Evoking our nostalgia for Battlefield 1942, the latest game in the series brings its signature base-capturing gameplay back to the Pacific Theater. As a download-only title, Battlefield 1943 is no doubt a trimmer experience, but does it offer enough for players seeking to enlist and conquer?
1943's options are limited. There's no single-player campaign and only two multiplayer modes for up to 24 players. If you can coordinate 16 friends, you can set up a private battle, but otherwise, your only option is to jump into a quick match-there are no lobbies where you can choose what game to join or what maps you want to play on. There are only three maps, and the game doesn't shuffle them very well, which often results in the same map repeating four or five times in a row. In less than a week, players unlocked air superiority, an additional variant focused on aerial dogfights above a unique map.
While you're always part of a team, players can also join up into squads of four. There are several incentives to grouping--you can respawn beside squad members in addition to captured bases, you get special bonuses for avenging fallen comrades, and you can select targets to coordinate attacks. Being that you can still do your own thing regardless of whether or not you're in a squad, there's no disadvantage to joining one.
Since achievements and trophies are limited for downloadable titles, 1943 has a broader award system that rewards players for a variety of actions-like killing efficiently with specific weapons or vehicles, or for playing defense, and so on. Players also rank up over time, but higher ranks don't provide any additional options or advantages.
Battlefield 1943's launch has been greatly hindered by its overwhelming popularity. During the first three days following the game's release, the wait times to simply start a match were as long as an hour. If you were lucky enough to get into a match, you could stay with that group indefinitely, but the packed rooms made it virtually impossible to link up with friends. Things are running smoothly now, after the rough first weekend, but it's frustrating to purchase a game only to have to wait several days before it works properly.
Server issues aside, Battlefield 1943 is still rather one-dimensional with only one real game type and a handful of maps. So it's the core gameplay that will have to keep players coming back for more.
Battlefield 1943 revolves around the standard conquest gameplay of previous titles, with two teams fighting for control of five bases on each island. Each team has a life bar that ticks down with every kill, and if one team occupies more bases, kills deal more damage to the opposing team.
Instead of picking up weapons, you choose between three classes each time you spawn. Riflemen are effective at mid-range and can launch grenades. Infantry come equipped with wrenches to repair vehicles and rocket launchers to take out tanks. Scouts, finally, have long-range sniper rifles and can plant charges to defend bases against careless attackers.
You can also take charge of vehicles scattered throughout the islands, including boats, jeeps, tanks, and planes. Airplanes are intentionally difficult to control however, so would-be pilots will need to put in some practice before taking flight. Additionally, each map has an air raid bunker that lets you call in a squad of bombers, allowing you to take out whole clusters of enemies at a time.
On two of the maps, your team launches from aircraft carriers, while Guadalcanal features home bases at opposite ends of the island. Your main base can't be captured by the enemy, so the first few minutes are a race to capture unclaimed territory. While taking any base works to your team's advantage, airfields are the most valuable and are often fiercely contested.
Much of the strategy lies in maintaining a strong defense while not neglecting offense. If an entire team rushes from one flag to the next, then the opposition can quickly claim the vacated points as they depart. But if you successfully defend a point from a few waves of attackers, they're likely to focus their attention elsewhere.
The game is certainly designed to be more accessible with regenerative health and unlimited ammo, but this balanced by how easy it is to die, and how long it takes to reload your weapons. Depending on their positions, you'll also often see red arrows perched above enemies' heads, which helps you spot targets on the crowded battlefield. However, this also makes it difficult to hide from enemies if you prefer to set ambushes or snipe under cover.
All of that aside, the game is still incredibly fun and addictive, and with each match lasting 15 to 20 minutes, it's easy to wile away the hours without realizing it.
Battlefield 1943 runs on a modified version of the Frostbite Engine that powered Bad Company, and features a good deal of destructible geometry, and some nice details, like the dazzling oceans. It's not cartoonish like Battlefield Heroes, but it definitely shows off a bit of color and features hilariously loud screams when people die. The game looks nearly as good as a full retail title at times, but there have clearly been some concessions made somewhere along the line. Case in point: the German sniper rifle that's curiously filling in for the Japanese, apparently due to budget constraints. There isn't much in the way of music aside from the title theme, and it quickly gets tiresome as you wait to connect.
While Battlefield 1943 doesn't feature much in the way of options, there's still a lot of room to experiment with the different tools and strategies it puts at your disposal. Players looking for variety won't find it here, but for $15, it does a great job of keeping you hooked for hours on end.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.
Source: Electronic Arts