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Review: Battlefield 1943

Once again unto the Battlefield, but this time with simplified game mechanics and destructible scenery. Sure it may look pretty, but is there substance hiding behind the looks?

{ Sun 26th July 2009 }

The idea is simple: take the excellent framework of Battlefield 1942 and three of the most popular multiplayer maps that game produced, add in the Frostbite engine used to power Battlefield: Bad Company, simplify the class system and vehicles for a perfect 'jump in and play' style game and sit back and watch the copies fly of the virtual shelves. And the idea worked a charm, except for one tiny little thing that EA and DICE seemed to overlook: if you're planning to sell millions of copies of a multiplayer only game reliant on servers, you better provide enough servers to cope. Only, they didn't provide enough servers, far from it.

Searching for games, please stand by

Anyone who dared try to play the game for its first week of existence will undoubtedly know the painful experience of trying to get a game during that time. The majority of the time would be spent staring at one of two screens, the first telling you it was looking for a game, the second telling you that no games could be found. Your job would be to continually hammer the A button until such times as the game would miraculously stumble upon a server it was willing to connect to (which made this the first FPS I've ever had to use a fight stick to play, thanks to my SFIV TE stick including a turbo function). Not that finally connecting to a game is always a success as you don't have any idea of how laggy it might be until you get in, and the second game I ever joined was pretty horrific.

See one of the big issues is that whilst simplifying the game mechanics is all well and good, DICE seemed to get a little too simplification happy and went to town on the entire thing, including all the menus and any sort of options. The only real way to connect is through the game's Quick Search option, which is a barebones jump into the first thing that comes your way style deal. You can choose to start a squad of four friends and connect from there, but for the first few days this was entirely pointless as it just flat out didn't work, and I'm not sure how reliable it's being even now.

In fact, any sort of attempt to play with friends proved to be quite a tricky task, because even if you do manage to make it into a game together there is a distinct risk that the game will decide between rounds to split you onto opposite teams. Always fun.

It's in the game

So it was a massive pain in the arse to get into games, though gradually that got better (though the "There's issues because you love us too much" phrasing of some of EA's news about that stuff could fuck right off), and so what about the game itself, once you got past the connection bullshit?

For the most part it's actually a very solid game. For anyone remotely familiar with the Battlefield series there will be no real surprises, the game feels exactly as you'd expect. The switch to automatically generating ammo and health, something which raised a few eyebrows when it was announced, and the simplified class system do nothing to dilute that Battlefield experience. In fact, if anything it really does work to aid the 'jump in' feel DICE were aiming for with this title and it certainly doesn't make any of it less fun.

Where the game does start to fall down is some of the odd quirks of gameplay that start to shine through. For example, thanks to the Frostbite engine's ability to provide destructible scenery and buildings the tanks can destroy a lot of shit, and if some little soldier goes hiding inside a building you can level the entire place, but won't do a drop of damage to the soldier in the process (unless you get some odd wall collapse quirk strike that is). In fact, the tanks are almost entirely ineffectual against lone soldiers unless you get very good at aiming the machine gun.

Everything seems to be set up to take on certain other kinds of thing, so planes can destroy tanks without much problem, tanks can destroy jeeps and jeeps can take out soliders, who can take out tanks with their explosives or planes with the AA guns. The problem is it doesn't make a jot of sense when you blast a guy in the face with a tank cannon that he can stand there and shrug it off. Similarly, there's weird issues with damage done to vehicles. Sometimes a tank can survive four or five hits from anti-tank rockets and other tank shells before blowing, but then you'll get times where one hit wipes off 90% of the tank's health.

These weird damage issues also occur with soldier on soldier fighting, with people sometimes taking multiple headshots (such that the game indicates a hit, and shows the head recoiling from it), without really doing anything. This is especially annoying for anyone who tries to play as a sniper as half the time the rifle doesn't register its hits, and when it does the thing isn't necessarily a one hit kill, and over distance doesn't ever seem to be as accurate as the standard bolt-action rifle, which I got far more leverage out of (and a far faster rate of fire).

Bad company?

What it all boils down to is that this is a rather flawed, but potentially excellent game. However, the number of flaws and aggravating issues (which extends to the number of idiots who populate the user base, and include far too many people unable to grasp the rather simple nature of the game, or who camp various spots like the airplane spawn points or the bombing run shelters) tend to out-weigh the potential fun that can be had.

Sure, when the stars align and you finally make it into a game with everyone you tried to join with, when you are actually all put in the same squad on the same team, when the lag isn't bad and hits actually register, and when the game isn't full of complete idiots, there is that pure Battlefield joy to be had. And when it's good it's great. But I found it was good far too infrequently, and coupled with all the other issues and memories of waiting over an hour to finally join a game a few days in I'd had enough of it all.

I know a lot of people are still playing BF1943 and thanks to things seemingly continuing to improve further aren't having too many issues, certainly not when it comes to connections, still, I'd be hard pushed to actually recommend the game to anyone and would be more inclined to suggest they take the game's own frequent message of "Searching for games" to heart and search for something better.