilarious and forcing me. He told me to wait for it to load as he left the room for a bit. So there I was, cross-legged on my brother’s bed with a keyboard in my lap staring into the black mirror and it back at me, awaiting the inevitable.

Load times got the better of me and I started doing figures of eight with my head when finally a sound came from the pitch black. A whirring sound followed by a loud thud. I paid attention to the screen and saw a giant mech emerge from the shadows walking towards me, I leaned closer to get a better look at the beast when suddenly there was a high pitch whirring sound as its chain gun prepared to erupt into life with a roar that would wake the dead. A volley of screeching bullets pounded the ground directly in front of the camera sending atomised earth flying upwards, I instinctively flinched and jumped with every shot fired to the point it looked like the hail of lead had pierced the screen and riddled me. I’m glad my brother was out of the room as I would’ve never lived that down.

Just watch the trailer. Trust me. The music, the maps, the rattle of gunfire, everything… Yes, I did watch the whole thing again as I linked it, thanks for asking.

Battlefield 2142.  Proudly showing on screen as if mocking me for almost being scared to death. I wondered if my brother had intentionally left the volume insanely loud just to scare me or if he’d forgotten. But my anger and fear soon subsided as I saw the introduction cinematic that still sends cold shivers down my spine with how goddamn amazing it is. I forgave the game entirely and just wanted to play the damn thing. As confusing as it was for a new time PC player I loved every moment, my brother set me against bots and I had huge amounts of fun with the springy vehicles, heavy feeling guns and varied classes. Five minutes later he kicked me off. I was annoyed until I realised 5 mins maaaaaaaay have stretched into hours.

My brother moved shortly after that and I wouldn’t hear of Battlefield until one day on the bus home from high school. A friend was talking about it to a friend of his own and I asked him if it was any good. He opened his backpack and inside was a copy of Battlefield: Bad Company, he grabbed it and casually chucked it over the seat to me and simply told me to try it and give it back tomorrow. I was incredibly excited to try it and thanked him for allowing me to. The moment I was home, I cracked the case open and threw it into the good ol’ 360. Playing the first mission I was disappointed but pressed on thinking it would get better. It didn’t. I hated it. Like, really hated it.

Damn you. I WANTED to love you.
Damn you. I WANTED to love you.

I hated the guns. I hated the aiming. I hated the frame rate having a panic attack any time there was smoke on screen. IN A WAR GAME. I hated the stupid health system which was basically “When on low health, jab yourself with this infinite use magic healing stick!” which in turn dragged every, and I mean EVERY goddamn fight into a slog of firing a few rounds, ducking down, waiting for the stupid stick to recharge, inject, repeat. I hated the “sprint” if you can bloody call it that, it’s more like that trot everyone does as they cross a road when they can still see a car coming and was just about as bloody useful at getting you into or out of the fight. But I figured the meat wasn’t the single player, so jumped to the multiplayer.

And it was the same old story. Others had all the good stuff, were higher level therefore better both in gear and experience and the healing stick was locked until you got to a high enough level. Bloody genius that is. God forbid the new player has a chance. There were times I’d shoot at experienced players and they’d use the healing stick as they were being hit so by the time the animation had finished their health shot up to 100% again, then they’d shoot you while you reloaded. The few times I caught a group by surprise and got a handful of kills during the battle I wouldn’t be able to heal afterwards, making me worthless in a fight. The majority of maps were awfully designed (A few were genuinely brilliant and I’ll get to that later) and had so much space that no-one utilised so camping was prevalent. I’d love to have seen a heat map of them.

I think the smiley on the grenade was the only thing I DID like... Didn't miss it in 2 though.
I think the smiley on the grenade was the only thing I DID like… Didn’t miss it in 2 though.

But the one moment I remember crystal clear was chasing a guy across a field with my knife drawn for a ridiculously long time as when you’re “sprinting” directly behind an enemy you never slowly pick up speed, so you just end up staying the same distance apart the entire way. Eventually my target stopped, and I swung my knife like a madman. None of my hits connected and my target casually turned after being visibly struck and shot me dead. Then I happily ragequit. When I returned it the next day he asked if I would be picking it up. I sternly said no but thanked him for allowing me to spare my money. I remember the look of confusion on his face at the bitterness of my tone toward the game and when he asked why I didn’t like it I simply said if I explained, we’d be there all day.

