War Games

Well, well, well. The Cold War is back. Or more accurately, it’s a Hot War with actual gunfire. “Battlefield: Bad Company” resurrects our long-ago nemesis, the Russians. Apparently, terrorists and modern desert armies weren’t interesting enough to anchor “Battlefield’s” battlegrounds.

“Bad Company,” a worthy sequel to some pretty awesome “Battlefield” games, sets you down upon the green and hilly landscapes of a fictional European nation where Americans and Russians are shooting at each other.

And yet, our military also is contending with mercenaries who have stored gold bars all over town squares and barns.

In fact, your side mission in “Bad Company” is to find that gold and become rich, even while you’re trying not to get killed by whizzing bullets. As every game writer understands, this cinematic narrative is reminiscent of the films “Kelly’s Heroes” and “Three Kings.”

To pull off such a cynical story line, the war you are engaged in must seem potentially, morally iffy. Otherwise, you’d be a bad guy, looting towns, instead of merely fighting for freedom and other trademark, apple-pie Americanisms.

So the narrator says at the start, “War’s fought for a number of reasons, but on the battlefield, every soldier has to find his own.”

Our soldiers are fittingly characteristic of such stories. They are, as in “Kelly’s Heroes” and “Three Kings,” expendable misfits. They gab stupidly, but in a legitimately funny way. They’re greedy. And the ethically compromised sergeant is to retire in a few days. All that’s missing is Danny Glover.

This setup gives the game an oomph of a meaty plot. More important, the game play is stellar. The battlegrounds of “Bad Company” are huge, sprawling terrains. You drive tanks, helicopters and boats. And you jog across hill and dale, shooting bad guys with machine guns, sniper rifles and shotguns.

The most promising action is going online to join battles of up to 24 people in showdowns where you alternately play on offense, trying to blow up the enemy’s bases, or on defense protecting your own bases. I don’t love this online game mode. It’s like waging war on a football field, one team at a time.

But the game’s designers realize fans of previous “Battlefield” titles prefer online “Conquest” modes, where you battle on both offense and defense at the same time, trying to capture and protect a bunch of bases simultaneously. We shooting gamers love that sort of kill-the-man-with-the-ball chaos.

So to satisfy us, game designers have promised to release a “Conquest” mode as a free downloadable upgrade, although they didn’t say when. Within weeks? Months?

Meanwhile, you can alternately play some other good, not great, online battles in another big war sequel out now, “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars,” which has no serious plot to speak of as an offline solo game, except that aliens have invaded Earth and they’re pointing weapons at your throat.

“Battlefield: Bad Company” is more fun. But “Enemy Territory” is solid, and it also excels online. The “Monster Truck”-like ads for the game are hilarious and accurate, saying you can steal weapons from the alien invasion destroying Earth, and each battlefield is a “square kilometer.”

If that doesn’t satisfy you, as the ad says, “How about calling orbital air strikes from outer space!?” Hell, yeah!

(“Battlefield: Bad Company” retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3 — Plays fun. Looks great. Starts easy, becomes challenging. Rated “T” for alcohol reference, strong language and violence. Four stars out of four.)

(“Enemy Territory: Quake Wars” retails for $60 for Xbox and PS 3 — Plays fun, though not great. Looks very good. Moderately easy to moderately challenging. Rated “T” for violence, mild language. Three stars.)

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