DICE brought out the big guns this year with Battlefield: Bad Company 2
They don't teach you proper military tactics in the army. It's all about climbing six-foot walls and cleaning guns, and useless junk like that.
Bad Company 2 shows you the way real soldiers fight: leaping full-pelt towards windows, tucking themselves into a tiny ball, then unfurling like an umbrella made of guns on the other side. War is all about standing far away from buildings and firing endless streams of grenades that appear in mystical green packets that grow just above your arse. It's about performing little feats of individual skill so brilliant that you stop and stare at your own fingers, believing for a second that they've got tiny brains of their own.
In comparison with the 64-player murderfests of Battlefield 2, Bad Company 2's slimmed-down servers and four-man squad seem reductive. But in limiting the mental scale of the conflict and making it so easy to signpost your intentions to your squad-mates, BC2 gains a constant and tangible sense of teamwork. Unless you're lumped with ten sniping morons, anyway.
I spent most of my time in-game with three online chums. Our four-person death squad only got to be so ruthlessly efficient because we knew our assignments. One man played combat engineer, with a Saiga autofiring shotgun and a Carl Gustav rocket launcher. We'd stick him at the front of the pack, deployed to core out buildings and drill new holes into defensible positions. Supporting him, we sent our assault class, ready with a new round of ammunition and a hyper-accurate burst-fire rifle. I followed up in the line o'death, playing medic and wielding the once ludicrously good M60 machine gun. Then, right at the tail of our snake, was our recon soldier – a dead-eye shot and a human spawn point tucked into one ghillie suit.
We were monstrous. Bad Company 2 does better than any other multiplayer shooter at engendering teamwork among strangers, but there's almost no response to four people with a plan. A good, communicative squad in BC2 is a thing of beauty. We didn't need the insane reflexes of a 13-year-old after too much Fanta – with liberal application of tactics and battleawareness, we surgically sliced through objectives like a hot knife through war-butter.
Behind enemy lines
Of course, we all developed severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder along the way. Bad Company's best vignettes are flashes of doom, sections where time slows down and you're all too aware of the fragility of pretend life. Both main modes – Rush and Conquest – depend on players forcibly inserting themselves into enemy territory and staying there a bit too long to complete a job. These positions are fixed, so your defending opponent generally knows where you are – cue for them to drop the sky on you. Mortar strikes and rifle grenades are accompanied by more standard bullets – and thanks to DICE's superlative sound engineering, you can hear every last bit of superheated metal as it whistles past your face.
Other shooters decorate their experience with nice audio; BC2's sound is woven into the fabric of the game. Early on in its life, I remember standing on the second floor of a two-storey house. I'd taken up a defensive position with my squad: I had my M60 trained on the stairs, and my friend poked his shotgun over a banister at any oncoming foes, while the other two busied themselves with an M-COM station. We were inside an unbroken, impenetrable fortress, waiting for assailants. We were thinking wrong.
There was a dull thunk as the wall I had my back to disintegrated. I spun to see the white of the level's snowcovered ground, and sprinted to a new position. Another thunk, and my friend's body went sailing past my face and out of the gap the first explosion created. A third, and a fourth, and we were running out of solid things to put our bodies behind. Coming out of a crouch, I poked my head through a window just in time to see a rifle grenade come sailing out of a nearby bush. I shouted the location to my sniper buddy, and as another wall vanished, he lanced a shot straight through the grenadier's skull. It went quiet for a second, the staccato explosions halted. “Yay!”, said we over Teamspeak.
Then a horrible lurching sound, a creaking that came from no gun. Myself and my surviving squadmates looked at each other – actually spun our character models and looked at each other in turn – before simultaneously deciding to launch out of the nearest hole, pulling our parachute ripcords and floating the few feet down to snowy earth. Turning around in unison, we looked back to see the house a pile of rubble. There was only one thing to do.
“Oh man, that was so awesome. Let's do it again!”