Battlefield: Bad Company 2
I've been a fan of the Battlefield series, but as an online shooter and not a single player experience. I skipped the first Bad Company, so I came into the second game's campaign knowing very little about the story and cast other than a few fairly funny videos about the main squad. That core team of four guys make up the single player's strongest element, as they make their way through a mission that has its moments, but ultimately comes off a bit clunky compared to its direct competition by choice, the Modern Warfare games. It's clear from cracks they take at Activision's series both in the game and in the promotional material that beating them is what they're going for, so I think it's fair to compare them directly. Having spent some time with the online, I think Battlefield still has the edge with multiplayer, though they haven't toppled Infinity Ward in single player design or execution just yet.
In some ways, I do prefer the slightly different pace and feel of Bad Company's combat. Instead of distinctly splitting you between forced quiet missions and all out battles with crap constantly exploding around you, it feels more organic, as you move from place to place, coming across enemies here and there, sometimes with the opportunity to pick them off quickly before it becomes an all out firefight. The shooting seems more dynamic, you aren't constantly being fired on so there's opportunities to try to take an objective from a different angle and experiment with weapons. And there's quite a few set piece moments, often involving vehicles that you're either allowed to drive yourself or being controlled for you as you have to fend off some enemy. They're clearly trying to top Modern Warfare in some places, doing things like making fun of snowmobiles during a race on quad bikes and giving you more control over the same equipment used during one of the other series' more talked about moments. Even the final moment seems to be saying "take that!", making something more climactic by having you do it while falling from an airplane.
The sad thing is it's not generally problems with the design that make it inferior to Modern Warfare, it's little issues with execution. The checkpoints aren't very good, as the most difficult sections will often take place several minutes after the last one occurred, forcing you to see the same stuff too much if you screw up once during a difficult encounter. There's also something weird about how the game handles reloading after you die, as it often seems like several seconds of action have taken place since the place where the checkpoint actually happened. Certain scripted events are forced on you and easy to bug out, like you'll go somewhere you weren't supposed to, see a soldier that you physically can't kill, and then realize he was placed there for a squad mate to take care of while you watch once you get close enough. Your team members will often just stand around instead of sticking with you, and then they'll teleport in front of you when you get to the next area. And there a few gimmicks through the campaign that only show up once, and they tend to feel sort of half baked without adding a ton to the normal shooting, which is fun enough on its own.
The story is standard fake military stuff with a bit of a sci fi twinge, as the driving force of the plot is a special weapon developed in World War II that sounds like something out of War of the Worlds and could bring untold destruction to the world in the wrong hands. It's enjoyable because of the chemistry of the game's unique main characters. The player character is sort of vanilla, but the supporting cast is quite strong and often hilarious, including random conversations that can pop up in the game when you're not fighting someone, and they're just talking about whatever comes to mind. As expected from the Battlefield franchise, the sound is possibly its strongest element, from the voice acting to the great sound effects on the weaponry to the music. Guns sound different depending on what environment you're firing them in, and the ominous tones of the super weapon in the distance when you're near it are pretty effective in placing you there. The graphics aren't as good but they're competent, although I would have liked some more visual flair to go with the destructible environments. As it is, when you blow up a part of a building it often seems like it's just falling apart. I haven't talked much about the multiplayer, though the fact that I've played it more than once should tell you something. I don't like some things such as having to unlock basic equipment for the various dumbed down classes, but the core design is still the strong, entertaining structure I remember from Battlefield 2 that rewards teamwork and playing smart. I wouldn't quite call Bad Company 2 great, but it's sure a lot of fun.