Battlefield 1942 isn't so much about 1942 as it is about the major
battles of WWII in and around those years. The defense of Berlin, for
example, is clearly a 1945 battle but that attitude represents Digital
Illusion's approach to its WWII material. It pillages and plunders
through the history books for what works and throws out what's
inconvenient. German and Japanese forces are pitched against American,
Russian and British ones in theaters across the world. What Digital
Illusions does for convenience doesn't sap strength from Battlefield
1942. Rather, it strengthens it, by making the game more playable and
that becomes the predominant theme for the rest of the game.
You'll roll tanks across flat desert plains in Africa. You'll fly
Mitsubishi Zeroes over Pacific waters. And finally, you'll duke it out
on foot amongst various locales all over Europe. Battlefield 1942 is
not the first WWII game with infantry classes battling over capture
points in an enclosed space. Return to Castle Wolfenstein was credited
for its impressive multiplayer game earlier on. Battlefield 1942 is
also not the first game with an easy to manipulate vehicular system.
Operation Flashpoint achieved that years ago. Visually, Battlefield
1942 isn't even the best looking game. There are clipping issues and
awkward treatments of height elevations, especially when lying prone.
Finally, Battlefield 1942 preaches team tactics but some basics, like
finding a person whom you want to co-operate with on your squad, are
hardly an easy exercise. Tribes 2 or Counterstrike could be cited as
better team-competitive games. However, none of the titles cited above
makes it as playable as Battlefield 1942 makes it. It's this factor
that prevents them from approaching the fun Battlefield 1942 offers.
It's able to strike the right balance -- quite possibly that's due to the
fact that the developers were also players of the game.
Battlefield 1942 uses its material judiciously. The Germans have a
series of powerful tanks while the Japanese only have one tank, which
arguably, is a disgrace to the Axis alliance as a whole. These
equipment imbalances force would-be armies to use other tactics to get
around them. In any battle in Battlefield 1942, one tactic will never
bring an enemy down, particularly in the unique Conquest mode. But
likewise, combined tactics won't bring a country to its knees either
since they will be too disparate, too unfocused. A single bomber has
little impact on the entire war. It's this dynamic see-saw flow that
battles in Battlefield 1942 can sustain that turns out to be the most
interesting part of the game. You really have no chain of command, no
need to co-operate with anyone and unlike hardcore simulations, no real
dependence on others to do anything. Tanks can be manned and gunned on
their own. Even a B-17 bomber can be operated by a single person;
albeit somewhat inefficiently. Yet, in the midst of that save your own
skin chaos, some form of cohesive strategy emerges. In MMORPG titles,
everyone tries to be the hero and only handful usually enjoys the
success of being one. In Battlefield 1942, everyone tries to be the
hero and all that synergy translates into success on the battlefield for
Battlefield 1942 is able to foster this through a workable
communications system that might seem unwieldy at first, but actually is
fairly flexible. It lets scouts hone in on targets and request
artillery strikes. It informs incoming troops of potential hazards. I
liked the fact that whoever is speaking is flashing on the map and the
use of map co-ordinates reduces the amount of guesswork during the heat
of the battle. Furthermore, teamwork is maintained by the fact that
radio chatter is in the country's native language. This is a minor
point but it's my belief it plays a large part in promoting solidarity.
While Battlefield 1942 features traditional team deathmatch and capture
the flag, the most played portion will undoubtedly be the Conquest mode,
which also serves as the backbone of the co-operative mode, albeit,
absentee human players are substituted with bots. Conquest runs on an
interesting system that has some subtle catches to it. It's basically
capture and hold, like the domination system found in Unreal Tournament.
However, Battlefield 1942 adds a ticketing system. Each side has to
hold a certain number of key points before they start losing tickets.
Tickets are also used for reinforcements so those thinking they are
martyrs or kamikaze fighters are actually hurting the prospects of their
team winning. This is a subtle fix. In the end, whichever side holding
the most tickets in the end wins the game.
What makes Battlefield 1942 so playable is because it's so subtle. The
guns may not all be realistic but the bolt action ones the engineers
carry factor in the reloading of a bolt-action rifle. Yet, the machine
gun nests have unlimited ammo. These differences, which throw out
realism altogether, are the subtleties that turn Battlefield 1942 from
something fun to something very fun.
That isn't to say Battlefield 1942 is without its sore points. It's far
from immaculate and I'm not even talking about people clamoring for it
to be more true to its source material. Off the store shelves,
Battlefield 1942 comes ignobly as v1.0 and already, the v1.1 pioneered
with the multiplayer beta test is required to play on the majority of
servers. If Digital Illusions was creating a v1.1 patch on the basis of
their multiplayer demo tests, wouldn't it have been logical to insert
this patch before the game went gold? It should have because the new
version has considerably less lag.
While the problem of misbehaving players cannot be blamed on the
developers, the inability to find likeminded players is. Simply put,
even in a shallow battle of 32 players, you're lucky if you're able to
find two or three people you can consistently work with. 64 player
servers are rare because of the bandwidth and server credentials needed.
Nevertheless, a buddy list indicating your favorite players on the map
would have been more intuitive. Lack of intuition also plagues the
communications system. Veterans may know which key combinations will
give them a 'spot airplane warning' but would it not have been easier if
you just pointed your crosshairs to an airplane and pressed the spot
There's also the single player component that promised to create dynamic
campaigns. But the campaigns end up as little more than a string of
multiplayer maps where progression is rigidly chronological. Moreover,
the bots appear to eat up a lot of computer time and in return, produce
very little opposition. I found I had to double the number of opposing
bots and set their difficulty levels to maximum to make things work. A
telltale sign is the fact that some maps, like the Battle of Midway, are
shrunk considerably in scope and size when bots are involved. Is it
unacceptable to a product like Battlefield 1942? Tribes 2 had mediocre
bots but it only claimed to use them as a training tutorial. Unreal
Tournament, on the other hand, had impressive all around bots that could
play intelligently in any mode. Coupled with the fact that bot
difficulty can't be set in dedicated servers (but can be if you start up
the game, start up a dedicated server through the in-game GUI) and
you're left thinking maybe someone was pushing this product out the
The year 1942 marked the darkest days of the allies but it
simultaneously heralded two important breakthroughs on the allied front.
The first one was by Soviet forces amongst the ruins of Stalingrad.
This was followed by Montgomery's British forces at El Alamein. Even
with 32 players and lax physics, Battlefield 1942's audio-visuals will
throw you in the midst of these tenacious battles. The street battles
in Berlin provided some of the most visceral fighting for me, capturing
the zeitgeist of the climatic battle in a film like Saving Private Ryan.
There's no doubt this period continues to fascinate us. The Germans, to
me, wielded some of the most impressive hardware and finally I got to
see it in action. When Battlefield 1942 is lag-free and you're with
people who actually hesitate firing at you from behind, it's a virtuoso
of a war game that doesn't require you to have a doctoral degree to
enjoy. Time, however, can only tell whether it will have the staying
power of its peers but it doesn't look like our love for a good WWII
fight is anywhere close to ephemeral.