Later on I glimpsed the trailer for Battlefield 1943 and picked it up. It was a pretty basic game with the only objective being Battlefield’s tried and tested Conquest mode. (Each team starts with the same amount of tickets, five flags can be captured. The more your team owns, the faster the enemy tickets drain. First to hit zero loses.) But it was definitely fun with obvious gameplay improvements across the board from gunplay to the handling of vehicles. There was something refreshingly simple about it that I’d missed and so I put a decent chunk of time into it. Though I only played as the Rifleman (semi-auto rifle) and Scout (Sniper rifle) since I liked having a range beyond 10ft and liked having to actually aim my weapon.

Basic gameplay but very pretty. A step in the right direction for sure!
Basic gameplay but very pretty. A step in the right direction for sure!

But it wasn’t perfect. There was some pretty bad spawncamping issues that were never resolved. When you get blown up for the tenth time by the same tank that hadn’t moved an inch, the urge to quit and uninstall the game is pretty tempting. But if you could ignore the occasional spawn trap shenanigans like that, there was fun to be had raiding bases and defending your own from land, air or sea. I have many happy memories of CS-like clutch moments holding off a huge attack completely alone. As well as the invigorating pushes alongside the team as we stormed their final point or desperate last stands and pushes from landing crafts. It was simple to the core Battlefield goodness. My favourite memory by far though strangely came from the thing I did the least unless there were strong armoured defenses – flying.

A car gunner would NOT leave me alone, so I reluctantly started to pursue. I laid down MG fire, but from so high up and with the car veering all over the place I couldn’t land a kill, only the vehicle itself as I could see from the smoke and occasional flash of sparks as I got closer. They had to follow the road and as I closed in to deliver the kill with one final volley I realised they were going to lose me in the forest that the road winded through. I pulled up sharply to avoid crashing and loosed the bombs under my plane simultaneously in a desperate last-ditch attempt. For a second I wondered where the bombs had gone. In that very moment they flew above my plane and started plummeting down. I watched them fall before they faded out of sight. Agitated I’d lost the pests, I sighed and started sweeping around when an almighty flash burst through the treeline, the shockwave ripping through the forest as I saw the flaming remains of the car and the three occupants come to a grinding halt just outside the forest they believed would save them.

Kind of like this. The bombs must of been in the air for about 10 seconds. It was electrifying.
Kind of like this. The bombs must have been in the air for about 10 seconds. It was electrifying.

I was glad to have found a small piece of the Battlefield experience I’d loved all that time ago and happier still to know the developers were capable of doing better. Some time later I found out they were making a second Bad Company. As I looked into it I found out there would be an extensive multiplayer beta for it available for free. For the laugh I decided I’d give it a try upon release. I didn’t look at any footage or trailers. I wanted to experience it as it was, therefore giving me the most authentic experience however it had turned out… And to put it nicely? I didn’t exactly have the highest hopes for it. And by “highest hopes” I obviously meant “any hopes”. The day came and I went in grinning, waiting to rip it to shreds.

I went in expecting it to be absolutely awful… If ever there were a trophy for “worst assumption despite logical reasoning” then not only would I have won it, but Battlefield: Bad Company 2 would have shot it through my face with a rocket launcher. I was gobsmacked. It was an entirely new game, but retained the elements that made Battlefield such a great concept. The guns kicked like mules, the animations were punchy, the sound design, oh my god, the sound design, the incredible free flow destruction, the teamwork and roles, the gorgeous visuals and art style, the map design, the awesome vehicles that fit every play style. I was in love with Bad Company 2. I had been dead wrong. And I couldn’t have been happier…

Left to right: Engineer, Assault, Medic, Recon.
Left to right: Engineer, Assault, Medic, Recon. All awesome.

