Battlefield 1943 Review
There may come a day when we simply sit in a comfortable armchair, press a button a few times, and purchase the latest, greatest video game. Personally, I’m not looking forward to it (I’m one of the dinosaurs who believe a physical video game collection is far superior to digital files on a screen), but it certainly has its advantages. And if Battlefield 1943 is indicative of the quality we can expect from downloadable titles in the very near future, I won’t be complaining much. As I was a huge fan of Warhawk, I was excited to dive into DICE’s new multiplayer title and I was instantly surprised to behold the level of visual accomplishment and gameplay diversity. I do have a serious problem with the plane controls – it goes beyond “tricky” and is more annoying than anything else – and due to the typical lack of organization in random matches, you rarely get a chance to take advantage of the game’s many tactical maneuvers. That takes coordination and cooperation and because the voice chat can be a little iffy at times, battles often boil down to free-for-alls. Still, it’s a damn fun game and one hell of an experience for a downloadable title.
With the possible exception of Wipeout HD, you likely haven’t seen better graphics in a game that you downloaded from the PlayStation Store or Xbox Live Marketplace. Not only are each of the three maps colorful, nicely detailed, and generally pleasing to the eye, but the inherent destructibility is a huge bonus. Missiles and rockets will carve out craters in the earth, structures will explode and tumble, and even trees will fall beneath ammunition barrages. The best part is that such occurrences have a direct impact on the battlefield: you didn’t just blow up a cut-and-pasted building that disappears entirely; the rubble will most certainly be evident. Character modeling is only okay but what you see directly in front of you will always remain solid, refined, and technically impressive. There isn’t much in the way of graphical hitches and glitches (although you may spot a few during periods of hectic action, especially if you get blowed up real good), and it’s difficult to nitpick when you’re talking about a $15 game that takes all of 15 minutes to download. It does seem as if DICE uses a little too much color, though; it's almost comical to see the carnage so brightly depicted.
The sound isn’t quite as good, primarily because of the voice chat issues and the lack of balance between various sound effects. A rocket can either explode out of your speakers or simply hit with a dull “thunk” nearby; it may cause the same negative effect, but your ears will experience it differently. This is a common issue with online multiplayer games, although we’re not sure why… Anyway, the rest of the sound presentation is fine, and there are some aspects that really stand out- for instance, the cries of your comrades are clear, distinct, and diverse; they will yell when a grenade is headed your way, for example, and their voices over the radio sound authentic. The vehicles have the appropriate audio attached to them, and when you’re on the ground and the air raid alarms go off, you’ll actually be fearful. The first air strike that smashed into a capture point behind me actually made me jump…that’s good sound, right there. But again, it just isn’t consistent enough. If the developers could maybe address the stability of the sound with a future patch or something, that’d make the experience even more engrossing. Just a suggestion, DICE.
I referenced Warhawk in the intro and I will do so again here: if you’re at all familiar with Incognito’s excellent multiplayer title, you may wish to become an enlisted man in Battlefield 1943. It’s a similar setup: there are ground vehicles like jeeps and tanks, anti-air guns, and planes; all of which can be used by any player on the map. However, Warhawk fans should be forewarned that the planes in this game handle very differently, as DICE clearly wanted to implement a more simulated feel. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to gel well with the rest of the game’s atmosphere and we never really could get the controls down correctly. Although it takes a while to master flight in Warhawk, learning the controls takes a matter of minutes. But this gripe out of the way, we should also tell you that Battlefield 1943 has character classes that definitely add a whole new dimension to the action, and it’s a definite cornerstone of the gameplay. You can choose to be a Scout, Infantry man, or Rifleman, and each comes with his own set of default weapons and, oh yeah, infinite ammo. You won’t have to worry about running out of bullets or even rockets, and that injects more flavor into an already robust experience.
No, it doesn’t enhance the depth, but there’s enough of that with all the vehicles and squad strategies available. Furthermore, the victory conditions are unique to the Battlefield series: there will be capture points that both teams must attempt to nab and control, but the reinforcements meter acts as a health bar. In other words, the more times you die and respawn, the lower the meter will go and when all the reinforcements are exhausted, your side must accept defeat. Capture points can change hands quickly, too; because you can choose to respawn near any friendly checkpoint, you might find yourself in the midst of a pitched battle for the area. These points are clearly marked on your map, as are the various vehicles, which allows you to plan your assault accordingly. When you die and respawn, you can choose to play as one of the three aforementioned classes: the Scout has a sniper rifle and a pistol, the Rifleman has the classic M1 Garand rifle and an attachment for firing an explosive, and the Infantry soldier has a machine gun and a bazooka (great for use against tanks and structures). However, these weapons may alter depending on if you’re on the U.S. or Japanese side.
The voice chat issue reared its ugly head several times during our play experience, which got a little frustrating. Sometimes, you can hear everyone while other times, you can’t hear any of your squad mates. However, we assume this is a drawback that will soon be fixed, and in the meantime, it won’t take long to get your bearings. It just puts a major crimp in strategic planning so in random matches, you often find yourself on your own. The good news is that you can always respawn where your team is and you can even pop up in a vehicle, provided there’s room. Once you’re playing, you’ll be finding those special bunkers to launch air raids – bad-ass! – sniping from the bushes, rolling along in a tank, and securing and defending those valuable Capture points. The inclusion of those air-raids, which you do control, and the destructibility of the environment were highlights for us, as was being able to bail out of a plane. Sometimes, you might want to step into a plane just to get behind enemy lines; you can leap out and parachute your way down into the fray. We just wish that piloting those damn things was a little easier and not so freakin’ sensitive…it got to the point where we simply couldn’t use them reliably or effectively.
There are only three maps but each is large enough where you probably won’t lose interest all that quickly, and we expect more to arrive in due time. That’s the thing with online multiplayer games: the designers can continually build up on the base concept, and if we use Warhawk as an example, that game is drastically different now than it was when it first launched. Therefore, we have to take into consideration the growth potential of Battlefield 1943, and when we do, we see more maps, more classes, more gameplay features, and hopefully, more modes. This would expand on the current experience, but as it stands, it’s tough not to recommend for the measly price of $15. The action is fast-paced and diverse enough to please just about anyone who enjoys the online multiplayer world, the visuals are impressive, the atmosphere is engaging, and DICE keeps everything dynamic from the moment you start your first match to the time you decide to log off. There are a few little shortcomings that may or may not be addressed in the future, but there’s nothing that will significantly detract from your enjoyment. It’s a good time to release it, too, as we’re in the standard summer lull until the bigger titles start hitting store shelves this fall.
Bottom line- for the money, it’ll be a challenge to find something more entertaining than Battlefield 1943.
7/14/2009 Ben Dutka