Battlefield 1943 Review
If there was a defining moment for America's Greatest Generation, it was quite possibly the experience of U.S. Marines, fighting in the Pacific theater during World War 2. Clinging to the side of a barren piece of hillside on a godforsaken island, mortar shells and bullets zipping past in all directions, these brave Americans faced a high probability of death. Tenacious Japanese forces clung to every inch of island; with nowhere to retreat behind them, they were extremely dangerous and motivated opponents. Battlefield 1943 is just a video game, and some will argue that it trivializes the very real sacrifices made by members of our grandparents' generation. If our forgetful, modern culture is intent on making video games about war, however, it would be hard to do better than Battlefield 1943, which does an impressive job of capturing the scale and intensity of combat.
Before we get into our review of Battlefield 1943, first a bit of history. When it launched on the PC back in 2002, Battlefield 1942 was a brand new comer to the crowded WWII-themed shooter genre. Since it was essentially an untested property, DICE and EA preceded the game's release with a free multiplayer demo, set on horseshoe-shaped Wake Island. Based on word-of-mouth and enthusiastic response from gamers, the Wake Island demo quickly exploded in popularity. The concept was simple: the American forces are trying to hold control points on the island, while Japanese forces bombard them from land, sea and air, trying to capture territory. But the fact that even 5 years after the release of the original demo, people could still be found playing on this map is a testament to the complexity and richness of gameplay built in to the game. Balance was almost perfect - rarely could the axis or allied team win without skilled play and strategic thinking by teammates. The solid implementation of vehicles also kept things interesting and unique every time. Planes, tanks, boats, and fixed gun emplacements all took time to master, but were incredibly effective and deadly in the right hands.
Guiding in an airstrike on Wake Island.
When we were first introduced to Battlefield 1943, we worried that the developers at DICE might have "nerfed" the game in order to make it appealing to twitchy newcomers who don't like to have to work too hard to get their thrills. We needn't have worried, because even with auto-regeneration and unlimited ammo, Battlefield 1943 is still extremely challenging and just as strategically focused as before. What's most striking about the remake is how certain vehicles - particularly jeeps and tanks - perform and feel exactly the way they did in the original.
For your 1200 Microsoft points or $15, you get four multiplayer maps and a short tutorial level. The entire BF 1943 experience plays out online, so you need to have Xbox Live Gold (or a PS3!) and a reliable internet connection.
The four maps included in BF 1943 are the most commonly played from the original game: Wake Island, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Coral Sea. The recently unlocked Coral Sea map is an airplanes-only affair that can be accessed under a separate menu item called "Air Superiority". It's not as fun or open-ended as the original map, which was a slight disappointment, but still good fun for airplane pilots in training.
American tanks leading the charge on Guadalcanal.
At its root, the gameplay itself is fairly conventional: players choose from one of three classes (Scout, Infantry, Rifleman) each equipped with different weapons. In squads or working alone, the objective is to capture and hold neutral control points by standing near them for 30 seconds. Once a point is captured, dead comrades can spawn there, and if a team captures enough territory, the enemy will begin to rapidly lose their fixed number of spawn tickets. The first team to expend all of their tickets loses.
Where this game really shines though, is in all of the myriad ways that a player or squad could approach the battle. Do you find a secluded spot and try to help your team by sniping hapless noobs as they crouch beside a neutral flag? Do you jump into a tank and go barreling toward the enemy stronghold? Do you grab a jeep and blitz the front line hoping to sneak through and nab a rear position? The possibilities are, quite literally, endless.
While gameplay remains almost freakishly intact when compared to the original, some things have changed. Most evidently are the graphics. Powered by the same Frostbite engine that runs Bad Company and its upcoming sequel, Battlefield 1943 looks, sounds, and behaves spectacularly. We say behaves because now important parts of the environment are totally destructible. A tank shot can blow a hole in a bungalow to get at a hiding sniper, while machine gun fire can cut down foliage in your path. There is a palpable sense of awe the first time the enemy unleashes an airstrike (new to this version) on your position, leveling the village and leaving smoldering husks where buildings used to be.
Something needs to be said specifically about lighting, which is absolutely gorgeous. Wake island and Guadalcanal are bathed in a tropical noonday sun, which gives everything an ultra intense look befitting the locale. HDR effects are also quite evident, especially when moving through shadowy areas. This can cause some problems with gameplay, as it is often hard to tell red enemies from blue friends, particularly on Iwo Jima, which takes place at dusk. We found that we had to go into the settings and boost the brightness on this map whenever it loaded, because it is much more contrast-y than the other two. In addition to occasional annoyances with lighting, we observed some annoying graphical glitches that occasionally caused black lines to flicker on the screen, particularly when riding in a vehicle. Overall, however, the presentation is superb and sets new standards for a downloadable arcade title.
It can be difficult to make out friend from foe on Iwo Jima.
There are some drawbacks to gameplay, but these are not fatal and could potentially be fixed in subsequent updates. First is the problem of aircraft handling. Being pure aces in the PC version, we were shocked and embarrassed to find out that our mouse-flying skills did not translate very well to the dual analog setup in BF 1943. You can invert the Y-axis, which helps somewhat, but we found the control of airplanes to be clunky and imprecise, making the task of hitting a lone enemy tank more difficult than it already was in the original. So far we've logged about 20 hours in the game, so our skill with the planes could improve over time. However, some more robust settings to tweak sensitivity would definitely be welcome. Also slightly imperfect is the way the game handles death and respawns, by immediately kicking a killed soldier to a waiting screen, which cuts away from the action. In the old game, it was nice to be able to see what was going on around you while waiting to respawn, particularly to keep track of who has been killed in the intervening time.
Since those are the only negative points worth mentioning, it is fair to say that we found Battlefield 1943 to be excellent value for money and an engaging experience. For fans of the original, it is a must buy and judging by server load most have already done so. If you are on the fence but you love WWII shooters like Call of Duty, definitely pick this one up as it is well worth your time. People who are not into multiplayer shooters and have a low patience threshold should probably give this game a miss, since it is not really easy on newcomers and is much more complex than your average arcade shooter.
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Pros: incredible value for money, good replayability, solid presentation and an epic sense of being in a real battle.
Cons: Occasional graphical glitches, sluggish aircraft controls, eye strain from squinting at enemy markers.
Final Score: 4/5
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