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Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Everybody loves the underdog. And in the case of Battlefield Bad Company 2 (BBC2), everybody should love this explosive first-person shooter. The follow-up to EA's 2008 hit combines visceral sound effects, tight shooting mechanics and an addictive multiplayer into a near-perfect package.

But first things first: Let's get the inevitable comparisons to its widely popular competitor -- Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 -- out of the way early. Both games are spot-on shooters that incorporate a leveling system that unlocks weapons and gadgets and custom loadouts. But where Bad Company separates itself, is in destructible environments.

Ever been frustrated from a camper picking your off teammates from a building high above? Not a problem with BBC2's Frostbite engine which allows players to blow holes into buildings, take out walls and even level entire structures. This allows players a new level of strategy and keeps them on their toes as no spot is totally safe. To up the ante even further, developer EA DICE (Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment) has also provided vehicles (tanks, helicopters, patrol boats and even jet skis) to cover -- and destroy -- their expansive multiplayer maps.

The strategic component doesn't stop there. In multiplayer matches players choose from one of four classes: Assault, Medic, Engineer and Recon. Each class has its own weapons and gadgets that are unlocked by compiling experience points that are earned while playing as the specific class.

The Assault class has a number of assault rifles to choose from and one can also add a grenade launcher, shotgun or scope attachment. The class can also distribute ammo packs to teammates that are in need.

The Medic is outfitted with light machine guns that also can be upgraded with scope attachments. The class also hands out health packs to wounded teammates and when a comrade is killed, the Medic has a defibrillator that can revive the fallen soldier.

The Engineer has to choose from an arsenal of fully automatic weapons but also carries rocket launchers -- great for taking out those pesky tanks and armored vehicles. The Engineer also has a repair tool to fix any of the team's damaged vehicles.

The Recon sports a host of sniper rifles for long-range, silent kills. They can also toss motion sensors to uncover any enemy soldier in the vicinity. If in a destructive mood, Recons can call in mortar strikes on locations and plant C4.

Experience points are not given solely for killing an adversary. Healing injured teammates, reviving falling soldiers, handing out ammo packs and fixing damaged vehicles are just some of the ways to net XP (experience points). This aspect makes you feel like you're part of a team instead of a band of individual mercenaries.

Despite all of these options, the arsenal and map variety does feel a little light, but it seems like something that will be boosted by the inescapable wave of downloadable content that first-person shooters are known for.

There are four multiplayer types in BBC2: Rush, Conquest, Squad Rush, Squad Deathmatch. Rush pits two teams of up to 12 players on each side with the task of defending or destroying M-COM stations. The attacking team has a number of tickets (lives) that dwindles as each attacker is killed while the defending team has an infinite number of tickets. If attacking team Medics revive downed teammates that number is added to their tickets.

There are a couple of ways to take out those M-COM stations. Planting a charge is one but the defending team can defuse it. If that doesn't work, try Plan B. If the station is inside a building, it can be destroyed by bringing the structure down on top of it.

Conquest mode is a capture-the-flag scenario in which two teams try to hold down points while depleting the other team's tickets. If one team holds more than half of the points, the other team's tickets constantly decrease.

Squad Deathmatch has four squads battling to get to 50 kills first. The wildcard in this mode is the one infantry vehicle somewhere on the map that can turn the tide for one of the teams.

Squad Rush is a team deathmatch mode where two factions of four players each square off.

With so much focus on the multiplayer it's easy to overlook the single-player campaign in which you reprise your role as Private Preston Marlow from the original Battlefield: Bad Company. You are a member of U.S. Army battalion dubbed "Bad Company" and are tasked to find a device that is related to a secret weapon from the '40s codenamed Aurora.

The eight-to-10 hour campaign has some explosive set pieces that are amplified by the lifelike sound effects and the environmental destruction. Sounds of bullets whizzing by, ear-rattling explosions going off and the crackle of sniper-rifle fire add a visceral element. But the story itself lacks a lasting or memorable appeal and the slow pacing doesn't help much. It's a summer action flick with big explosions that mask the lack of depth in the characters.

But don't let the so-so campaign dissuade you. The depth and variety of the multiplayer, which will have you spending countless nights trying to climb the 50 ranks from private all the up to general, is well worth the price of admission.

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