Review: Battlefield 1943

Electronic Arts Digital Illusion CE’s Battlefield 1943 is a bite-sized downloadable title based upon the foundation of the Battlefield series. In the game, two teams compete for flags with legs, tanks, airplanes and Jeeps. Battles are fierce and often decided by a couple of stragglers who decided to take a base after a lone defender leaves his post in search of greater glory.

The retail boxed versions of Battlefield keep coming. Obviously, shooter fans aren’t tired of playing nice with each other or getting bored with the dated formula the titles use. Still, you have to wonder: how does a 500 MB version of the game stack up? You’ll have to hit the break to know the answer to that one.

[Editor’s Note: Brad Nicholson and Jordan Devore reviewed Battlefield 1943 in an as-is condition as of Sunday, July 12, around 8:00 P.M. Central. When they initially started playing it Thursday afternoon, the game was experiencing massive server-side issues that caused frequent disconnections, freezes, an inability to join friends, create a private match, or get into the “Quick Match” option. Electronic Arts DICE (the studio behind the title) has stated in-game through the scrolling bar, as well as publicly, that they are aware of the issues and have taken steps to fix the problem. Reportedly, EA DICE added servers on Friday (problems still persisted) and fixed the issues with joining friends. Destructoid recommends checking its news section as well as the game’s official message board for the latest information about EA DICE’s progress in addressing the issues, but downloading the demo would be the ultimate trial player-side.


Battlefield 1943 (Xbox LIVE Arcade [reviewed], PlayStation Network, PC)
Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: July 8, 2009 (XBL) / July 9, 2009 (PSN) / September 2009 (PC)
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Moon Dollars/$14.99 

Brad Nicholson (Xbox LIVE Arcade)

Battlefield 1943 is an attractive downloadable title. Built from the foundation of Electronic Arts DICE’s foremost shooter series, Battlefield 1943 offers what most multiplayer shooters in the console downloadable space don’t: visually attractive, strategic, cooperative-based action. Players can steer tanks, bomb bridges with World War II-era planes, or plain-Jane hoof it across one of the three in-game maps’ terrain — talking to each other all the while, coordinating efforts in an attempt to steal enemy bases and defend their own. The options and variety of play are what make it an exciting title. Rarely does a shooter — no less a downloadable one — give players the opportunity to be a bomber pilot one second, then a sniper the next. Similarly, rarely is a downloadable title so damn frustrating. Battlefield 1943 suffers from an array of flaws (including a bunch of technical ones) that keep it from becoming the stellar title it should be. Freezing, latency, inconsistent feedback and a smattering of connection issues can make Battlefield 1943 feel like a sluggish, incomplete game instead of a deep, unique downloadable action title.

Currently, there is only one mode of play, a pseudo-capture-the-flag mode. In each of the three Pacific-themed maps, two teams (IWJ, the Japanese Imperial Army, and the United States Marine Corps, or USMC) compete for several bases on the map. Each base has a flagpole that acts as the location’s capture point. Standing in its vicinity will slowly raise the team’s standard (of course, if the base already belongs to the opposition, its flag will have to be lowered first). A team health bar drains according to the amount of flags a certain team has. Obtaining more flags means that the opposite team’s health bar depletes more quickly. Once a team’s bar reaches zero, the match is over.

The lack of other modes (EA DICE is promising a second if players collectively get over 43 million kills in the game) isn’t a sore spot for me. As with all Battlefield titles, I can choose to attack a base in a variety of ways: I can opt to parachute from an airplane on top of a flag, rush in with a lightning-quick Jeep, bumble around in a tank or even rush up the hill with a soldier. The game always feels fresh and exciting and the action often reflects my mood or even previous interaction with the opponents. Every match is, at its core, completely different. Players can use a bevy of diverse defensive patterns. Some teams may choose not to defend their bases; others may stress the utilization of AA cannons or turtle in the key bases. It’s all about discovery and experimentation within a limited timeframe if I choose to think.

The nature of battle is frenetic. Planes zoom overhead, enemy shells rip trees and buildings from their foundations and bullets whiz past constantly. The amount of action is dizzying and wonderful at the same time. To participate in such a large-scale conflict with others is a special experience and the action truly stresses teamwork. Unfortunately, Battlefield 1943 restricts voice chat to an in-game party system. Up to four players can hear each other out of the 12 that can play on a single team. This is especially frustrating when you want to let your team know what you’re seeing in terms of aircraft or tank positions.

