Trying to add a single-player experience into a videogame franchise that's known only for its online multiplayer mode is akin to trying to build a meaningful narrative into an adult film. In other words, getting gamers to care about the actual people involved in the so-called "action" is a formidable challenge. But Battlefield: Bad Company manages to inject some much needed humanity and drama into the popular Battlefield franchise, while still remaining true to the series' visceral run-kill-respawn roots.
The star of the game is a hairless, unassuming good guy named Preston Marlowe. Accused of a crime that's never fully explained, Marlowe is relegated to Bad Company, a squad of misfits forsaken by the Army. While Bad Company's squad members seem more M*A*S*H-caliber goofy than incompetent or insane (example: they play rock-paper-scissors between battles), the story takes a novel twist once the soldiers realize their only option is to fight for their lives, which gives them license to shoot without discretion and lay claim to any spoils of war.
Beyond the game: Is it too much to ask to expect our virtual soldiers to show emotion during battle? While the three main characters—Sarge, Haggard, and Sweetwater—are more complex and alive than most videogame characters, they don't seem bothered by the fact that they're mowing down hundreds of enemy soldiers at any given moment. We don't need to see anyone go insane à la Hawkeye in the final episodes of M*A*S*H. But an existential, "What the hell are we doing?" moment would balance out the wanton carnage.
Worth playing for: Enemy hiding inside a nearby building? Use a grenade to blow a hole in the wall and expose him. Why more games don't permit this degree of property damage is a mystery.
Frustration sets in when: Scouring the maps for gold and hidden weapons is relatively futile. Neither element affects the game in any tangible way.
Final judgment: Solid gameplay aside, strong characters coupled with occasional whiffs of Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now ultimately help Bad Company transcend its lineage. Multiplayer is superb, if unsurprising, but a stronger third act in the single-player mode would have earned the game a higher grade.