On the PC, Battlefield is one of the biggest names there is. It's the daddy of large-scale online shooters; the online war that everybody wants to sign up for. On the console formats, however, the brand hasn't had the same sort of impact, and a lot of that comes down to the fact that, while online action games have a healthy audience on the Xbox 360 and PS3, it's the single player game that drives sales. For all that, Battlefield: Modern Combat did a fine job of bringing a slightly cut-down Battlefield to consoles, it didn't quite work so well when played alone. It's more recent imitator - the thoroughly decent Frontlines: Fuel of War - provided a slightly more convincing campaign, but even this wasn't enough to steal hearts and minds from the likes of Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4. Battlefield: Bad Company, then, is DICE's attempt to stamp its ground in the console arena, and prove that Battlefield and single-player can mix.
The key to this is understanding that console gamers want a different style of game. From the recently released demo and the pre-release code I've sampled I can tell you that Bad Company is a very different Battlefield from what you're used to. In the past, Battlefield's fictional or futuristic wars have been abstract, the setting a convincing blank canvas on which players could create their own works of heroism, teamwork and high-octane daring do. Bad Company, by comparison, practically oozes personality.
The action takes place in a fictional Eastern European country in the midst of a war against Russian forces, but where other games might concentrate on the special forces troops spearheading the US efforts, Bad Company puts you in the shoes of a fledgling member of B-Company: the company where misfits and troublemakers get sent on the suicide missions no-one else wants. Inspired by movies like Three Kings and Kelly's Heroes, this isn't a story of noble soldiers, but of a bunch of dodgy dealers who end up behind enemy lines on the trail of gold. This isn't a fight for freedom, it's about staying alive and looking out for number one. After the noble sentiments of WWII epics like Medal of Honor or the gung-ho melodrama of recent Tom Clancy games, the tone is a refreshing change. It's low-key, cynical and darkly humorous. I don't want to get too excited, but this might be the first military FPS in ages where the storyline isn't just a collection of clichés, and where the in-game banter is actually funny.
What's also clear already is that Bad Company takes the strengths of the Battlefield games and applies them to the single-player campaign, while adding some really cool new technologies. The action is set to take place primarily outdoors, and these aren't the relatively constrained maps of a GRAW or CoD, but the sort of wide, open maps we're used to in Battlefield, where the world stretches out as far as they eye can see, and only the terrain prevents you moving from one part of the map to another.