How do you make a wildly popular shooter like EA's five million unit strong Battlefield: Bad Company 2 even better? Developer DICE unleashes the Onslaught: a cooperative mode that'll test any four-player squad's ability to work as a team.
Not What You Think
If you think this is yet another contrived take on Gears of War 2's Horde mode or Call of Duty: World at War's Nazi Zombies, you'd be way off the mark. Those modes are tactically satisfying diversions, and particularly fun with friends, but they're ultimately wars of attrition where survival is the goal. Onslaught instead plays like multiplayer Rush, starting with clear mission-specific objectives and rewarding tactics over kill counts. This plays to Battlefield: Bad Company 2's strengths: Instead of being confined to an arena-sized map, BF: BC 2's sprawling exteriors allow for great flexibility in play style, encouraging flanking maneuvers and the vehicular combat that so many fans love.
When this chunk of downloadable content arrives on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, Onslaught will allow you and up to three friends to tackle unique, scripted combat scenarios on four different maps: Valparaiso, Atacama Desert, Isla Inocentes, and Nelson Bay. Onslaught introduces new vehicles to the mix and also touches up these familiar maps with redesigned lighting and other visual effects. While entirely new maps would be preferred, enhancing existing maps with a fresh coat of paint comes a close second.
Uno, Dos, Tres, Quatro
Each map bears its own play style, as befits the tactical options presented by its terrain and layout. Valparaíso, for instance, tasks your elite squadron with repelling Russian forces from Chile, the final objective being a power station on the outskirts of the city. Dedicated tank drivers and engineers will fall in love with the Atacama Desert mission, as it's focused on vehicular combat.
During our hands-on play session we completed the infantry-based Nelson Bay mission: On this wintry map, we had to fight past a series of brutal emplacements and eventually lay waste to a heavily guarded encampment and secure control of a submarine base.
Frontal assaults are fun, but these missions are meant to be challenging, and we came away with the feeling that you'd have to set up crossfires and flank to make steady progress. Throwing ourselves mindlessly into the line of fire was an exercise in futility, but once we designated a sniper to lay down cover fire, advancement became more of a possibility. A good mix of roles can help, but the most important thing to remember is that you always need to keep at least one squaddie alive, or it's game over.
The Art of War
We also found that you could fool the AI with some careful thinking and tactical movement. During the last portion of one mission, we were able to clean house after a stealthy approach into a heavily-guarded enemy base. Many of the Russians were holed up in a station, unaware of the incoming assault, and we were able to pick them off one-by-one from the windows. You'd be amazed at the amount of damage one soldier can deal with a rocket launcher. Sure, this alerted the nearby Soviets of our attack, but we were then able to move into the newly-cleared base and repel their counterattack from a strong defensive position.
Competitive players will appreciate the inclusion of a dedicated leaderboard for Onslaught, and all members of any given team earn rankings in unison. It'll take aggressive play, sharp reflexes, and a well-executed gameplan to post good times, though with co-op it's ultimately more important to just have a good time. Players should also appreciate how multiplayer unlocks carry over into Onslaught. The more you play, the more cool gear you'll earn, and hopefully the better you'll get.
We found the AI to be a satisfying challenge; more than once we'd be down to our last squad member, crossing our fingers that he'd buy us enough time to respawn. It's moments like these that separate cooperative play from its competitive counterpart. There's no greater high than succeeding as the entire team cheers you on, just as there's no greater low than letting the team down when you're the last man standing, their curses echoing in your headset. Spectator mode can be fun, but it can also be humiliating.
PC Gamers: Don't Hold Your Breath
Battlefield: Bad Company 2's Onslaught mode is coming to consoles for an as-of-yet unrevealed price, but you can bet it'll be in the same ballpark as similar downloadable expansions from competing shooters. The real mystery is that there's no word as to if or when Onslaught will ever make it to PC. The problem lies with how PC servers are all dedicated with providers: each server switching from 32-player Conquest to 4-player Onslaught would cut out 28 player slots. This could have a "dramatic effect on the PC online environment," according to a statement from EA.
That's a shame, because Onslaught makes an already great game even better.