FIRE! IT’S ON FIRE! I’M ON FIRE! YOU’RE ON FIRE! THE ROOF IS ON FIRE! EVERYTHING’S ON FIRE! That’s pretty much Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s Vietnam expansion. I mean, there’s also a bunch of new junk – that’s five maps, six vehicles, and fifteen weapons, for those of you who like to count things – but most of that stuff is on fire, anyway.
Perhaps somewhat inexplicably, Vietnam is largely unexploited territory for video games. Inexplicably, that is, because with its necessarily cramped, jungly terrain, it seems the model setting for virtual warfare at its most gratuitously gruesome. Which I always thought was kind of the point with games.
Of course, the same dense foliage presents its own inherent difficulties for balanced game design – diminished lines of sight tend to promote excessive camping, grenade hell, and dreary spray ‘n’ pray-type play, which is about as much fun as babysitting stroppy toddlers. Actually, Vietcong’s multiplayer was exactly the same as babysitting stroppy toddlers, except those stroppy toddlers had sniper rifles.
Happily enough, however, DICE has chucked 100% authenticity just enough to avoid a bamboo-induced cataclysm, and turned out some of the most brilliant multiplayer maps I’ve ever seen. In between sprawling rice paddy terraces, shabby villages, rubbled embankments, napalm-scorched bluffs, and at least one wickedly brutal creek-bed crossfire flashpoint, Vietnam’s stages feature more than enough range and verticality for everybody to get their Charlie on with giddy abandon.
This is multiplayer map design at its most extraordinary, and makes even Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s excellent roster seem a bit drab, even staid in comparison. This is also due in some part to a colour palette heavily saturated with ochres, umbers, and olives, investing the surroundings with a sort of feverish vibrancy that’s immediately – if rather oddly – reminiscent of iconic Polaroid imagery from the era. Elsewhere, subtle affectations like tape-wrapped rifle stocks, hand-painted tiger camo grenade launchers, and mismatched infantry gear lend a grubby, lo-fi sincerity to it all. In a way that’s otherwise impossible to describe, the game just looks like it’s the 1960s and 1970s. Simply, this expansion is gorgeous.
The new weapons certainly feel substantially different to anything in regular Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – most significantly, perhaps, only sniper rifles have scopes. The absence of bolt-on red dot and ACOG sights means automatic weapons are only really useful in the mid- and close-range, which in turn makes for arguably more balanced gameplay dynamics between classes. Some bitter, angry, wrong people might claim the Medic’s M60 is grossly over-powered, but since I primarily play a Medic, I won’t.
And then there’s the flamethrower. It seems every second person is packing a flamethrower just now for the novelty of it, and while it’s completely useless in even the mid-range, this thing is an agent of unadulterated ****ing chaos amidst the comparatively polite exchange of FMJs everywhere else. Watch the most perfectly-coordinated M-COM grab flee in screeching disarray at the first lick of burnin’ love.
The new vehicles are also loads of fun, particularly the Huey chopper. Strafing the Phu Bai Valley to a radio accompaniment of Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries is more than just a predictable tribute to Apocalypse Now – it’s a sublime and instantly unforgettable gameplay experience.
It’s officially an expansion, but in some ways, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam plays like an entirely new game, and arguably the best multiplayer FPS title of 2010. Player profiles are persistent between the two, so you’ll start off with your current BC2 ranking (and take a new one back with you), and all new weapons are unlocked at the outset, making this a very accessible option for anyone looking to expand their Battlefield catalogue, as well as newcomers. And at just 1200 MSP on Xbox LIVE or R100 from the EA Store for PC, it would be criminal to pass this by.