I played the hell out of that beta until it eventually ended and I spent the rest of the days until its release moaning to anyone who would listen that I couldn’t play Bad Company 2. I picked up the limited edition the day it came out and played the hell out of it and then some. I got a couple of friends to pick it up and that’s when it really came to life. Dominating the battlefield with a couple of mates at your side was something else, though I still played a tonne solo just because it was good enough to do so. Storming the frontline as Assault, keeping the armour in shape as Engineer, healing the wounded and reviving the fallen as Medic and blowing the brains out of anyone who was stupid enough to try to stop them as Recon.

But the classes weren’t set in stone. The game allowed you the versatility to build each class around what you wanted to achieve. Your primary weapon, your pistol, your gadget (Class specific, ammo box, repair tool etc.), and a couple of slots where you could switch the unique perks for the selected class to your liking. For instance, for Engineer, I ditched the magnum ammo and red dot sight better Assault and instead got extra rockets and better quality explosives for higher damage as well. I wasn’t the biggest threat to infantry, but headshots negate that downside, but to armoured vehicles? Ha. I turned them into flaming husks and if they did survive they had a hole in them so big they’d usually bail out anyway. While on the topic of vehicles…

I think this is the only game that managed to make vehicles in multiplayer FUN to me.
I think this is the only game that managed to make vehicles in multiplayer FUN to me. Sorry Planetside 2, not even close.

They were all badass and well-rounded. Some classes couldn’t deal with vehicles but even then I couldn’t care less because there were anti-tank grade, laser guided missile launchers on every map. (Which were also hilarious to try to shoot helicopters down with as well as infantry you could and couldn’t see. Oh, how my poor sides would ache.) They felt giant, sluggish and heavy, capable of going over (or through) just about anything and anyone via roadkill. (Roadkill via air/sea vehicles is gold.) But my favourite was the quad. Fast, bouncy and perfect for flanking. Considering the other vehicles, most people would ignore you. Much to their dismay later when you returned to bite them with bullets, explosives, or, if you’re feeling particularly cruel, the knife, permanently stealing a pair of their dog tags. I can’t tell you how much I love that feature.

I could happily sit in front of the screen scrolling through hundreds upon hundreds of names imprinted on the dog tags I’d taken and the memories that came with them. (Granted, this wasn’t new to Bad Company 2. But I was so glad this tradition was continued!) Especially those players who I’d only remember for being complete and utter gits. And one guy I felt genuinely sorry for after stabbing him to death seven times. But that wasn’t the most humiliating death. That honour belongs to Destruction 2.0. In less fancy talk, that means dropping a building on someone’s head by destroying the walls until the roof collapses due to the support mysteriously disappearing. That was awesome in itself, but the fact the destruction would dynamically change the face of the map and the way you navigated it still blows me away now.

Never try to beach the boat. They'll have anti-tank mines in the water.
Never try to beach the boat. They’ll have anti-tank mines in the water.

As I’ve tried to prove with just a few screenshots of a few maps, I love how varied the maps are. It’s clear a lot of time was spent on diversifying the environment. Different ways to approach objectives, different scenery, different levels of height, cover and foliage. Different, different, different! Again, that’ll come up later. But we didn’t just get the base maps. Providing you bought the game firsthand (or paid a small fee if you bought 2nd) you got the V.I.P Map Pack collection for free. Which brought in maps from the single player that had been masterfully revamped for multiplayer gameplay, new maps entirely and finally bringing back fan-favourite maps from Bad Company 1 by popular demand, Oasis and Harvest Day, beautifully remastered in Frostbite 1.5. My god, did they nail it. There wasn’t a SINGLE map I disliked in Bad Company 2. That’s impressive.

But as if all the above wasn’t good enough to keep me entertained for (literally) years, DICE still had a trick up their sleeve in the form of DLC. Onslaught was a blast. Four player co-op taking place on four multiplayer maps infested with AI opponents holding a position you’d been ordered to take. But it wasn’t just “shoot all bots until they die, congratz.” but a frantic assault where you HAD to keep up the pressure. There was a flag to capture but enemies never stopped coming, so taking the objective was a battle of efficiency and speed on top of the whole “not dying” thing. Especially on Hardcore mode. This lead to some insanely tense moments where your squad would be killed and the music blared, as the text “YOU ARE THE LAST MAN STANDING” glowed on your screen. With your back to a corner, hyperventilating and praying nothing found you. Knowing their hopes rested on your shoulders and the amount of time you’d invested. I remember some missions would last over an hour. No checkpoints.

