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Two of my favorite movies are "Saving Private Ryan" and "Kelly’s Heroes."

One is the grim account of soldiers struggling to accomplish a desperate mission. The other follows a ragtag band of misfits who simply want to relieve Hitler of some of his gold. One features a group of heroes who follow in a great military tradition. The other is a group of crooks who … are just plain fun.

The same goes for the two best military shooters of the past year.

"Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" — the video game equivalent of "Saving Private Ryan" — is an M-rated look at troops on series of deadly serious missions. Its combination of stellar game play, solid story line and spectacular graphics have put it among many gamers’ favorites.

Now, comes the T-rated "Battlefield: Bad Company" from EA Games. It definitely follows in the line of "Kelly’s Heroes" and the similarly minded "Three Kings." It also is a worthy challenger to the military crown that’s been held by "Call of Duty 4."

The first-person shooter offers play in campaign and online multiplayer modes. Sorry, no co-op or offline multiplayer competition — a situation that also afflicted "COD4," limiting its potential.

You play as Preston Marlowe, who’s been "sentenced" to become cannon fodder in Company B — Bad Company — for some unnamed infraction. Your partners in crime are Sarge, who was lured into serving in Bad Company with promises of early retirement; Sweetwater, a dopey nerd; and Haggard, a goofy redneck. Humor is a big part of the game, and a lot of it flows from the interaction among the squadmates.

The game is set during a war involving the United States and Russia. The conflict’s causes and progress are left unexamined. All that matters is that the four buddies discover they’re also up against mercenaries who are paid in gold bars. Through a few twists and turns, the squad ends up turning its attention toward acquiring the loot.

While the story line is interesting and entertaining, most players will probably spend more hours competing online. In keeping with "Battlefield" tradition, "Bad Company" offers large maps, many vehicles and the ability to accommodate plenty of soldiers.

Currently, the online mode features attackers and defenders battling over chests containing gold. If the attackers destroy the two chests at a given base, the defenders are pushed back to another position with more gold chests. This continues until all of the defenders’ bases are captured or the attackers deplete their pool of reinforcements.

Based on responses from those who participated in the game’s beta test, EA plans to release a free download for the Xbox 360 version that will include another online option, which will more closely resemble a war of attrition.

Basic game play is a joy — with smooth controls and an efficient camera system.

Graphics are very good. They don’t offer quite the degree of realism as is found in "COD4," but they’re close enough. My biggest gripe is that few buildings contain anything beyond some boxes, a chair or a table. This emptiness seriously detracts from the feeling of realism.

The settings are varied and interesting — ranging from forests, to farmland to Middle Eastern villages.

The character classes — assault, recon, support, etc. — are well balanced, with plenty of options to make each valuable and interesting.

These elements put "Bad Company" within sight of "COD4." What will give it an edge — at least for some players — are the vehicles and destructible environments. Neither element is available in "Call of Duty."

Vehicles include tanks, boats, infantry fighting vehicles and helicopters. Each has seats for divers and gunners in case a fire team wants to hop on board together. Players can also use artillery to blast away at enemy positions.

That sort of blasting away is quite important to the flow of the game — and enjoyment of gamer.

Most of the game’s buildings permit at least some destruction. Need a new door? Aim your RPG at the wall and make one. Need a better line of site to the gold chest? Fire a grenade at whatever’s in the way. Just want to watch the destruction? Point your tank’s main gun down the street and open fire.

Much of the damage is a bit scripted — meaning that only certain parts of most buildings will disintegrate. However, the destruction is still fun to watch and can have a major impact on tactics.

This all makes for great fun — even if the ne’re-do-wells in Company B manage to violate six of the U.S. Army’s seven Core Values along the way.

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3On the Web: badcompany.ea.com


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