Saving Private Ryan was easily one of the best war films ever. Spielberg and Hank’s realistic depiction of the Normandy campaign was shocking and moving at the same time. Never before had anyone recreated such an accurate portrayal of what war is really like. Predictably, the game industry latched onto this new approach to combat. Thus, World War 2 games spewed forwards, but like the Medal of Honor series, they never got the balance between realism, fun and cinematics right. No game has managed to get it completely right yet, but I believe that Battlefield 1942 is the best attempt to date.
The infamous Tiger
Unlike almost every other WW2 game, Battlefield 1942 has no story and no lead character. You can play the maps in any order and fight as either Allies or Axis. Put simply, it’s a multiplayer, multi-vehicular, first person shooter. Here, the emphasis is on fun, team play and scale, not set on realism. 64 players (or bots) can fight on the vast levels, driving tanks, ships, submarines, APCs, cars, planes and anything else they can get their hands on.
Battlefield 1942 is split up into single player and multiplayer, although they are essentially the same. The bulk of the game – Conquest mode – sees opposing teams fighting for control of stationary flags, which can be captured and re-captured by either army. Players can then spawn at captured flags. Attached to this is the game’s ticket system. Both forces start with a number of tickets, and this decreases every time someone is killed, and also when the enemy is in possession of more flags than you. Some maps require one team to capture more than half the flags to win, whilst others need all of the flags to be held to be victorious. It may sound complicated when written down, but in-game, it’s quite simple. There are other gameplay modes, but these are less popular. Capture The Flag is the same as in every other multiplayer game, but the addition of vehicles does make it more exciting – more on those later. Team Deathmatch is also self explanatory, a staple game-type in FPSs.
Most of the maps are huge, so walking everywhere would take ages without other means of transport. Thankfully DICE – the developer – has given us a vast amount of choice when it comes to transportation. Do I take a tank or a plane? A battleship or a submarine? An APC or a landing craft? The choice is yours. Before I slap myself for using such an unoriginal cliché, let’s go over infantry. There are five classes to choose from – scout, assault, medic, engineer and anti-tank – each which have unique weapons and skills. Which all these weapons and vehicles, you’d think it would be unbalanced in some way, but it’s the opposite.
Battlefield 1942 is really an enormous game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Take this as an example: your enemy swoops down in his plane and kills your teammate, but you jump into the AA gun and take him out. Like Rock, Paper, Scissors, each weapon has its pros and cons, but ultimately it all balances out. Tanks can kill infantry easily, but anti-tank soldiers can get their own back if they’re clever. Planes can destroy most targets, but are vulnerable to AA fire. Likewise, sitting in an anti-aircraft emplacement leaves you open to being picked off by snipers. The result of all this? Team play.
It really is a team game; this is no Quake or Unreal. You have to work together to take and hold objectives – concentrating on raising your kill count will only leave your squad in retreat, surrounded by the opposition. It’s no use if everyone goes as anti-tank troopers because you’ll all get slaughtered – you have to find the right combination to succeed. Whilst playing online, strangers from around the world seamlessly cooperate to secure victory. Sure, there are some who spoil the fun by team-killing, but that happens in every online game. On a side note, in single player the bots’ AI isn’t exactly up to Half-Life standards, but it gets the job done.
What’s so great about the gameplay though, is that every game is different and can change at any point. You could be assaulting some front line trenches, when one of the flags to your rear is captured. You’d have to keep the attacking pressure up whilst dealing with the distraction behind the lines. DICE have designed the maps so that there’s always a route behind the opposing team, so you can sneak up on them. People rarely quit or change team online, as there’s usually some way to turn the tide of the battle.
Predictably the controls are extensive, like most PC games. The default controls are all placed around the ‘W’, ‘A’, ‘S’ and ‘D’ keys, with the option to re-configure the lot. I personally use a joystick to fly, as it’s near-impossible to use the mouse. Everything else can be driven or used with a mouse and keyboard though, so there’s no need to go on a shopping spree buying gamepads, steering wheels and the like. The controls may baffle you at first with the sheer range of actions, but after a week or so, you’ll be fighting like a pro (hopefully).
Battlefield 1942 simply looks stunning. The player and vehicle models are highly detailed, landscapes are totally believable, shadows are convincing and it’s all at a reasonably high frame rate. There aren’t that many animations, but it’s not really a problem considering just how accomplished the rest is. Of course, this all depends on what graphics card you have. With a 64MB chip, the game runs smoothly on low graphics settings, but once you put a 128MB card in, you get the full job. It’s nice to see how the game has been made accessible to those who don’t have top of the range PCs – most games need a 128MB card to run at all. On the back of the box, it says the minimum video card is 32MB, but to be honest, it’s not worth bothering if you only have that. Once you have a decent graphics card though, it’s a visual treat and surprisingly good considering the scale of the game.
Tangent! I don’t usually like EA’s first person shooters as they make Medal of Honor without gore in it to get the rating lowered so more people can buy it. The problem is that this shows that if you kill someone there is no suffering; they just fall asleep. It was like watching Saving Private Ryan, but without the blood. Ridiculous if you ask me, even distasteful and dishonorable. You have to show the realities of war, the consequences of events. The original version of Battlefield 1942 has no blood, but a recent 1.4 patch has added some. It’s not much, but it gives us the necessary realism we need.
Parachuting into Arnhem
Right, back to the game. The audio is also accomplished with all the sounds you’d expect – tanks rolling past, planes soaring overhead, ships’ pounding the shores. Even with a normal set of stereo speakers, you can hear from which direction fire is coming from. Of course once you rig it up with 5.1, it sounds superb, as good as any war film. A nice touch is the low requirements to get highly detailed audio – a standard in-built chip will do. The voices get a bit repetitive, but doesn’t affect the rest of the game that much.
Will you be playing Battlefield 1942 in a month’s time? Definitely. I’ve played it 2-3 times a week for the last 4 months now, dipping in and out of it whenever I feel like it. The reason why it has such good replay value is that no two games are ever the same. So much to do, so many roles to play. Flying a bomber can be completely different to fighting on the ground, clearing trench after trench. There’s something about it that makes it so addictive, but I can’t pin down what. Every time I use my PC I’m temped to go in for a quick game and assault Omaha or bomb Midway. Even whilst writing this review, I’ve gone off for hour long sessions, completely forgetting that I need to write about the game, not play it. Online play is a big plus when it comes to replay value and although 56k users can still play, they’ll be limited to the smaller games out there. Having broadband increases the lifespan as well, as you’ll be able to play with up to 63 other people – a sight you’ve got to see to believe.
Battlefield 1942 is easily the best World War 2 game out there. Running through the streets or up the beaches with planes overhead and tanks rumbling past, it feels like you’re in Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan. It may not be as cinematic or as realistic as the competition, but it sure is fun. With stunning visuals, incredible gameplay and sheer addictiveness, it’s a must have for any FPS junkie. This certainly is PC gaming’s finest hour.