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Battlefield 1942 Review

By Jeff Buckland, 10/7/2002

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For the last couple of months, thousands of players have been going at the multiplayer demo for Battlefield 1942. This is another of those games that had little hype and managed to gain its popularity solely based on sheer fun; the initial demo release had some pretty major bugs, but people played the hell out of it anyway. Now that the full game is out, everyone is wondering if the full game is as fun as the demo was. Is it worth the $50?

Digital Illusions created a brand new engine specifically for the purpose of doing this game - Battlefield 1942 sports great visuals, lots of weapons and vechies, as well as some very easy-to-get-into World War 2 FPS action. It's very multiplayer-oriented, and while there is a single player mode thrown in, it's exactly like the multiplayer mode (with some fairly stupid bots to shoot). But that's not a big problem, as the multiplayer is where this game's strengths most definitely lie.

Battlefield 1942's game engine is definitely impressive to look at, although it has comparatively steep video requirements - the requirement for Hardware Transformation & Lighting leaves out some older ATI cards, as well as the Riva TNT/TNT2 line. There aren't a whole lot of avid gamers with those cards, but other recent first person shooters do have more lenient requirements.

There are some problems with the game that are still unresolved, a couple of weeks after the game's release and the v1.1 patch. Namely, there are some sound cards (or on-the-motherboard sound setups) that will result in some lousy, jerky frame rates. Sounds strange, having sound cause bad frame rates, but in many of these cases, turning off sound, or sometimes just merely adjusting it, fixes these problems. There are few solutions for some users save buying a new, BF1942-compatible sound card.

Once you get the game going at a consistent frame rate, though, BF1942 shines. The viewable distance is pretty large, allowing you to pick enemies off from a distance. The urban maps replace the huge view distance with plenty of detail in the buildings and streets, and give players plenty of nooks and crannies to fight from.

BF1942's interface is a bit disapponting. The in-game browser is quirky and a little strange, and the game engine seems to insist on loading and unloading game data every time you even try to get onto a server. Then it unloads it if the connection fails - this translates to pretty long load times, which are frustrating when you're trying to get the last slot on an almost-full server. Being that this game is multiplayer oriented, there are a few things missing that you'd expect to see in a game of this caliber; you can't paste an IP in, and entering passworded games is a hassle. A new patch with an interface & server browser overhaul would be welcomed.

Once you get into the actual game, though, BF1942 gets much better. All the control options you would expect are there, with little tweaks and settings for each different piloting mode (land, sea, and air). Switching positions in vehicles is a snap, and will allow you to use some sneaky tactics as well.

While I'm not particularly fond of the game's "feel" of moving around, it's not bad. The game's network code seems to leave a lot for the server to decide, especially with client-side movement - this is most noticeable if you spawn on a battleship or aircraft carrier that someone else is piloting at the time. As of this writing, a v1.2 patch is supposed to be out soon to address client-side prediction issues.

One of the unique things about BF1942's control is that there are interfaces for your standard FPS mode, driving vehicles, and piloting boats and planes. Each type of vehicle has a unique role, and will require you to learn the basics as well as maybe a few tidbits about your specific model (especially the planes). Speaking of that, flying a plane in this game is definitely tough to do, but there are plenty of options; you can use the keyboard, mouse, or a joystick to fly, and it's recommended that you try them all and find which one you like best.

BF1942 definitely has a lot going for it in the graphics department. Player models are nicely textured and modelled, and have a full range of animations. All the vehicles look great, from the Army jeeps to the huge aircraft carriers. On top of that, there's a wide range of maps to choose from, including the Western & Eastern European fronts as well as the Pacific Theater. As you can probably expect, the Pacific maps have a tropical island feel to them, while the European maps range from broken, shattered cities to battles out in the countryside or forest.

One of the most visually impressive things about Battlefield 1942 is how the actual combat looks. Explosions are big and very satisfying, which is an important part in getting some feedback for the vehicles and big guns you get to use. Tanks lurch when they fire or are hit, and jeeps spin out of control when an explosion is near. Everything looks fairly realistic, and it all comes together for a WW2 experience never seen in a game before.

Battlefield 1942's single player campaign is downright boring. It's based exclusively on the multiplayer mode that Digital Illusions set up, and it's pretty obvious that they didn't spend a whole lot of time on it. You'll play with and against computer-controlled bots that are just plain dumb, although they have great aim once they get into vehicles. Your teammates will hog all the vehicles and then completely misuse them, which only makes it worse.