A brutal frenzy of precision tactics and sheer panic.
A brutal frenzy of precision tactics and sheer panic.

It could end so quickly, your vehicle being destroyed with your squad in it or being shot as you exit, snipers, being hit by a helicopter’s missile or automatic grenade launcher, tanks, mounted MG, simply being overwhelmed, you name it. I remember one mission which after about 20 minutes of trying to take an island on hardcore mode, a helicopter would come barreling over the newly liberated area with hell to pay. Those few seconds were some of the most frightening in the whole mode, clumsily pulling out an unguided RPG-7 and aiming down the scope while accounting for gravity, the speed of the helicopter and the direction it was moving in. Pulling the trigger and watching the roaring beast paint a trail across the sky as you waited anxiously. Some runs I’d make the hit and the whole squad would freak out with relief. Others… It went sailing past by inches. It was anyone’s game after that.

Trying to hit a moving helicopter with the magnetic dart gun required for locks was nearly impossible and even if you managed to hit it, you were likely to be killed while tracking the helicopter trying to fire another rocket. But it was these ragtag moments that brought the mode to life, sometimes having to dump your kit for an enemy’s or ally’s after running out of ammo or to defib your medic who would then wake up with your kit instead with your roles reversed. It was awesome. This kinda thing happened in the multiplayer too but a lot more often in Onslaught. But that wasn’t the only major DLC for the game. No, nor some tiny, meager, pathetic little “downloadable content” that we’re all accustomed to now… (Except for that weapon/character reskin pack… But we’ll politely ignore that.) It was an expansion pack. A PROPER expansion pack. Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present to you one of the best uses of £10 I’ve ever spent:

VIET-GODDAMN-NAM!
VIET-GODDAMN-NAM!

I cannot sing Vietnam’s praises enough. It was brilliant and terrifying guerrilla-warfare fun. Helicopters were glass cannons torn to shreds by small arms fire, forcing pilots to fly low and fast. (Killing helicopters or their pilots with your primary weapon or even a pistol was always hilarious.) Tanks had incredibly fierce firepower capable of destroying buildings from across the map with a single shot and anyone unfortunate enough to be inside, but suffered in mobility compared to their modern counterparts. Oh, and the variety of new toys to play with in the guns department would make even the most devout pacifist smile with a grin so devious it would make the Cheshire cat jealous. No more bells and whistles for you either, back to basics!

Not only that, but the map design retained its brilliance once again, not just in terms of gameplay, but aesthetically, I mean just LOOK at this! (Also you can’t watch that trailer without air drumming. It’s impossible. P.S. – That bit at the end of the trailer? I actually did that once as a Huey pilot… The car on the bridge and everything. I love this game so much.)  We even got a free fifth map just for working together as a team! Vietnam was just more of everything that had made Bad Company 2 great but with the backdrop providing some of the most intense, claustrophobic close-quarters fighting I can remember in a shooter. Sure, the maps were huge, but everywhere was an ambush in wait, it was simply a matter of who sprung who’s trap first. It was vicious. Vicious and wonderful. Let me put it this way, I managed to get an excellence pin (8 kills straight) with only my blowtorch as an Engineer.

Hill 137. Hell on earth and land of the foxholes.
Hill 137. Hell on Earth and land of the foxholes.

Fighting over every inch of ground was a desperate affair both on foot and in vehicles. Crafty tactics were often required to gain the upper-hand fitting in perfectly with the theme. Climbing over the top of foxholes to try to get the drop of the other side, weaving in and out of slopes to dodge vehicles on the road, storming or holding off entrances and exits with the ferocious flamethrower just to name a few. It was a glorious tug of war whoever ended up winning. I’d play it just as often as “Bad Company Modern” as it became known amongst my friends since it became slightly confusing when you said you were going to play “Bad Company 2”. The elements that made Bad Company 2 were carefully preserved, yet Vietnam still felt distinct enough to stand on its own. Especially with the frail wall materials that made wallbanging possible. That was a hell of a lot of fun.

