Battlefield 1943 Review
Back when Battlefield 1942 was released on the PC, shooters up until that point had lost their sense of fun. The ultra-competitive Quake and Unreal Tournament games had dominated the charts, and the rise of Half-Life and mods like Counter-Strike brought some of that fun back, but when played online it was back to that same high-pressure gameplay where every mistake was a death and every death meant waiting for a few minutes until the end of the round. Then DICE and EA came in with Battlefield 1942, allowing 32+ players to just careen around in jeeps, planes, and tanks and shoot each other in a slightly whimsical World War 2 setting that - for the first time in a while for FPS games - focused on fun.
Since then, DICE has seen their brainchild peak first with the intensely popular Desert Combat mod for 1942 and then with Battlefield 2. Since then the franchise has faltered a little bit, with one rather weak PC entry in BF2142 and a few console games that have slowly gained popularity and fanbase but haven't really gotten far. That's where Battlefield 1943 comes in - this downloadable game, first released for PS3 and 360 with a PC version to follow in a few months, reproduces the fun of 1942 and recreates the whole game in that original style. Many gamers were skeptical, but it actually works pretty well.
1943 distills down the gameplay of its predecessor and delivers a streamlined experience that on paper sounds like it's being dumbed down, but what I've found so far is that it helps to focus the game into specific combat roles much better. We don't have engineers as the clear-cut choice for a tank operator, the medics to heal people when a perfectly good regenerating health system works just fine, or needless gadgets that no one ever used. We do get melee weapons, pistols, submachine guns, rifles, grenades, remote-detonated dynamite, planes, jeeps, transport boats, and tanks - the rest of the fun comes from the classic Conquest gameplay mode that has players vying for control of several bases in any given map and trying to lock their enemy out of as many of the bases as possible.
The new Frostbite game engine powering BF1943 does a great job of not only addressing problems with the original (namely, the static, unmovable landscape and floaty-feeling inaccuracy for most weapons) while delivering solid frame rates even with plenty of explosions and action going on. Now, putting your crosshair on an enemy and pulling the trigger is pretty close to a guaranteed hit, and the challenge then is to keep the crosshair on the opponent as much as possible while firing. Yes, it seems like this would be a pretty important for an FPS to have, but you'd be surprised how many games get it wrong.
Distributed throughout the map are bases that contain jeep and tank spawns, machine gun emplacements, anti-aircraft flak turrets, and airfields with planes. All of these are necessary for your team to pull out a decisive victory against a half-decent opponent, because while one of the three classes can take out tanks while on foot, they're going to lose that one-on-one encounter every time and you won't have your own tank sitting nearby to grab whenever you want. That's why you'll need a flyboy up above you softening him up, or possibly someone laying down dynamite in strategic spots.
While the more social feel of older Battlefield games is gone - there's no running up to a buddy to heal him or give him ammo - generally the interaction you get instead is better. What interaction am I talking about? Your bullet, and the opponent's head. Because while the maps are still fairly big, the layouts of these battles have been carefully updated to allow action to happen more freely and naturally, even if it seems like most fights are small skirmishes between two or three guys. There is one oddity here: you never run out of ammo. You'll still have to reload and your explosives will run dry, but your main weapon's ammo is infinite. It's kind of strange, especially since you can easily pick up an enemy's set of weapons if you kill him - that'd be a perfectly acceptable way to balance the possibility of running out of ammo.
Right now, remakes of Wake Island, Iwo Jima, and Guadalcanal are in the game, with a Coral Sea map being set up as a challenge to unlock for all players in the game together. That may seem like a low amount of maps, but remember folks, this is a $15 game. And really, for so many shooters out there, players gravitated towards a smaller number of popular maps. If the developers can boil down the game's best fun to a diverse selection of only a few maps, then it might be a better choice overall.
A couple of unique features that bring BF1943 kicking and screaming into 2009, at least compared to the original game it's based on, do make a pretty big difference. One is the the building destruction technology brought over from Battlefield Bad Company, allowing tanks to blow holes in flimsy huts so that some guy with a bazooka can't play peek-a-boo in a doorway or window and easily take down a tank. There's also the squad system, originally added in Battlefield 2, ported over here - it lets you jump into a squad of a few guys and spawn next to them after you get killed. Unfortunately the squad system doesn't work well when trying to play online with people on your friends list, as it won't often keep a squad together and some servers will even unceremoniously dump one or more of your buddies onto the opposing team. (Even if there are other people on that team, not in a squad, who could have been moved instead.) This is one of those issues that could be easily worked out with an update, so let's hope that happens.
On paper, BF1943 recreates much of that simple fun that the start of the franchise had, but I still sense that it won't have the lasting appeal that 1942 had back on the PC. You see, while the online play is pretty lag-free and the action is much smoother than we got way back in the day, gamers have higher standards than they did back then, too. There are a few other complaints I'll bring up that nag at me as well: much like with most Battlefield games, pilots are still largely disconnected from what's happening on the ground. Unless you're using a flak turret, you can't shoot down planes, and if you're flying, you're only really looking out for enemy planes and possibly manned flak turrets around a map, since those are the only two things that can realistically shoot you down.
Beyond that, the game's only mode, the classic BF Conquest mode, is designed to distribute soldiers throughout a map rather than concentrate them on a front line, and with the 24-player limit on PS3 and 360, you won't often see more than 4 or 5 soldiers fighting together at once. The epic feel of fighting land, sea, and air at the same time is diminished when most of your fights are still one-on-one. On the upside, EA is running their own set of dedicated servers, which is a plus as they are generally serving up some very smooth play overall with far fewer problems than having players host sessions on their own consoles. The game did have some hiccups as people mobbed the servers early on, but these issues so far have largely corrected themselves. A few players are still having trouble getting into games, but it doesn't seem like it's widespread.
The only problem with giving Battlefield 1943 extra points just because it accomplishes so much with a modest $15 price tag is that it's largely irrelevant to those who spent $60 on more complete-feeling shooters like Call of Duty 4 or even Battlefield Bad Company months or even years ago. That money is already sunk to them, so at this point they can play more Halo 3 or Call of Duty at a cost of zero additional cash, or plunk down fifteen bucks on this new, slightly iffy game that admittedly packs in a lot for the money but still isn't as deep as other online-based shooters. I really do enjoy the game, but you should definitely try out the demo and only spend the cash once you're bored with the other online mainstays on the PS3 and 360. Once you do, you'll find some genuinely good fun and action in Battlefield 1943.