It’s becoming something of a pleasant trend to greet each new summer with the release of a new Battlefield title. Last year’s Bad Company provided a solid, if brief distraction from the online juggernauts of Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3, yet a year on and the Xbox 360 has been in dire need of a new online FPS to refresh the Live experience, and reunite online friends and adversaries alike. Although scaled down to such an extent it could be compared with the recent Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, Battlefield 1943 succeeds in elaborating upon the core mechanics its predecessor laid out. Not bad for an Arcade game.
Moving away from what we’ve come to expect from Battlefield titles, 1943 comes as more of a direct sequel to the first instalment in the franchise. As you may expect from a stripped down version retailing at 1200 Microsoft points, just three maps and three player classes are available in the initial release, however the sheer size of each means you’ll likely be discovering new trenches, secret paths and places to nosedive aeroplanes for the coming months; this truly is Battlefield taken back to basics, and the wisest move EA could have made for the series’ future on consoles.
For anybody who has played a Battlefield game before, you’re going to immediately feel at home with the sole game type; two teams battling it out over gigantic terrains with the objectives of capturing the various zones on the maps, whilst aiming to force the opposite team to use all their respawns before you. Whether you’re the type of player who enjoys camping it out with a sniper rifle from a distance, or a hot headed infantry on a mission to capture a zone then you’re always contributing to the bigger picture – there is no time limit. The prospect of only having three solider classes to master may leave some feeling a little underwhelmed, however the range of vehicles combined with the spontaneous nature of twenty four players being left to their own devices with a varied but limited range of weaponry ensures there’s enough potential to interchange for it to take time to master, yet not overwhelmingly so; after all is there really any need for five different types of pistol?
The developers have recognised that providing a small enough amount of content to make the game respectable for download could make 1943 a flash-in-the-pan experience for some, so the Coral Sea challenge provides some light at the end of the tunnel. This unique challenge sees the entire community encouraged to keep playing until a total of 43 million global kills are reached, when the fourth map, Coral Sea is unlocked. Although this only brings the total number of environments up to four, it would be very out of character for EA to not release any expansionary downloadable content in the future. The dreaded micro transaction is becoming a thorn in many gamers’ side, yet considering this could have been a fully fledged £40 release given a generic and unwanted single player with a handful of extra maps, Battlefield 1943 could be one instance where this culture becomes economically acceptable.
Although many lesser informed gamers may wonder why they should be prised away from their precious Call of Duty, both on foot and vehicle movement has far greater relation to Halo 3 than any other 360 online shooter. Like in Halo multiplayer, it’s difficult to go for sole glory thanks to the slow paced strategic emphasis as opposed to Call of Duty‘s run-and-gun close quarters nature; no matter how experienced a player you are, there are no perks to save yourself with and unless it’s in a sequence of 1v1 scenarios then arrogance is quickly punished. The same principle applies in vehicular action; tank meets tank, plane meets plane and the circle of life spins on. Most of the buildings seen around the zones are entirely destructable, however the inevitability of it as well as the already open-air nature of play means this only significantly effects close-range combat.
It’s with the vehicles that Battlefield distinguishes itself from the competition best; as enjoyable as the on foot combat is, racing an ally to the newly spawned plane in the hangar to pull off some heroics means it’s incredibly simple to alter your personal game plan even during a single round; one minute it’s an intense cross-map sniper faceoff with an old adversary, then moments later you could be crash landing into their very lair to take one for the team. Each game may incorporate all these opportunities into one, and admittedly you’ve seen all there is to see after a handful of rounds, but it’s the sandbox nature of the warzone that creates those memorable moments that you’ll forever insist on message boards was “the best kill ever!”
One would expect a significant graphical downgrade with an arcade title, Battlefield 1942: HD as it were, yet the game utilises the console’s power to provide presentation which is at least respectable for the current generation; imagine Just Cause meets Rainbow Six: Vegas. The impressive colour palette from the environments and explosions alike are a welcome change from the grey and green we have come accustomed to from shooters of late, all whilst running consistently smooth, no matter how many buildings bit the dust in the last airstrike.
It’s easy to argue that the only reason Battlefield 1943 is receiving such attention is by being the shining light for gamers during the predictably dull summer, yet it provides a solid and refreshing online shooter for the hardcore and casual alike. Whether it has the staying power to survive the releases of Halo 3: ODST and Modern Warfare 2 this winter is ultimately in the developer’s decisions on how far to expand from the core game. For 1200 points though, the majority should feel content with their purchase by the time summer’s twilight comes around. So much for blasting through the backlog through the drought, Xbox Live just came alive again.