War is hell. A notion developer Dice conveyed admirably during the first few days after Battlefield 1943’s release. Plagued by connection difficulties, frequent freezing and lag spikes reminiscent of the dial-up era, it was a launch as smooth as the charred carcass of a derelict tank.
That didn’t hinder players from accumulating twenty-nine years worth of warfare during the first twenty-four hours though. And as the echoes of connection-related frustration drown beneath the dull thunder of distant machine gun fire and a poorly piloted plane diving into a mountainside, satisfaction should replace resentment.
Because Dice’s efforts to migrate the popular Battlefield franchise to console are inarguably laudable. Stripping 1942 down to a slicker, slender version of its former self, the changes are titanic but never detrimental. With only four maps, three classes, and two game types, those looking for a profound personal experience should search elsewhere. 1943 is little more than an instant, immersive, and refined Battlefield designed for a new generation of online gamer.
The only reference to it’s PC heritage is the lack of automatic lock on. It makes few concessions to those lacking in the ability to aim for themselves, but it’s a reasonable omission, one that heightens the thrills of sniping or well placed rifle shots without ever feeling particularly missed.
As far as gameplay goes it’s America versus Japan over and over. Matches see teams of twelve fighting for control over five key areas of the map. Controlling these areas and their flags prevents your teams respawn bar from dropping quickly whilst causing the opposing teams to drop faster. Matches are won when either teams bar depletes. Straightforward enough.
The only other game mode is Air Superiority. Played on a separate map, Coral Sea, it’s a purely aerial mode in which players take to the skies to battle over one flag. Or so it suggests. The reality is Air Superiority documents the battle fought against acute lag, lengthy plane respawn times, and idiotic pilots contempt with the 20-point bonus achieved from kamikaze piloting directly into you. It’s a great concept (Air Superiority not the kamikaze) but one that would undoubtedly benefit from smaller teams and quicker respawns (or at least respawning players on the ship with the planes sat waiting rather than the empty one…) At the moment it’s difficult to appreciate but as an added community unlocked level it’s reasonably enjoyable, if fleetingly so.
Utilising Bad Company’s Frostbite engine, 1943 makes good use of its full-scale destructibility. Precious little can stand tall in the wake of a tank and trees, fences, and buildings crumble quickly under air strikes or grenades leaving the battlefield a charred and derelict ruin by the time the round concludes. It’s an aesthetic at odds with the blue sky, dazzling sun, and golden sand visuals that set Battlefield apart from the standard monochrome brand of shooter but together they’re arresting throughout. More importantly though, it means snipers flinching atop a wooden tower stand little chance of prolonged existence should a tank shell or well placed rifle grenade detonate within a three meter radius of them.
In fact there’s little clustering the simplicity and ease the game abides by. Ammo is infinite and the penalty for running dry on grenades or rockets is a short wait; within thirty seconds they’re back in your arsenal. The ranking system is purely prestigious as well. The three classes offered at the start remain the only three available throughout. The rifle class pits you with a rifle, bayonet, and rifle grenade perfect for short to medium range but almost entirely useless against vehicles. The sniper class is great for long distant kills and the pistol makes for a fairly powerful close quarters weapon but anything in between is likely to land you back at the respawn screen. Finally the SMG class is reasonably useful up close but more practical for dispatching tanks thanks to the bundled bazooka. There are no perks, no unlockable weapons, and no costumes. Each faction has different weapons but they perform identically; the distinction is purely aesthetic.
Vehicles are similar by premise. Both sides are outfitted with tanks, jeeps, boats, and planes and all serve worthwhile causes. Planes take a certain degree of skill to pilot, even more so to use efficiently, but they can rule a match at the hands of a competent pilot (though few exist, most can be witnessed inexplicably piloting directly into the ocean or a mountainside, the horrors of war taking their toll presumably). Tanks and jeeps make for quick transport and aid in the capturing of particularly well defended flags. There’s also an air raid that becomes available routinely from a bunker on each map. Entering the bunker allows you control of three bombers, extremely slow to manoeuvre but capable of amassing vast numbers of kills, they’re a much fought after prize and it’s no rare occurrence to see groups of two or three players huddled inside the doorway waiting for the raid to regenerate or a deftly placed grenade to find them first.
Battlefield’s quality is born out of an expertly crafted balance. No one vehicle or weapon feels too powerful. Players that find themselves overwhelmed at one location can opt to spawn at another and maps are designed to allow for all types of play; snipers can set up camp with a bag of marshmallows atop a mountain or tower, whilst morons with the SMG can run around as bait. Pilots can rule the sky until a grounded player mounts an anti air turret and tanks can dominate until a devious player unleashes a stick of C4.
It’s a modest offering, but one that is so refined and perfected that the £9.99 asking price is far from excessive. The only doubt that lingers is how long the three maps can remain compelling, and how long before the inevitable premium content begins trickling out from Dice headquarters?
For now, not soon enough.