Games 6/25/08: Battlefield: Bad Company, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Battlefield: Bad Company
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: DICE/EA Games
ESRB Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, strong language, violence)

With respect to “Call of Duty 4,” no game does multiplayer war quite like DICE’s PC “Battlefield” games. Console gamers sampled a muted taste of that in “Battlefield 2142,” but only now has DICE engineered a “Battlefield” game expressly for them.

As reward for your patience, “Company” doubles your pleasure, packing in a single-player campaign that, in a series first, is more than simply a bunch of glued-together maps with A.I. enemies. DICE has a story to tell in “Company,” and it’s a startlingly fresh (and — gasp! — amusing) departure from the genre norms. As supplementary material goes, it’s surprisingly meaty, easily outdistancing “COD4” in terms of campaign length.

The flipside, of course, is that “Company’s” single-player issues fall under greater scrutiny than in the past.

So, here’s the laundry list. Your squadmates, while never a burden, are generally useless. Enemy soldiers often either leave themselves wide open to attack or possess an inhuman, “COD4”-like ability to nail you no matter where you move. (The lack of any kind of cover mechanic — a problem in multiplayer as well — really rears its head here.) An unconventional spawning system makes the game’s difficulty entirely palatable, but there will be times when you’ll wish DICE better integrated this with the game’s checkpoint system.

But even with those issues well apparent, “Company” is a riotous good time. DICE has first-person shooter basics down cold, and everything about the gunplay — from aiming sensitivity right on down to the sound each gun makes — benefits from a first-rate coat of polish. That goes as well for the vehicles (jeeps, tanks, boats and helicopters, among other treats), each of which are fun to commandeer for different reasons.

And then there’s “Company’s” destructibility engine, which allows you to destroy walls, rooftops and forestry on a level no game before it has allowed. “Company” overtly encourages players to completely shred their environment, and why not? It’s wildly fun, and the game’s engine doesn’t break a sweat no matter what you throw at it. Amazing.

If all this newness scares you, worry not: Multiplayer remains the star of the show in “Company,” which features exactly one mode (an objective-driven, 24-player variation on attack and defend) but packs it with enough depth and purpose to render moot any concerns about longevity. The clash of themes (greed and disenchantment versus teamwork) gives the game an unprecedented sense of identity, but the gameplay is explicitly “Battlefield,” and that’s all a lot of long-suffering console gamers need to hear.

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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: Splash Damage/Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)

When “Unreal Tournament 3” migrated last year from the PC to the Playstation 3, it purposely slowed the action down a touch. Blisteringly fast movement is fine on a computer, but console players using a gamepad cannot possibly refocus their gun’s aim with near-instantaneous speed the way players can with a mouse. That minor speed provided some relief to experienced “UT” players forced to contend with a controller, and it made “UT3” an accessible experience for those of us getting our feet wet for the first time.

“Enemy Territory: Quake Wars” had more than eight months to make the same adjustment “UT3” made in one. Unfortunately, it does no such thing, and that oversight provides the base for a small mountain of problems that make the game impossible to recommend, especially now.

In fairness, “ET:QW” does have some things going for it. The objective-driven multiplayer modes, which call for teams to employ a full range of character classes in order to complete every task, encourage teamwork on a level even Valve’s “Team Fortress” games can’t quite achieve. Should you assemble a group of selfless team players, you might find some surprisingly intelligent battles in your online future.

Failing that, “ET:QW’s” single-player campaign — which is little more than a bunch of multiplayer maps peppered with A.I. enemies and taped together with some “Quake” mythology — at least provides adequate training. Enemy A.I. plays strong even on the game’s easiest setting, and it occasionally mimics human behavior to a startling degree.

Unfortunately, a good part of that challenge can be chalked up to the aforementioned speed issues. With only a controller at your disposal, “ET:QW” feels ludicrously fast, and while everyone is at the same disadvantage online, that doesn’t make the excessively reactionary gunplay any more fun.

Again, though, that’s merely the base. Whereas “ET:QW” supported 32 players on the PC, the console versions can handle only 16, which is hard to swallow given the complete lack of graphical advancement. Online play thus far has been lag-prone, which merely accentuates those aiming problems, and the online interface in general feels like a product of a bygone era.

“ET:QW’s” arrival comes right on the toes of the debut of “Battlefield: Bad Company,” which plays in the same genre but supports more players (24), looks considerably better, includes a full-fledged story mode, was designed specifically for consoles and is available for the same price. If shoddy development doesn’t seal this one’s fate, bad timing almost certainly will.