Battlefield 1943 (Review)

If you missed our launch party article for the game here’s a quick reminder. Downloadable only, team-based World War II first person shooter based on three (soon to be four) beautifully designed Pacific island maps. It’s like Bad Company has gone on a sunny holiday.

Iwa Jima might not be the place you remember from the two recent World War II films from Clint Eastwood. The volcano isn’t that tall, has a solid top, there aren’t any tunnels, there’s more buildings and there doesn’t seem to be any black volcanic rock anywhere. It’s similar to the tranquil (apart from the war) beach resort vibe the rest of the maps have to be honest. But hey, I’d only be complaining if it was all grey and misery like Killzone 2.

You’ll find yourself experimenting with the steep slopes near the ocean and hills to see where you can climb up. Surprisingly you can in quite a lot of places by bashing forwards and jump, one wrong move though and you’ll hit an impossible bit and slide all the way to the bottom again. Then the sniper that’s watched you struggle all the way might put you out of your misery.

There’s only one game mode on offer at the moment. Conquest, returns from previous Battlefield games. There are five bases on each map, you capture one by hanging around a flag while it comes down and is replaced by yours. These areas are then used as spawn areas and your team loses fewer points when dieing if they control more bases than the other side. The team that loses all its points is defeated.

Capturing bases single-handed or assisting really racks up your personal points and is the best way to level up, which is just for kudos and leaderboard climbing as no additional gear is there to be won. Rather than be a sore point for depth, it just keeps players and the games evenly matched.

You play as either American or Japanese soldiers and both start out at sea on a warship, which will always belong to you and will be where you can spawn from if you don’t own any bases. The other option for spawning is the squad spawn which may start you off in the thick of it, sometimes staring down the barrel of a tank, just remember to check the map for chaos before you decide.

Weapons are historically accurate for each side and well balanced. The most reliable weapon is the rifle which causes more damage than the machine gun, but has a longer reload time. The sniper weapon isn’t powerful enough to kill in one shot (unless it’s a headshot), and each shot is painfully spaced out.

Sniping is a bit of a missed opportunity with a few of the small islands around the main one in each map, some of which you can only get onto by bailing out of your plane and parachuting down. The issue here is that the range of the scope is very short meaning it’s unlikely you’ll go often.

While the rifleman is great against troops, he’s got no chance against tanks, with his grenades making no difference whatsoever. The assault guy has a rocket launcher that works much better and the sniper has remote controlled dynamite that he can slap on them. If you do get caught out with the wrong equipment you can swap it every time you spawn or by raiding the backpacks left behind by the fallen.

The WWII vehicles on offer are two variations of jeeps, two tanks, a beach-lander boat and planes. Apart from the planes, the vehicles have additional gunner seats and tanks aside, also carry passengers. The beach-lander is a little disappointing as it doesn’t open from the front like in Saving Private Ryan, but because at the beginning of a match, teams often start at the other side of the island there’s nobody to fire at you anyway. If you are travelling at speed though you can launch them quite far up the beach. I ploughed one right into an enemy soldier but he just went straight through it like it wasn’t there, surprising for both of us.

Don’t worry though; you still get points for running people over with jeeps and tanks. The gunner seats are the most devastating against infantry as the tanks shells are slow to reload and don’t even have much splash damage, requiring tight accuracy. Both suffer with firing at anything within 15 feet really though as the guns won’t point down far enough. Historical accuracy over fun?

But what about the planes? Well I’d heavily recommend spending ten minutes on the offline tutorial to get used to the controls so you don’t have to learn whole getting shot at. Once you are used to them flying is great fun, probably the most pleasant surprise in the whole game. There’s not much sweeter than zooming in close to the ground firing at a base, pulling up and releasing a couple of bombs and turning the plane fully sideways 90 degrees, narrowly missing a tower or lighthouse.

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Dropping bombs takes a lot of getting used to as there isn’t a targeting reticule like for the machine gun, so you have to look behind you to see where they landed. You won’t really rack up a lot off kills with the planes to be honest, and the best tactic for decent bomb drops is slowing down, which leaves you open to anti-aircraft guns, rockets, tanks and other planes.

They’re clearly already massively popular as they’re the first thing that everyone dashes towards when they’re available. Once Coral Island (planes only) is unlocked it might be more popular than we thought.

Another returning feature is the air strikes. Here once the radar bunker opens up you can make a dash to take the only seat. You control the direction of a trio of bombers as they approach the island, and judge by using an under-side periscope type device where you want your payload dropping. If you hear those air-raid sirens and see them coming you might want to make a quick evac.

This squadron can be shot down though with AA guns or other planes, but the best option is to nip out of camp and watch the fireworks from a safe distance.

The Frostbite 1.5 game engine isn’t obviously that much different from Bad Company, but it’s still ahead of the likes of Red Faction: Guerrilla, which may totally destroy buildings but leaves you with the impression they were made of biscuits.

Tellingly, you’ll find yourself getting distracted whenever you see any red barrels and gas tanks because you know they do explosions better than anything else out there at the moment. Which is where your regenerating ammo and grenades comes in handy. You can also use the destruction to blast holes in fences, but it’s not the best tactic for a stealthy infiltration, but hey, loud and proud is the way Battlefield rolls.

There might only be three maps for land based battles and just the one match type. But they’re designed so well for this game mode I genuinely think they wouldn’t work as well for team-deathmatches or capture the flag.

That doesn’t mean to say we wouldn’t appreciate some more maps, possibly built in mind of different modes. The Iwa Jima map could potentially work with a King of the Hill type mode. It would also be good if a future update included a lobby system so you could choose which map to play on as it just seems to come out at random.

All very fixable issues, to what is already a majorly impressive shooter which should keep you entertained before the next Call of Duty and of course Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

8/10

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