Battlefield 1943 hands on

   09/07/2009 at 09:37       Phil May       14 COMMENTS.
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Wake up and smell the Pacific Ocean

EA have already shown that they can make console versions of Battlefield work properly. After fits and starts with Battlefield: Modern Combat, last year's squad-based game, Battlefield: Bad Company, showed off the Frostbite engine for the first time and took a lot of cues and niceties from PC Battlefield games.

For ages though, I've always wondered what would happen if DICE took the franchise back to its roots, back to World War II and more specifically, back to those intense potted moments of chaos that you got in the original Battlefield 1942 when fighting on those pacific islands.

Well I've got my answer, and the answer is "one of the best Xbox 360 games ever, and far and away the best XBLA game the box has ever seen".

Battlefield 1943's meagre 560mb download may only contain 3 maps (Wake Island, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima) but this matters not. You're unlikely to get the same game twice, and you're very unlikely to get bored with these - three of the original game's best maps.

Battlefield 1943 improves on the Battlefield: Bad Company experience by simplifying gameplay, taking the core gameplay back to the old style idea of capturing flags rather than all that mucking around with gold and explosives. BF1943 is all the better for it and whether you choose to go gung-ho for kills, or erode the enemy's presence by capturing key locations, there's plenty of rewarding gameplay on offer here.

For simplicity's sake, BF1943 only features three classes. Infantry - the grunts and good all rounders, Scout - expert in explosives and a bit of a sneaky sniper, and the Rifleman - armed with a rifle (well duh) as well as devastating rifle grenades.

There are no medics or mechanics, but skills from those classes are soaked up in two ways. Firstly, you auto heal which is a nice idea because let's face it, only the most dedicated team players ever bothered with the medic class and it was a bit ineffective and weak in combat anyway. Secondly you can repair vehicles with the Scout class, which comes in handy if you're particularly attached to your tank.

Having a quick Sherman Tank

Speaking of which, it's a joy to see that the vehicles are still as vital and as much fun to drive as they always have been in Battlefield games. Tanks, planes, boats, jeeps and even static gun emplacements are yours to control. You can even nip into a radar station and take control of bomber squadrons - the equivalent of Call of Duty's chopper attacks. Bringing in carpet-bombing runs is a very good way of demonstrating the other new wrinkle in this particular Battlefield - the intense damage modelling which is part and parcel of the Frostbite engine. Improved from Battlefield: Bad Company with more realistic damage than before, even veterans familiar to Battlefield and to Wake Island will find a whole new set of criteria they need to remember in order to be an effective soldier. Now there's no sneaky hiding in cabins or behind sandbags hoping that passing tanks will miss you. Splash damage ensures that you really do have to keep moving, or find something more solid to hide behind.

The game's tutorial rather satisfyingly gives you the chance to re-learn all those skills in a relatively safe environment offline, so there's no excuse for leaping into an online game, camping out for a plane, then piling it into the nearest observation tower. The tutorial (taking place on Wake Island) guides you through all the necessary skills you'll need to fight effectively on foot, in vehicles and in the sky.

It's nice to have a playpit environment like this, though it's a shame that DICE / EA couldn't have extended this a little and given you all three islands to practice on / learn. In fact, that brings me to one of the game's major omissions - there is absolutely nothing here for you if you're into single player games. Online play or nothing is the order of the day - and on day one, the simple act of getting into a game proved to be a bit of a headache for me (damn you port forwarding and NAT restrictions!).

EA / DICE insist that private games fill all slots so if you haven't got the requisite number of friends to populate a server, you're going to be forced into games with the great unwashed - the general public. At least in a console-based Battlefield you can be sure that no one's cheating (but of course you'll see plenty of pogo-ing soldiers trying to avoid being shot by leaping around like goons).

Blue sky gaming

It's almost a shame that the game is so utterly intense from the moment you spawn till the moment you're pushing up daisies. Battlefield 1943 is lush, beautiful and sunkissed - a graphical tour de force and certainly a game that sets the bar impossibly high for any other XBLA games. Call of Duty purists may well scoff at the simplicity of it all, the lack of perks, and the slightly jolly-hockey-sticks over the top nature of the game, but they'd do well to remember which series came first and which series still does armoured and aerial combat better than just about every other wargame out there.

One moment from last night's game made me giggle. An esteemed buddy remarked: "Why do people moan so much about war? War is fun!" My reply was "Yeah, but in real life, the respawn time is a bit of a killer".

When you consider the other XBLA titles that could cost you 1200 points, Battlefield 1943 is a bargain. With a few more maps and options and perhaps a single-player campaign, you'd easily pay full price for it - but as it stands, as a beautifully crafted potted Battlefield that's easy to pick up and play but incredibly hard to switch off, you really would be hard pushed to spend those points you've been sitting on more satisfyingly than if you picked this up.

EA have promised there will probably be more classic maps made available before long (c'mon though, this is EA we're talking about, if there was no DLC for it, you'd be surprised, right?)
Die hard Battlefield purists should be very pleased indeed, and those new to the series may well end up hunting down all the other games off the back of playing this one. All in all, DICE are incredibly good at doing what they do best - putting together remarkable and ridiculously addictive fun war games that appeal to all skill levels.
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