Heaven knows how much time I sunk into Battlefield 1942 when I was a young pup. I even set up a multiplayer server with as many bots as my underpowered spare PC could handle as part of my training sessions. Since that time, though, the Battlefield franchise has been made many times over; first into a modern warfare game (before Call of Duty made it fashionable) then a futuristic 22nd century shooter and now the 360 and PS3 get the franchise that started it all in Battlefield 1943.
If you’re a fan of the original, Battlefield 1943 is a bit of a regression in terms of playability. You only get four maps: Wake Island, Guadacanal, Iwo Jima and Coral Sea. And from those maps, you get only two sides: America and Japan. Sorry Third Reich, Red Army and British Empire fans, you don’t get a showing in this game. The number of classes has been simplified into four with some roles like the anti-armor specialist being merged together. The medic is conspicuously absent too. On the balance, the weapons are also more balanced this time around. No longer are the Japanese struggling with a bolt action rifle. They’re given a semi-automatic one to match the M1 Garand.
Of course, not everything has been dumbed down in Battlefield 1943. New technology to handle destructible buildings has been introduced. Normally, this is reserved for eye candy but for a capture and hold game like Battlefield, it definitely has repercussions in combat. Playing as infantry, I always tended to hide in buildings and amongst tall trees to ambush unsuspecting armor or snipe from a distance. Now opposing armor can adopt a scorched earth policy and blow the sides of buildings wide open to eliminate any hiding spots. The actual terrain does not deform (you can’t create a little crater for yourself to hide in) but it does give new precedence to the air corps which can now aid in ground combat simply by dropping bombs on unsuspecting shelters ahead of the ground advance.
One of the attractions of playing a Battlefield game is the use of vehicles. Battlefield 1943 lets you take control of various pieces of armor, jeeps, airplanes, landing craft and fixed anti-aircraft emplacements with as much ease as you would playing infantry in the traditional first person shooter setting. Nearly all the vehicles have their own Achilles heel in a ‘rocks, paper, scissors’ formula so they don’t come off as being invincible in the game. The controls are easy to master, including the aircraft where the left trigger serves as the accelerator and the other buttons are used to navigate. These vehicles are nowhere near what you would call realistic and amazingly, you can’t go in reverse. While piloting a landing boat, I could swing my boat 90 degrees away from the shore without moving forward at all. Try spinning around like a compass in a real boat with no momentum. But they’re fun to pilot, especially if you can get a few comrades to operate one with you. An air raid functionality also exists; a nod to the commander functions of Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142. As long as someone reaches the shelter, they can control a bomber wing using the command map.
Out of all the maps available, the Coral Sea map is tailored entirely to air combat. The others are all island maps, which to my recollection, look roughly the same as the 1942 variants. The great thing about Battlefield 1943 is the pacing of the game. All too often other games feature too many players (nota bene developers: you do not need 300 players on a map), where you run into the problem of putting your boot on the ground and then immediately get pelted with enemy fire. Or their maps are designed poorly that you have to run around for five minutes before you see any action. Battlefield 1943 strikes the perfect balance. The capture and hold system means you’re almost constantly moving between all the points like whack-a-mole to try to get all of them but it also means you’re not stuck in a WWI style defensive (aka camping) posture throughout the game. The auto-spawn function, which chooses where you should spawn, is a big plus. On the PC, it’s easy to point and click where to spawn based on where the action is. On the console, that’s not always the case but the game has a knack in putting you into the right theater. Although there were a few times I spawned and immediately got shot, those happened not more than once or twice during a session.
Battlefield 1943 is a great game if you’ve got a half hour or an hour in between something else and you want to play something but not get too deep into it. It, unfortunately, doesn’t go deeper than that, which is a shame because there are plenty of things here that could be done to open the game up even further. The achievements are representative of that par excellence. You rack up achievements and they don’t unlock anything or open up any weapons or classes. This segment of the game could have been expanded on. With more sides, better balance on the vehicles and weapons, and achievements that actually mean something, this could easily be a full blown game. Still, it’s Battlefield, and it’s fun to boot it up to play especially since the last console Battlefield game was Battlefield 2 and I’m sure the player population for this one should be higher until EA releases the next Battlefield game.