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Battlefield 1943 Review4
by Brad Shoemaker on
Despite some frustrating early network issues, this lean, mean sequel to the grandaddy of all Battlefield games still has it where it counts.
Considering how big, loud, and prolific DICE's Battlefield series has gotten, it's probably a wonder we received any sort of sequel at all to the series' fondly but distantly remembered breakout hit Battlefield 1942. The good news is that despite shipping with only three condensed player classes and a relatively small handful of maps, the downloadable, incrementally titled Battlefield 1943 nails all the series' requirements for dynamic, unpredictable, exciting multiplayer combat. Some unfortunate connection problems marred the first few days of release, especially on the Xbox 360, but now that things are mostly smoothed out, 1943 represents a great multiplayer value.
'43 focuses exclusively on the Pacific Theater of World War II with three greatest-hits maps from the original game: Wake Island, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima. All three are island maps with a symmetrical layout, since both the American and Japanese forces start from aircraft carriers on opposite sides of the map and vie for control of capture points that are laid out in a balanced fashion. Each map has subtleties and distinctive terrain that give it character, but they all play with a certain degree of similarity. You aren't going to see the massive tank battles you got on 1942's Battle of the Bulge, for instance--though a DLC map pack or two featuring some of that game's best European maps would be a welcome addition.
The maps' singular focus is consistent with the design philosophy of 1943 as a whole; it strips out the nonessential elements from the original game without losing the core feel and flow of the battles. Yes, the matches are limited to 12 players against 12, but the maps are tailored to the team size. Yes, there are only three classes, but the important abilities have all been spread across those three. You can't go prone, there are no ammo limits, the bombers are gone. You could assemble a big list of things that have changed if you're some kind of crazy purist for the old days. But the truth is, those things don't matter; you're still getting in tanks and blowing away enemy jeeps as they race by, or shooting down a fighter from an AA turret and ducking as its fiery fuselage hurtles straight past your head. It's still Battlefield and still a heck of a lot of fun.
Thanks in large part to Bad Company's Frostbite engine, DICE did a good job of keeping 1943 up to date with current standards, giving it a couple of new features, and making it work well on consoles. Destructible walls make it harder for enemies to camp out inside the buildings around each control point. It's also a lot of fun to drive a tank straight through fences and thickets of trees rather than getting stuck on them. The new air raid feature lets you send a trio of heavy bombers over the enemy base and carpet it with destruction via an underside camera angle. And the squad features--voice chat, spawning directly into your friends' vehicles, group scoring--make the game more strategic and social. Granted, some of those features existed in previous Battlefield games already, but if you happened to be coming straight from 1942 to this game, you'd be surprised how well it keeps up with modern conventions. Even the controls work just fine, and I actually found the notoriously hard-to-fly fighter planes, well, much easier to fly. (There's also an included tutorial to help out with that.)
The worst thing you could say about 1943 is that the online infrastructure hasn't worked very well since its release almost a week ago--which is, honestly, a pretty damning thing to say about an online-only game. In the case of the Xbox Live Arcade version, for part of that time it barely worked at all. EA was woefully unprepared to handle the player load at launch; it was nearly impossible to get into a game at all for the first couple of days, and even once it was possible to consistently join matches with strangers, I still had issues for a couple more days getting into my friends' games. The PlayStation Network fared much better, though I also had a similar issue joining friends' games on the PS3, which gave me the option to join but then inexplicably told me the game "appeared to be unavailable." If nothing else, more descriptive error messages (even a simple "match is full") would have demystified and lessened the frustration with these server issues.
Now, six days after launch, Battlefield 1943 is working more or less like it's supposed to, and EA says it's committed to ironing out the few lingering network issues. There's more content on the way; the fourth map, a naval and air-only battle called Coral Sea, should unlock in a matter of hours on the Xbox 360 and later this week on the PS3 (as both player bases work toward the 43 million kill requirement). The shaky launch was a blight on DICE's service record, and Battlefield 1943 tested--and almost surpassed--my patience for launch-day online problems. But anyone buying the game now will simply find an intense, replayable multiplayer shooter that's fully worthy of both the Battlefield name and the price of entry.