The vehicles in the game are tough to control; I’m often slapped for my inability to maneuver them well. They lack the player-friendliness of Halo’s Warthog. One trigger applies the gas, but only the left analog stick steers the mobile contraption (with the exception of the plane, which uses the right analog stick for the pitch and roll). It probably makes sense in some true-to-life fashion to tie a vehicle to a single stick, but I find the amount of effort it takes to steer one of the beasts a bit silly. I’m always getting a wheel stuck on a rock or tumbling off a cliff that I was attempting to avoid. A third-person view can be used to take the edge off the first-person steering, but that view makes it almost impossible to kill anything with a turret — the view hovers above and outside of the vehicle.

The core game revolves around the FPS mechanic — i.e., hoofing it with one of the game’s three classes: the rifleman, infantryman, or the scout. Each has its own strengths and weakness. The rifleman specializes in killing infantry with his M1 Garand rifle and superior bullet strength. The infantryman can take out tanks with his bazooka; with his Thompson, he is best used in close-range attack situations. The scout has a sword (melee ftw) and a sniper rifle, which are perfect for ranged fighting and those classic oh-no-someone-is-right-behind-me moments.

Running in the open-field is essentially suicide, considering the amount of stuff going on in the middle of the map. Often, I joke with my friends that I’m traveling into “the shit” whenever I decide to lay off the periphery of the small-ish maps. Like in the other Battlefield titles, the lone soldier is a useless commodity. It takes up to three bazooka blasts to down a tank, and because enemies can spawn in a base while the lone soldier is trying to steal it for his team, he’ll often find himself outnumbered and quickly dead. That is, if the game is cooperating at the time. I’ve experienced a variety of latency in the game. Planes tend to jump around wildly in the air, and occasionally, enemy tanks and Jeeps will randomly pop in front of me. The bounciness of Electronic Arts’ servers (see Editor’s Note) can stall the action and cause a high degree of frustration. Battlefield has always had dodgy or inconsistent hit detection and the manic waves of latency aren’t an improvement.

The game also has a particularly nasty issue with freezing. Last night during a two-hour session of playing, Battlefield 1943 locked up my perfectly functioning Xbox 360 a total of six times. Overall, it’s locked up around 12-15 times over the course of my ten or so hours of play. The freezing detracts from the experience even more than the latency.

Speaking of latency, as of Sunday (July 12th), joining friends in a game or even getting into a game can be a small struggle. Battlefield 1943 has three multiplayer options: Quick Match, a “Join Friends” option, and the ability to create private rooms. This is a brilliant way to keep the game centralized and ensure that a billion rooms won’t be open and nearly empty. However, the servers aren’t playing nicely. When trying to join friends, it’ll say the match is unavailable and will even toss out that message while trying to join a Quick Match. A few hours ago (8:42 P.M.), I was able to get into a Quick Match on the third attempt and was able to join friends on the second. It’s getting better. Earlier in the week, it could take up to a half hour to join with a friend or jump into a match.

The connection issues and frequent freezing, as well as the driving and shooting issues, put a damper on an otherwise brilliant game. The Battlefield formula is dated, but the game experience still doesn’t feel long in the tooth. Battlefield 1943 is a particularly smart creation that can function as a deep, strategic title or as a simple Pacific-themed fragfest (with planes, of course). When it isn’t chugging, Battlefield 1943 offers a genuinely unique shooter experience, far and above anything else available in the console downloadable space. Don’t miss this one if you’re a multiplayer shooter fan, but be weary of the issues it’s currently having. Give the demo a shot and see if you can stomach them.

Score: 7

Jordan Devore (Xbox LIVE Arcade)

Battlefield 1943 surprised the hell out of me. Before the game launched, I didn’t give it much thought other than the occasional time when I acknowledged its existence. I’m an avid first-person shooter fan, sure, but Battlefield is a series I am not at all familiar with. And World War II games? Kind of played out, if you ask me. Yet Battlefield 1943, despite its botched and error-ridden launch, has grown on me. It’s become the type of addiction where you could be sitting at your computer, watching the latest Keyboard Cat video, and then it hits you. “Why am I watching this garbage when I could be playing Battlefield right now?” Anyone who has seriously played videogames can tell you about this feeling. It’s the feeling you get when a game is so satisfying, you can’t help but daydream about playing.

