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E3 2009: Battlefield 1943 hands-on

BattlefieldE3 2009

Walking into E3 through the main doors in the West Hall, one of the first things attendees see is a Battlefield 1943 booth right in the entrance way. It is adorned with fake plastic foliage, with crates propping up TV monitors in an obvious homage to a World War II bunker. Long lines of attendees stood behind ropes in line for free copies of the game that were distributed every hour and even more climbed into the booth to play the game for themselves. I was one of those people.

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Battlefield 1943 is a download-only release coming this summer to the PS3 and the Xbox 360. A PC version will come out sometime in September. The 550 megabyte download features three maps for up to 24 players to fight across: Wake Island, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.

Using the same engine that powered Battlefield: Bad Company, these classic maps from Battlefield 1942 have undergone a transformation. While the maps have remained largely the same and should be familiar to fans of 1942, more foliage and destructible environments are now included; you’ll no longer be safe inside a building when a tank rolls into town. Players can assume the role of rifleman, infantryman and scouts in the game, which will each offer their own strengths and weaknesses.

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I asked Patrick Lui, Lead Designer on the game, about the decision to release the game as a download-only. “This is experimental for us. We want to reach new markets and make the game accessible to a wider audience,” he said. “But this is the future of downloadable games. There’s nothing like this currently on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, not at this price point. We are bringing a real shooter. People see this game and think it’s a retail release.”

Bringing additional people into the game is not only helpful for EA’s bottom-line, but also for gamers: once the total number of kill across both versions of the game reaches 43 million, the company is going to unlock a new map called Coral Sea that will focus on dog fighting and a new, undisclosed game mode. The PC version will be released with Coral Sea and this additional game mode already unlocked, though mod support is not currently planned.

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One of the things the company has worked on to bring back is dog fighting. “The jets in Battlefield 2 didn’t lend themselves well to dog fighting. But dog fighting was an important element of World War II that we wanted to make sure we included,” said Lui. “The planes have been brought back, but we’ve made tweaks to the flying. But that doesn’t mean that flying won’t take skill.”

I was able to get behind the cockpit of one of the games planes very briefly during my demo of Wake Island and I had a good time taking it to the air. It wasn’t as complicated before, but when I encountered an enemy in the air, it was clear that I wasn’t yet skilled enough when he dove underneath me, turned around, and blew me up from behind without me ever seeing him again. On the ground, the game played looked and felt like the Battlefield gameplay that I’ve come to expect.

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My biggest success on the ground came when I helped one of my dogfighters take out an enemy aircraft he was pursuing with the anti-aircraft guns, earning both of us points that contribute to your overall ranking at the end of the match. This inclusion was part of a goal to update and modernize the Battlefield 1942 gameplay. “Everything you take for granted in other shooters, we’ve added in here,” said Lui. That means, better score keeping that tracks assists and destructible environments, which should please most gamers.

Battlefield 1943 should please gamers when it becomes available later this summer. It takes the gameplay that made the Battlefield series popular in the first place and modernizes it, taking advantage of the advancements multiplayer first-person shooters have made in the last 5 years and seamlessly integrates them into the game. While only three maps and three classes seem very limited, I won’t be surprised when this becomes one of the best-selling games on XBL and the PSN.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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