Version tested: Xbox 360
A student banquet: that's what this premium downloadable content pack offers to long-standing Bad Company 2 players. It's when you can't afford to go to the supermarket, having splurged your spending money on cheap booze and ironic t-shirts, so you use up whatever leftovers and ingredients you have lingering in the fridge, mix them together in a slightly different way and bung it all in the oven. The result may stop your stomach rumbling, but it'll never delight the palate.
Now, I'm certainly not insinuating that DICE can't even afford to pick up a giant sack of Lidl pasta, but there's no mistaking the familiar flavours being reheated here. From the maps to the mechanics of this new co-operative mode, it's refried beans all the way.
Playable by up to four players, Onslaught tasks you with steaming into enemy territory and holding key map points. Once an objective is cleared, you move on to the next. Capture all the objectives and you win. Yay. Meanwhile, the game is throwing everything it can at you to stop you in your tracks. Tanks, attack choppers, mounted machine guns, snipers: they're all ready to roll into view (or not, in the case of those pesky snipers) and put you in the ground.
As long as one team member remains alive, the game continues. Should you all die at the same time, it's game over, and you have to restart from the very beginning. If you play solo, you get infinite lives but basically have absolutely no chance of success. This is very much a four-player affair, and even tackling the game in a pair means the odds are stacked against you.
Thankfully, you'll carry over whatever equipment and weapon unlocks you've earned in the competitive multiplayer mode, but that trade doesn't work in reverse. If you were hoping for a quick way to boost a few ranks against easy-level AI foes in Onslaught before heading back into the online fray against your friends, you're out of luck.
As with most online shooters, the experience varies hugely depending on the quality of the other players. Find yourself with a bunch of muppets who can't seem to shake the idea of running around shooting at everything that moves, and it's agony. Team up with efficient, strategically minded soldiers and it's a potent example of everything that makes Bad Company 2 so great. Protecting your brothers in arms, sharing ammo packs, reviving fallen allies as enemies encroach from all sides, surviving by the skin of your teeth as you react to each new threat with near supernatural ferocity... Yes, it's still an amazing feeling.
It's also very familiar. You'll be advancing down the well-trodden paths of Valparaiso, Atacama Desert, Isla Innocentes and Nelson Bay once again, and while these are undoubtedly superb multiplayer maps, they're also worn thin by three months of competitive play. Admittedly, they have been given a minor tweak for Onslaught, but switching the lighting from night to day doesn't make any real difference to maps most players will be able to navigate blindfolded.
There are no new weapons or vehicles added to the layouts, and no new pathways to exploit, which probably explains why this 800 Microsoft Point download (£7.19 on PSN) clocks in at just under 1MB in size. It's possible that the guts of Onslaught were already served up in the two recent and sizeable multiplayer updates, but even so - there really is no new material here.
Even the way Onslaught is structured feels like a remix rather than a whole new song. It's basically Rush crossed with Conquest, as you push forward towards an enemy stronghold and then play Capture the Flag for a few minutes while the timer ticks down and the flag rolls up. These are tried and trusted design choices, but they never combine to justify the overwhelming panic that the word "onslaught" promises.
For one thing, you're the ones doing the onslaughting, which feels upside down. If I'm playing something called Onslaught, I want my back to the wall, I want impossible odds and I want to know that my survival comes from basic combat skill, not just the fact that I've played the map 500 times before and know exactly where to hide.
The Halo Firefight and Gears of War Horde template may soon be as overexposed as Capture the Flag, but the prospect of playing a "last stand" scenario with the power of the Frostbite engine's environmental destruction is incredibly appealing. Knowing that your fortress is being chipped away with each explosion, forced to react to attacks from all sides - Onslaught only taps into that buttock-clenching primordial defence impulse for those brief flag-capturing stand-offs before you're on the move again, and that's a shame. You can already experience the hunt-and-evade thrill against live human opponents, so swapping them for the more predictable challenge of AI bots doesn't elevate the formula at all.
That's not to say Onslaught isn't tough. Hardcore difficulty is incredibly punishing, with your health halved, your guns weakened and your enemies apparently upgraded with bulletproof heads. It's a cheap way of cranking up the challenge, and victory comes just as much from stubborn determination rather than the application of superior tactical co-operation.
The absence of something like Left 4 Dead's AI Director is sorely felt. While the combat is as muscular as always on a moment-to-moment basis, it lacks the sadistic sense of evolving shape and pace that Valve has injected into co-operative play. Making the gameplay peak and trough depending on how the participants are playing, rather than which bit of the map they've reached, would go a long way to making Onslaught feel more essential, more alive.
Bot-bashing has long been a part of Battlefield's heritage, of course, so it's hard to blame DICE for wanting to revive the tradition for console gamers new to the series. It's also hard to forgive the decision to price such a slim addition to the game so highly, especially since juggling existing game assets to come up with new twists is the sort of thing that used to be supplied for free by the mod community.
That's not to say that DICE and EA aren't perfectly entitled to charge money for new menu items, or that every DLC offering should reinvent the wheel. Bad Company 2 remains a superb shooter (if still rather borked by that last patch), but having gorged on it for three months we need something more interesting than second-hand spaghetti bolognese if we're expected to pick up the tab.
6 / 10