Battlefield 1943‘s ability to elicit such a strong response wasn’t by accident; it’s the result of a tight, well-thought out plan. You cannot make a fulfilling multiplayer game with only one mode, three maps, and three classes unless each and every one of those things is executed brilliantly. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was, in fact, the overall case for Battlefield 1943, and in some ways, I think EA DICE was surprised by how well the project came together, too. I mean, the game did essentially break from its own popularity, after all.

The first thing I noticed during my initial match of Battlefield 1943 — and how could I not — was the visual style. And no, I don’t just mean how realistic or not the game looks. I’m talking more about the game’s use of a vibrant, tropical color scheme, and its rather extensive environmental destruction. As a complete package, Battlefield 1943 rivals retail games in terms of pure visual flair, and this strength is only reinforced by fantastic in-cockpit cameras for every vehicle. Similarly, the top-notch sound design really brings the whole experience together. While a handful of the guns themselves may be lacking the extra oomph I desire, the first time an explosion made my character’s ears ring, I felt like I was in a real, living world.

But now I’m getting ahead of myself. Who cares about a striking game if it isn’t fun to play? Thankfully, Battlefield 1943 encompasses both of these aspects. As I mentioned above, this was my first Battlefield game. Upon first jumping into a match, I was a bit overwhelmed. Even though all three of Battlefield 1943‘s maps are pretty substantial in size, when a full 24 players are running around, mayhem is bound to ensue. I am, however, happy to report that figuring out the basics alone was manageable. There are only three playable classes, and once you learn one of them, you can easily pick up the other two.

Things only start to get difficult once you attempt to use a vehicle, mostly because the button placement for the controls is a little unusual. Using the left trigger and left bumper to drive and go in reverse, respectfully, sounds weird on paper but actually works well after about 30 minutes or so. The learning curve for the planes, on the other hand, is much higher. A few hours into Battlefield 1943, I still found myself plummeting to the sea and colliding with trees. That said, my best memories of the game all involve piloting planes, or simply watching them blow up in some crazy, over-the-top way. Alternatively, you could make the smart choice and realize there is a playable tutorial hidden in the game’s menus. But that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

While Battlefield 1943 does have a rank system complete with levels, I feel like it could have been emphasized more. +10 XP popping up above a soldier I just killed? That would have been absolutely fine in my book. There are also awards you can obtain for accomplishing in-game objectives such as getting X amount of kills with a weapon or proficiently using a tank, but again, you have to go through the main menu to find such statistics.

My only other real complaint with the game, other than the serious issues with freezing and other server-side problems, was the lack of actual content. Don’t get me wrong — the three maps, while they seem to blend together after a while, are plenty enough for the time being. But a single mode? There are times when I simply don’t feel like capturing or defending a control point. I suppose you could argue that there are so many different ways to play Battlefield 1943 that it doesn’t ultimately matter, but I would’ve personally been happy if something as simple as a deathmatch mode was thrown in.

Now, I know that a new mode and map will be unlocked when the community hits 43 million kills, and I know that Battlefield 1943 is only $15, but this is something I feel will hurt the game’s longevity. As sublime as the game can be, it’s hard to play for more than an hour or two at a time without growing tired of the same old routine. This leads me to strongly believe that downloadable content will be coming in the near future.

On the other hand, who knows where the game will be a few months from now; I certainly couldn’t tell you.  But what I can tell you is this: Battlefield 1943, even with its network-related flaws, is worth downloading. While, like Brad, my game did freeze more than a few times late last week, when I played again on Sunday afternoon, I didn’t run into any freezing at all and joining various friend matches never took more than two tries to get in.

If you decide to download it right now, or want to wait a couple of weeks for technical problems to be fully addressed, you should be fine either way. The game’s community is a devoted bunch, and it seems highly unlikely that the everyone would up and leave anytime soon. My only fear is that paid DLC, should it ever happen, could divide the community.

It’s a shame that a game with such strong potential was marred by technical issues when the actual gameplay itself is purely fun. Whether you are a Battlefield fanatic or a series scrub like me, you’ll get your money’s worth from Battlefield 1943, as well as an unrivaled experience in the realm of download-only games. While I’d recommend waiting a little while longer for optimal results, I think it’s finally safe to take the plunge, but only if you keep your expectations in order.

Score: 8

Combined Score: 7.5 — Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)

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