I’ve been playing the 360 multiplayer demo of Bad Company 2 the past couple nights, and for me it falls into the category of being stupidly fun. Not stupid in a simpleminded way (strategy plays more of a role in BC2 than most FPSes I’ve played) but rather so fun that my enjoyment of it just plain stupid – how else can I explain spending countless hours on a one level, one mode demo, when I have so many other amazing games to play?

But my enjoyment of the demo comes as a bit of a surprise, because I didn’t enjoy the original Bad Company’s multiplayer all that much. I played DICE’s Battlefield 1943 first, and after trying out Bad Company for a modest number of hours, I found myself heading right back to World War 2. Which got me wondering – maybe simple is better.

Let me say right off the bat that I think leveling up and unlocking new weapons/perks/gadgets/kitchen sinks is probably the best addition made to the FPS multiplayer formula in the last decade. It’s addictive, it’s extremely satisfying, and it adds an unrivaled amount of replayability. But I have to wonder what effect it has on the balance of multiplayer. It must be hard enough to balance the vehicles, weapons, and class-specific abilities that multiplayer games offer nowadays – what happens when you add weapons and abilities that not every player has access to, or create a system where good players are continually becoming more powerful? The Akimbo shotguns in MW2 were the unintended result of combining a perk and an already powerful weapon that doesn’t become unlocked until relatively late in the game. You could blame Infinity Ward for the imbalance, but how could any developer foresee potential problems resulting from the near limitless loadout combinations games now offer?

In hindsight, I think this might be the reason I wasn’t able to get into Bad Company the way I was instantly hooked on 1943. Maybe I would’ve felt differently about BC had I played more of the multiplayer and unlocked better weapons and abilities. Or maybe I liked 1943 simply because it was newer, and DICE improved the gameplay in some subtle way. Bad Company 2 will answer these questions for me on March 2, and I’m interested to see if the full version feels as amazingly well-balanced as the demo does.

I’m also interested in hearing what other people think. Are unlockables what create imbalance in multiplayer FPSes? Is the state of MW2’s multiplayer the cause of its overwhelming popularity, or are there fundamental design problems? Do you think BC2 will have similar troubles? Add your two cents in the comments below. In the meantime, here’s a hodgepodge of the things I’ve learned and enjoyed about the BC2 multiplayer demo:

The Engineer is an awesome class, which I initially took for granted. After all, who wants to be the guy who brings a drill to the battlefield? But the Engineer in BC2 is a solid option: He has a grenade (as do all classes this time around) and a submachine gun that’s decent, so you’re not sacrificing firepower by choosing him – especially after you unlock his second firearm, which has a zoom comparable to the Assault class. The main draw of the Engineer however, is of course the bazooka, which is vital for taking down the opposing team’s vehicles (the Assault class’s grenade launcher just doesn’t cut it). But don’t underestimate that drill either: I hopped into the passenger’s seat of a tank during one round and racked up major XP shooting from the auxiliary turret, then jumping out and fixing up the hull whenever we took damage from inbound rockets. It’s a great combo, and an example of how important teamwork is in BC2.

Another lesson I learned is it’s okay to throw caution to the wind from time to time. During a stint on the attacking team in Rush Mode, I jumped on an ATV and drove straight down the main road into the defender’s territory. I have no idea what the hell I was thinking as I crashed into a building well behind enemy lines. Then I had a realization – I was so far behind enemy lines that they didn’t even realize I was there. I quickly jumped on a stationary rocket launcher, swiveled 90 degrees, and began blowing holes in the enemy’s defenses with their own weapons. I killed two enemies on other turrets as my fellow, more sensible soldiers stormed the targets and planted bombs. Granted, I died shortly after, but it was totally worth it.

While the result of my aforementioned suicide run was lucky to say the least, the map in the BC2 demo is big enough that sneaking around behind the enemy is always a viable option: There’s just too much real estate for the opposing team to be everywhere at once. If your team is having a hard time breaking enemy ranks, try taking a less direct approach toward the targets and take out vehicles and stationary guns from behind – not to mention snipers. Nothing is more gratifying than sneaking up on an unsuspecting sniper who has been laying waste to your team the entire round, and knifing him in the back – especially when they have a 100,000+ Gamerscore, like the chump I stuck last night. Receiving your enemy’s dogtags for a knife kill is one of the best rewards ever devised for online gaming.

While playing the demo, I’ve seen some other tactics start to emerge from the budding BC2 community. Most are built around smart squad play, but every now and then an individual shines. One such faceless hero (or in my case, nemesis), was playing as the Sniper class on the attacking team. I was on the defensive team when I was alerted a charge had been set on our final point. As I ran towards the small building, I saw him running out the back. Three of my fellow teammates were already running towards the entrance, so I stopped to shoot our fleeing opponent. What none of us realized was that he had left C4 charges in the building. He blew them as soon as the other players entered. All three of them were instantly killed, and the sniper escaped in the ensuing mayhem. I frantically ran towards the building to try and stop the charge, but was gunned down before I got there. We lost the point and the match, but I was too impressed by my enemy’s valor to be upset; this game is going to be awesome.