Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: July 8, 2009
The FPS market is easily the most crowded genre right now, with a never-ending stream of titles all vying for attention. In spite of the constant influx of new games, most entries are continuously ignored in favor of old stalwarts like the Halo and Call of Duty franchises. Realizing this, DICE decided to release its latest Battlefield entry not as a full-priced retail game forced to compete with the likes of World at War, but rather as a pared-down, downloadable edition focusing solely on the hardcore multiplayer experience. The result is a game that has some charm but really fails to provide any compelling reason for gamers to step away from their established favorites in favor of this particular WWII shooter.
Battlefield 1943 dumps players in the Pacific Theatre and pits the U.S. Marines against the Japanese Imperial Navy. The teams are different in aesthetic only, and even though their weapons or vehicles may not look the same, their base stats are totally identical. Before each spawn, players choose between one of three classes: the infantryman, rifleman or scout. Infantrymen are good in close-quarters skirmishes and against tanks, riflemen excel at taking down other foot soldiers thanks to their powerful anti-personnel gun, and scouts pack a sniper rifle and some demolition charges to either pick off enemies from afar or booby-trap their bases and vehicles.
Each class plays slightly differently, and players will obviously develop favorites fairly quickly and then hew to that particular unit. Thankfully, though, the classes are all similar enough that you can easily jump from one to another without such a fundamental shift in tactics that it proves impossible. If you see your team is mounting a heavy assault on an enemy base, spawn as infantry and rush in; if your group is playing more defensively, then make yourself a scout and find a nice spot for sniping. Even better, defeated units will drop their equipment packs, so you can even change on the fly in the midst of battle.
While the classes are pretty stock, the game obviously hopes to set itself apart by providing an ample supply of vehicles. The map is absolutely littered with tanks, jeeps and airplanes, all of which are up for grabs for whoever gets there first, and each can change the tide of battle. Jeeps allow teams to load up, sweep in quickly to grab a base and then withdraw before the enemy can react; tanks obviously provide an essential function in base capture and support; and planes can bomb the snot out of enemy encampments and generally be a hassle as they rain death from above.
Unfortunately, the vehicles are all about as much a hindrance as they are helpful, and many players will quickly grow frustrated with their hang-ups. Tanks and planes are both very difficult to control effectively, with planes being especially frustrating. Their movements are so sluggish and their maneuvers so slow that it takes real dedication to stick with them long enough to become even remotely proficient in their operation. Jeeps are considerably easier to navigate, but they're useless under fire, and if you manage to smack a rock or misjudge a turn, be prepared for a very long and painful fall. While all the vehicles are perfectly functional, they aren't particularly fun, and you may very well see tanks or planes sitting unused in bases simply because other players aren't interested in the hassle.
Battlefield 1943 first sets itself up as a very interesting game, but players will quickly grow bored with the paltry play modes and inexplicable squad setups. To start, the game only features two modes and four maps, with three maps being devoted to a control point setup while the other is an "air superiority" map that showcases planes dogfighting one another over a seemingly insignificant island. While the maps all showcase famous locales from World War II (Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Wake Island), none of the stages have any real character, and they start to run together before long. Each map is essentially nothing more than hills and valleys with control points scattered along and a few sniper towers placed sporadically. Furthermore, the game's setup makes it impossible to develop an attachment to any one stage due to the fact that you can't pick where you play. For every round, you are randomly assigned one of the maps and that's all there is to it. No votes, no vetoes — just go play where DICE tells you and be glad for it. While the maps are all nice and large, there's really nothing about any of them that causes an adrenaline rush the next time you see your "favorite" island pop up in the level rotation.
One thing that multiplayer shooters should have in order to be successful is effective squad mechanics, but the setup used here is head-scratchingly dumb. Each team is composed of 12 players, and within that team you can divide into squads of four. Obviously, friends will come in with the goal of creating a squad together and working as a unit to achieve success. Unfortunately, you can only communicate with the other members of your squad, so while the four of you can talk and strategize, the other eight members of your team are out in the cold. Thus, it's impossible to make any sort of broader tactical decisions given the fact that you are in the dark about the majority of your team. Battlefield 1943 is the sort of game where one soldier absolutely cannot make a difference, and the only way to be effective is to work as a cohesive squad. Sadly, that ability is made infinitely more difficult due to the way communication is structured.
Making things even worse, there were multiple times when I'd create a squad with a group of friends, and we'd be split up and placed on opposite teams. Now we're all suddenly listening to enemy chatter, but there's no way for us to relay that info onto teammates who are about to be attacked. Even worse, these scenarios would force us all to fall quiet for the duration of the round lest we let our friends on the other team know where we were and what our next objective was going to be. That silence completely shatters the squad concept and thus left us as nothing more than four individual soldiers doing our own thing thanks to an inability to coordinate our actions. Why the hell does the game break up squads? What kind of bonehead move is that?
Aside from these things, there are a few minor technical issues (some screen tearing and audio dropout), but they're minor enough that compared to the beauty of the title, they can be forgiven. This is definitely a good-looking $15 game, but there's just not enough meat here to sustain it for a long period of time. Hardcore shooter players will quickly tire of the unremarkable maps and fairly pat gameplay, while friends looking for something to jump into together will be turned off by the weak squad mechanics. The game does achieve in presenting itself as a bite-sized chunk of Battlefield, and franchise fans will likely be absolutely giddy over that, but honestly, the genre has moved on from what this game has to offer, and anyone who's been playing Call of Duty: World at War will quickly migrate back to it simply because it can do most everything Battlefield 1943 does, but better. Hardcore Battlefield fans should feel free to plunk down the small deposit required to enlist, but everyone else should keep looking for another branch of the service to join.Score: 7.3/10
More articles about Battlefield 1943