Return of the Four
One of the biggest selling points of the Bad Company games has been environmental destruction. Specifically, man-made structures can be dismantled by explosives. It's important to realize that this is not Red Faction: Guerilla. Bad Company 2 does not use a sophisticated physics engine to demolish its buildings. The various structures have multiple states of disrepair in which they can exist, and as they are peppered with rocket-propelled grenades and other explosives they simply toggle between these various states until they reach a point of total collapse. The destruction may not be very high tech, but the framerate never drops, and it always works as intended, unlike more procedural methods.
All of this devastation sadly serves little purpose in the singleplayer campaign. It's a nice cosmetic addition to have things blowing up all over the place, but shooting everyone in the face is usually the most efficient tactic. It's a completely different story when facing off against human players, however, because humans are sneaky bastards, and it can be a great help to take their cover away.
Online multiplayer is where Battlefield: Bad Company 2 shines. There are a couple of objective-based modes which focus the action on areas that need capturing or explosives that need to be armed, with the classic Battefield element of depleting respawn "tickets" that determine how many times a team's players may come back to life. The sense of attrition that this system brings to the proceedings is a series staple, and it can create great tension.
The map objectives are placed in such a way as to focus the action very tightly. The maximum number of players allowed in a match is 24, which is not enormous for this type of game, but due to factors such as the level design, the vehicles, and the destruction that can be rained down upon people with things like mortars, it can feel extremely hectic at times.
Multiplayer in Bad Company 2 is a class-based affair, with four soldier classes to choose from. Each class can be customized using weapons and gadgets that are unlocked over the course of play, making all four highly versatile. If the mention of unlocking weapons gives you grim visions of tedious grinding just to be competitive, you can take a deep breath and relax.
Continuing in the tradition set down five years ago in Battlefield 2, the unlockable items are a nice bonus for playing the game, but they are not unbalancing. In the very beginning, you will be locked out of some basic utility items, but that is solely to give you a little time to learn your way around before dumping too much information on you. The weapons in Bad Company 2 are balanced in the best possible way: soft targets are very fragile. Even the lowliest pistol can reliably get the job done.
The way sniping works in Bad Company 2 is refreshing. Instead of having a scope that drunkenly wobbles around, the challenge comes from compensating for travel time, bullet drop and recoil. Getting a clean kill from a great distance is hugely gratifying, and anyone who enjoys a little virtual marksmanship should love the recon class. It doesn't hurt that they gain access to C4 and mortars, either.
The use of C4 is illustrative of the difference between the singleplayer campaign in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and its multiplayer matches. In the campaign, the stuff is lying around all over the place, but it doesn't serve any real purpose. You can use it to create huge explosions, but doing so doesn't help you very much. In multiplayer, however, a sniper with C4 can set a deadly trap, or take out an enemy tank in heart-pounding suicidal gambit.
Playing Bad Company 2 online is constantly exciting, which is exactly what you'd expect based on its pedigree. It would have been nice if the same level of drama could have been harnessed in the story mode, but it just isn't there.