You've probably seen the ads on TV: Battlefield: Bad Company looks like Call of Duty 4 (see my review) but with a decided sense of humor. Well, here's a shocker: That's exactly what it is. And best of all, it's a great game. In fact, it's easily the best new game I've played this year. (And yes, I've played Grand Theft Auto IV.)

Two comments up front: I am very much biased towards first person shooters, so Bad Company automatically makes my short list. But it's a great game, too, and in fact now takes its place with Call of Duty 2 (see my review), Gears of War (see my review), and Call of Duty 4 as being among the best first person shooters I've ever played on the Xbox 360. That's a very short list.

Point two: Game makers have tried to mix comedy and shooters before, and with mixed results. Many will remember the groan-inducing adolescent humor of Duke Nukem 3D with a weird mixture of embarrassment and nostalgia, but I'm happy to report that Bad Company rarely devolves into "damn, I'm looking good" territory a la the Duke. In fact, while most of the humorous dialog in this game is decidedly on the cheesy side, I found myself smiling and waiting for the next bit. Typical example:

Sarge: "This place is heavily guarded."

Haggard: "Well, we're heavily armed!"

OK, the dialog won't win any awards, and yes there's some debate to be had about any combination of violence and humor, but come on, it's a game. In fact, one of the things I think the makers of this particular title handle quite well is the line between realism and game play. Unlike many games that force you to trudge back to artificial checkpoints and refight the exact same battles, enemies, and situations again and again until you get it right, Bad Company eliminates this convention. That is, you never forget it's a game because it doesn't take itself seriously.

What do I mean by this? Well, you can resuscitate yourself basically anytime using a never-ending supply of health. If you clear out part of an area and then get killed, when you come back, those enemies are still dead, so the second time easier. And you know what? It's OK, it really is. Gaming purists will complain that this makes the game too easy, and I do hear that, I really do. But I think this makes the game more fun. And you know what? It's a game. It's supposed to be fun.

I love this game.

Plot: You play Preston Marlow, a new recruit in Bad Company, an army division that consists of misfits like ex-cons who are sent into battle ahead of the more expensive and less easily replaced elite soldiers. It's a funny concept, really, and your small team consists of some lively personalities, including the "retiring in two days" Sarge, the Truckosaurus loving Haggard, and the too-talkative and too-smart-for-his-own-good Sweetwater. Their banter, both within the team and with the presumed-to-be-gorgeous female voice that guides them via radio, is generally light and fun.

There's a war going on, apparently between the US and the Soviet Union, though the Soviet Union has also hired expensive mercenaries that make up the more dangerous enemies you'll face. Where and when this conflict occurs is unclear, but both appear to be fabricated and, anyway, who cares? It's just a game.

Along the way, your team goes AWOL, attempts to get back into the good graces of the US army by kidnapping a foreign dictator, and generally makes a mess of things. It's a glorious mess.

Graphics: The graphics in Bad Company are arguably the best I've ever seen on any Xbox 360 title. The only visual issue is that the graphics are actually somewhat grainy, but the detail on all of the onscreen elements--not to mention that you can interact with virtually all of it, usually by blowing stuff up--really puts it over the top. This is one of the most engaging interactive experiences I've ever had.

Sounds: Likewise, the music and other audio in Bad Company is first rate. I generally turn off any music in a game for what I assume are obvious reasons, but the musical selection in this title is so quirky that it's worth leaving on: It really sets the stage. One minor gripe: There are no subtitles at all, and sometimes very crucial bits of information are provided verbally while fighting or other loud background noises are occurring.

Game play: If you're familiar with console-based first person shooters, Bad Company holds few surprises. On the plus side, Bad Company's system for switching weapons is excellent, and should be emulated by other games. (It uses the RB and LB buttons instead of the control pad. I feel this is superior.)

Bad Company provides a wide range of play options, including the ability to ride in (and use the armaments of) a lot of different vehicles, including trucks, tanks, golf carts (!), helicopters, and the like. You man long-range guns and target distant enemies. You can hop on stationary guns and cut down individual enemies. There are rocket launchers and sniper rifles. The list goes on and on and on. And though the nature of the game is somewhat repetitive--do this, then go to the red smoke, now repeat it--the sheer variety of missions keeps things interesting.

On the minus side, controls are a bit balky and vague, and decidedly less well defined than those in Call of Duty 4, which sets the standard today. You get used to it, but if you're coming to this game right off of COD, as I did, it's a bit off-putting.

Also, there's no true prone. You can stand and crouch only. Not a big deal, but there were times when lying down fully would have come in quite handy.

One huge complaint: There's no co-op mode at all. This seems like an odd omission in what is essentially a team-based shooter.

Replayability: Thanks to a very balanced Achievements system and the multiplayer system mentioned below, replayability is excellent. I'm now moving through the single player campaign for a second time to clean up on various collectibles (gold, guns) and a few other random Achievements I missed the first time around. A few years into the Xbox 360's lifecycle and it seems like game makers are finally figuring out how to best use Achievements to keep things interesting. This is a great example of how to do that.

Multiplayer: I've only barely explored multiplayer so far, but what I've seen looks interesting. There are ranked and unranked matches, and 8 different maps, but just one basic game type. What makes this interesting is that the games are objective-based, with offensive and defensive teams of up to 12 players each, and you can choose from five character classes, each with its own set of unique weapons and capabilities.

Final score:  Highly recommended

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