Putting the fun back in World War II.
When DICE and EA announced that they would be putting out a downloadable version of their famed Battlefield games out on current gen consoles and PCs in a game dubbed Battlefield 1943, I couldn't help but become curious, especially after seeing it in preview videos. Now, I am not much of a first-person shooter player, much less online, but even so I tend to be an early adopter at times: It happened with Enemy Territory: Wolfenstein, Battlefield Vietnam, Battlefield 2142, and more recently, Team Fortress 2. I played them all religiously for a couple of weeks... before suddenly losing all interest.
[image1]Battlefield 1943 is an impressive feat from all angles. It utilizes Battlefield: Bad Company's Frostbite engine, which supports some gorgeous visuals with destructable environments that can be literally leveled to rubble. It also takes a cue from its cousin by using a squad formation that players can join within the 12-on-12 framework, all the while being able to select from three classes among the game's two opposing factions: the U.S Marine Corps and the Japanese Imperial Army.
Both sides play practically the same, only really varying visually. One way or another, you'll play both factions in a constant switch-a-roo as the matches run their course. The classes range from the scout; a long range, stealthy soldier who carries a scoped rifle, handgun, knife and satchel of explosives; the rifleman, who focuses on mid- to close-range combat with a semi-auto carbine and carbine grenades; and the Infantry unit, or the closest thing to a grunt, armed with a machine gun, anti-tank missile launcher, hand grenades, and a wrench to repair damaged vehicles.
The balance between classes works perfectly; for instance, a good scout can become deadly when concealed but is an easy target for close-range attacks. Initially, there are three maps, all based on real-world Pacific Theatre World War II locales: Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and fan favorite Wake Island. Each has their own quirks, like Iwo Jima's hilly and not very accessible terrain and Guadalcanal's similarity to Normandy in its classic WWII movie method of soldier deployment; that is, Higgings boats onto an iron spike-filled beach.
More interesting is the fourth map, and how it is unlocked. Dubbed Coral Sea, it's an airplane-exclusive arena that only becomes available once Battlefield 1943's global community kill count reaches 43 million. (As of this writing, the Xbox 360 side of the community has already reached that quota in less than a week, with PSN coming at a close second place.) This approach to unlocking features is a welcome one, adding a sort of co-operative feature to the otherwise merciless competitive mode. In one way or the other, you'll contribute to this count by either killing or dying. In my case, the latter.
[image2]The capture of structures and maintaining dominance is the way of life in Battlefield 1943. Each map, excluding Coral Sea, has five points of interest that have to be captured in order to win. If one side happens to have more points in their power, a meter depletes for the opposition, and once it runs out, the match is over. The more structures are captured for one side, the faster the meter depletes for the other side. The hectic nature of this tug-of-war style proves to be Battlefield 1943's biggest strength, as it requires a good stream of communication between team members to maintain captured points and attack the opposition in a smart, efficient manner.
Maintaining structures not only wins you matches, but provides you with unique features, like the ability to call in - and control - air strikes and to use vehicles on air strips or in armories. Playing in Air Superiority mode, which takes place in Coral Sea, the objective is to stay alive and be the side with most planes in the air for the longest period. It's a difficult and chaotic but extremely fun scenario, as there are dozens of planes in the air, and more often than not, you'll have more than one enemy to deal with at once. Just don't expect to stay alive for long.
Driving and piloting vehicles is also one of Battlefield 1943's strong points. There are mainly three types of transportation available, two being ground-based and one devoted to the air. On the ground, you'll find variations of the Sherman tank, depending on which side you play, that can be boarded by two players, one driving and one on the roof turret. You'll also run into a Jeep as U.S Corps or officer car as the Japanese military, both of which can be boarded by up to three players - one driving and the other two in supporting fire positions at a mounted turret and the driver's seat. The last and by far the most entertaining of all the vehicles is the attack airplane, which can be found in air strips and aircraft carriers. It has two types of armaments that can be used: bombs for air to surface attacks, and an all-purpose high caliber machine gun. Both are deadly in their own right, and a heck of a lot of fun to use.
Vehicles in general can be tricky to maneuver at first, since the "standard" configuration is reversed in order to keep the controls for firing a weapons, any weapon, consistent. However, before long, you'll be tearing down roads and running over enemy soldiers, or dogfighting in the sky. In many rounds I played online, people rushed to planes as soon as the match began, proving how much better simpler controls can be in place of the complicated - and almost diploma-requiring - control schemes of past Battlefield games. In addition, there's a training camp that efficiently teaches all of the basics you need to get into the game.
[image3]The menu presentation is also top-notch, with radio chatter rattling at all times if you are inside a vehicle, as it details the situation of the battle seamlessly. At the end of the round, a radio broadcast that sounds like it was ripped straight from the actual World War II broadcasts evaluates the battle as a news story, which adds to the quality and immersion of the audio.
Battlefield 1943's release, though, is not all cuddly bears and flowers. Servers were pounded for the first few days after the release as mobs of people tried to log on - apparently far more than EA estimated, or at least, that's what they claim. Add to that many reports - yours truly included - of hardware crashes mid-play and Battlefield's release was anything but smooth. Finding a game online is still a bit of a pain even with the addition of servers on DICE and EA's part, and the overly rigid framework of the interface doesn't help.
There's no online option other than quickplay, which matches players seemingly at random without considering ping, lag, server location, players, or any reasonable measure. There is an option for getting into a game with friends as a squad, but as of this writing, it is not working correctly. On the other hand, once you're in a match, the rounds flow continuously, and you can play as long you want, switching sides - and unbound squads - between every battle.
DICE is obviously not worried about Achievements/Trophies, as the game's standard set of accomplishments is simple to attain. On the other hand, a feature that has real substance and the feel of Achievements is a built-in "badge of honor" system that continuously rewards players with awards and ranks for achieving various tasks, like getting a certain number of kills with each weapon and vehicle, or capturing a crazy number of structures. It sugar-coats the monotonous set of tasks downloadable games tend to demand in Achievement/Trophies lists, and while ranks do not give you perks other than a badge next to your name, it's a surprisingly powerful incentive to keep playing a downloadable $15 game. And considering EA's fame for downloadable content, it won't be a shock to see more rewards for ranks, unlockable maps, and new player classes pop up in the future. Medics, anyone?
Battlefield 1943 is an impressive feat - it's a fun and gorgeous-looking downloadable game. If its rigid online structure can somehow be made more user-friendly in future patches, it'll be even more of a sure-bet that many of us will be playing for a long, long time, especially if this type of co-operative unlocking of features becomes a standard in future content. World War II is far from over, so will you honor your empire or die for your country? Recruitment offices are open 24/7!