Later I heard news of the Battlefield 3 announcement. Oh, man, Was I excited for it. I got the private beta and public beta and was honestly a little disappointed. The guns didn’t have much kick and the only level was basically a pretty looking corridor. This meant it was only fun to defend since with the addition (I’ll probably rant about this in an article tackling issues in multiplayer) of the prone stance, it meant attacking was a dumb game of attrition, especially in the later sections of the map that were almost pitch black. since you could barely see opponents due to Frostbite 2’s washed out colours and the soldiers all looking incredibly similar as well as blending in to the background. This, as you can imagine, left me with a pretty bad impression but I was hopeful.

Congratulations, you've been murdered by black pixel in the distance five times now!
Congratulations, you’ve been murdered by black pixel in the distance five times now!

Unfortunately, when the full game came out I was naive enough to believe they would have fixed these issues. The guns still felt weak if not weaker due to having little to no recoil, the vehicles had been massively simplified (especially flight) and so had the gadgets and even the classes themselves but most of all the maps were shoddy. In Bad Company 2 I fought, crawled, swam and sprinted over every damn inch of each map. All the space was masterfully utilised so there would always be value in holding it or at the very least destroying it so the enemy couldn’t use it against you. This is completely the opposite in BF3. All the maps function as a corridor, regardless of the actual shape of the map in question. There’s a lot of wasted, and therefore, pointless space, honestly. Especially since the destruction of the environment was almost non-existent in the later games and saved for dumb scripted moments instead of the natural free flow destruction seen in Bad Company 2.

Some maps are just as big as the ones in Bad Company 2, but players only cared about the centre strip because there was no value in holding the sides since there was NOTHING there. So it became a game of attrition on all the maps instead of about good aim, teamwork and flanking maneuvers. BF3 was full of stupid gimmicks like the torch, sorry, “flashlight”. But don’t worry, guys! They patched it to make it better! Months later… And it was still the bloody same afterwards. Same thing happened with lasers for “better hip fire accuracy”. But since your face is now a camera lens in BF3, you don’t have the gift of having more than one eye, hence blinded completely again. This even worked outside in bright, sunny conditions. Because logic. Naturally, everyone abused the hell out of both of these, since DICE was stupid enough to think that mechanic was a great idea in the first place.

bf3figures2
Compare these to the silhouettes of the Bad Company 2 classes. It’s embarrassing how much of a backwards step it is.

I put hundreds upon hundreds of hours into Bad Company 2, got every single achievement, every single medal, every single insignia, got platinum stars for the majority of my favourite weapons (1000+ kills. Platinum knife was a laugh.) and basically, did just about everything you could possibly do and had story upon story of epic moments. To say I was upset about Battlefield 3 obviously catering to the CoD crowd was an understatement. Battlefield was Call Of Duty’s biggest competition, and yet they decided in order to beat it, they’d simply copy it to steal their crowd. Fire-and-forget type weapons like claymore mines creeped into the game, as did automatic heat-seeking rockets since apparently the dart gun didn’t exist anymore. Removed to make the lazy happy, and yet, DICE themselves had laughed at CoD:MW2 in the past for pandering to the player.

Yet sooner or later they’re taking advice from them and hoping to please the newcomers from CoD as opposed to those who had loved Battlefield. They even segregated players by splitting up the community with expensive map packs. Anyone who’d bought them were brandished “premium” players. What’s loyalty, right? The bigger your wallet the more important you were now, with exclusive designs for their dog tags, a few exclusive weapons and obviously a lot more (bad) maps to play on, which despite Battlefield’s fame for massive, authentic maps, were getting smaller and smaller to appease their new-found fans. This overall pattern carried on in the later games in the series. Slowly becoming a shadow of its former self.

The haunting and beautiful Nelson Bay from Bad Company 2. Because the new games don't deserve any more limelight.
The haunting and beautiful Nelson Bay from Bad Company 2. Because the new games don’t deserve the limelight.