While there is a bit of a mission structure set up in the game's interface, there is very little deviation in goals for each mission. On top of that, most of BF1942's fun and satisfaction come from decent teamwork and killing other human-controlled opponents. It's just plain no fun to kill bots in this game, not when there are real opponents out there to kill.

This, my friends, is where BF1942 shines. When you get online and play this game, it's a unique experience, and the focus on teamplay is really brought out with the multiple player classes, huge range of vehicles, and uniquely set up maps. The main gameplay mode being played on most multiplayer servers is Conquest, where a player's death removes a "ticket" from their score and holding enough capture points will cause the enemies tickets to drop at an accelerated rate.

Players can respawn at a set amount of time (from 10 to 30 seconds on most servers), which reduces the frustration factor of playing online. Conquest is a great gameplay mode because killing your enemies is just as important as capturing points; this is a type of gameplay that few online games have really gotten right.

There are other gameplay modes, like Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch. There's a reason you won't see them on many game servers though; they're just not as good as Conquest. There really isn't that much of a difference anyway, as the maps are unchanged and the focus just shifts towards some slightly different goals.

Playing BF1942 in a 24- or 32-player game is definitely a great experience. It's got a huge scope to it, and one player can dominate for a while without causing so much anger on the other team that they quit. This is especially true for vehicular combat; getting bombed by some guy in a plane may mean inescable, instant death, but it's just not really a big deal. Wait 10 seconds and spawn up again.

One of the very few things about BF1942's gameplay that can be really frustrating is small arms fire. This game is nothing like Counter-Strike or Day of Defeat; here, you have to lead your enemies with every weapon, including rifles and even pistols. This requires players to develop a new skill in learning to lead a certain amount based on distance, if the enemy's moving, and the weapon you're carrying. It can be very frustrating at first, but players who can get over this learning curve can consistently kill at most distances anyway. It just takes patience to learn the weapons and how they work.

The original BF1942 multiplayer demo had a single map, called Wake Island. It included all of the game's small arms weapons and explosves, and a pretty decent subset of the vehicles as well. It threw in a few planes, a battleship, an aircraft carrier, and two types each of jeeps, troop transports, and tanks. On top of that, coastal defense guns, mounted machine guns, and anti-aircraft turrets were in there too. The retail game builds on this by adding missile battery vehicles and several more types of tanks and planes. There's also a submarine, although you won't see it very often.

Some people think that Digital Illusions gave too much away with the Wake Island multiplayer demo; it had a great map, almost all the weapons, at least 1 variation of most vehicles, and plenty of servers to play on. It's definitely true to some extent, and I can see a large number of casual players just sticking with the demo instead of buying the full game.

A game like BF1942 probably would have been largely ignored, though, if they hadn't made such a great demo - for this I have to commend EA & Digital Illusions on their efforts. Your average game today isn't very likely to have a playable demo; even then, if there is one, it's commonly just lazily slapped together some time after the game is released. The main thing you get when you buy BF1942 is the arsenal of great maps, as well as some extra variations on gameplay and new vehicles to choose from.

The first things you'll likely notice about BF1942's sound are the weapon and explosion effects. These are just plain great, and really add to the game's atmosphere. Ambient sound isn't really a big deal in this game, and is hardly noticeable under all the gunfire, yelling, and explosions. It sort of becomes the ambient sound, which seems just fine to me. One thing that's somewhat unique in BF1942 is that the 5 nationalities (Americans, English, Germans, Russians, & Japanese) all have their own sets of voice chat, each in their own language. You can set them to just all sound like Americans if that's annoying. Or, failing that, you can just read the text messages that correspond to the yelling if you don't know the language - they're always in English.

The music is largely forgettable, and I only managed to leave it on for a few hours total before I turned it off. For me, games have to include a really rousing soundtrack, and gameplay that isn't hampered by music. Here, sound effects like footsteps and the position of nearby gunfire are way too important, and the music is mediocre enough that the decision was easy. Off it went.

BF1942 is an impressive game that's great fun in multiplayer. Many games today have lots of potential to be great, if the mods and players come together well enough to make up some unique, satisfying gameplay. That's just no fun to start; with this game, though, it's instant gratification. You can get into a game relatively easy and start blowing stuff up quickly.

Even though the game has a few technical issues that still haven't been worked out (like frame rate jitters, netcode weirdness, and the occasional sound issue), BF1942 is still largely great fun. The single player mode was only tossed in for the purposes of light practice, and while it gets boring quickly, it's better to have it there and crappy rather than not at all. Battlefield 1942 is a great game when played online, and definitely one I plan on playing regularly for at least the next couple of months.

Overall: 90%



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