Even the weapons and vehicles were tampered with to reward idiots who prefer progression over raw gameplay. How would you like to earn that red dot sight for your weapon for the nineteenth time? Instead of just unlocking it permanently like you used to? Want to fly the new jets in BF3? Too bad. You’ll be shot down in seconds by either jet pilots who’ve played since day 1 with far more experience (i.e. weapons and counters) or shot down by the automatic rocket launchers everyone has because you haven’t earned 300 points to unlock the flares to save yourself. Not that you’ll ever earn those 300 points because you’ll die. Every time. Without fail. It’s so backwards, it’s tragic. This progression system nonsense also continued down the line. Desperately trying to grasp the attention of their newfound crowd instead of just treating their older one with respect.

Oh, and they also added custom colour schemes to vehicles. Because nothing keeps you as immersed than seeing a bright pink APC and similarly stupid camo patterns. I remember a friend of mine who defended Battlefield 3 kept playing after I’d given up on it ever being what I wished it to be. But when he tried Battlefield 4 even he’d had enough when he realised helicopters were a joke to fly and the on-foot and vehicle controls had been bastardised to make them more CoD kid friendly. You could switch it back to “Veteran” in the controls and it was STILL WRONG. Then Battlefield: Hardline came out. If that wasn’t concrete evidence of DICE panicking over what to do, I don’t know what is. Cops Vs. Robbers. Really… REALLY?! With military-grade vehicles and weapons? Oh, it’s so stupid, it’s almost beautiful. Almost.

Oasis in Bad Company 2! Thanks for this at least BC1.
Oasis in Bad Company 2! Thanks for this and Harvest Day at least BC1.

The hilarious thing is that the majority who bought Hardline felt backstabbed and went back to 4 as it was a more complete game with a lot more variety by comparison to that rush job. (Now why does that sound familiar?) The only, and I mean ONLY good thing about Hardline was the secret reload animations. I guess the animators were even tired of the game before they even released it so occupied themselves with easter eggs. Also I feel like calling out DICE LA for (as much as I dislike it) fixing the PC version of Battlefield 4 and supporting it so well since DICE themselves completely ditched it in its original buggy, barely playable and unstable state. Nice to see some developers out there still give a damn about their player base, eh?

Even in Battlefield 1 they are terrified of losing that audience. Automatic weapons litter the field despite the fact it’s set in WWI, (Yes, I know there WERE automatic weapons but they sure as hell were not common and definitely not handed out to the low ranking common soldier.) there are attachments such as glass sights for your weapons (even shotguns) because god forbid there to be authenticity in a WWI shooter. They can do it for Bad Company 2 Vietnam, but not their WWI game? Yeah, okay. It’s fine, Battlefield 1, you keep your perfectly functioning super tanks and lightning-fast horses with one-hit-kill AOE sword swings from the rider, I’ll be waaaaaaaay over here playing Verdun if you need me.

Run away. Run... Run away and never return!
The helicopter is the least of your worries, Engie.

DICE (Sweden) even admitted they had no idea why fans fell so hard for Bad Company 2 even though they were the inventors of the magic that spawned that near-perfect game. “Why?” they ask? Because, as usual in these “X and me” articles, the game was SIMPLE. A few classes, perks and attachments. A few weapons for each class and a few for all classes, all feeling distinct and powerful with a decent amount of recoil. Big, destructible playgrounds you affectionately named “maps” and a few really damn good DLCs. That’s basically all it came down to. Then you just let us, the players, loose to unleash hell on each others teams. Also, due to the better (i.e. harder) gunplay, it was easier to carry your team as a skilled player. Unlike BF3 where I always felt like cannon fodder. If one, fateful day Battlefield: Bad Company 3 was announced, I’d probably freak out… but I wouldn’t pick it up. DICE killed Battlefield. They killed Mirror’s Edge. But most of all they killed my trust and loyalty for what was originally a great developer.

 

 

 

It would be just be another knife in the back. Typical then for both Battlefield and Me.

SilverWolf

Don't worry... My articles are worse than my bite.

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