PlayStation 3 gamers have been disgruntled with the console’s downloadable game release schedules and prices for some time, and justifiably so: promised dates for major titles like Fat Princess have slipped without explanation and the cost of some games (albeit ones mainly from third parties) have been disproportionate and poorly balanced. Thankfully, EA, alongside developers DICE, have come along and shown everybody else how digital only game releases should be handled. From the constant flow of information from the official Twitter feed via nicely spaced demonstrations and press events right through to keeping the release date under wraps until everything was absolutely locked into place covering and following Battlefield 1943 has been a pleasure. Getting our hands dirty with the final code yesterday capped everything off.
To qualify our relatively early review of the game, we’re putting this together to let you know exactly how the game works and what we think of the visuals, mechanics and controls. What we can’t do is predict how busy the servers will be this evening or how well they’ll hold up over the next couple of days, but rest assured that yesterday everything was running as smooth as silk and our guys didn’t have a problem getting set up and jumping straight into battle. The game is completely lag-free, voice chat was a pleasure and joining and inviting games, once we realised you don’t do it via the XMB message but via the triangle button in-game, was hassle-free. We had a couple of team games last night amongst ourselves and then against GOON!NE and The Lost Gamer and had a complete blast.
So, assuming that EA’s dedicated network holds up, we can put all the worries and issues that the 360 gamers had yesterday to one side, and let’s go back to the game. To the unfamiliar, and if you haven’t read our hands-on from yesterday, Battlefield 1943 is a pseudo-sequel to Battlefield 1942, a PC-based first person shooter, although one that’s been at the gym and lost most of the fat from it’s older brother. 1943 has been trimmed down to three classes – a long range scout (with sniper rifle and demo charges), a mid range rifleman (with rifle and rocket propelled grenades) and a quicker short range infantryman with hand grenades. Each class carries a couple of weapons along with an alt or a melee, and you can flick between them on the battlefield by picking up the relevant backpack from a downed soldier. Whilst there’s a rank system in place unlike similar games the classes don’t improve their weaponry as they amass points.
The number of levels too has been trimmed – there are now just three Pacific based battlegrounds on which the Americans and Japanese fight it out, and all should be familiar to fans of the previous game: Wake Island, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima. They’ve all had an overhaul with certain sections playing and looking differently and all are superbly tweaked to provide maximum enjoyment over time . Likewise, there’s only one mode of play – the classic Conquest – but as this is the mode that most people play on Battlefield titles anyway we didn’t expect anything else. Conquest involves both teams battling it out for five checkpoints dotted evenly around the map – hold these checkpoints and your flag will raise, and the more flags you have hoisted over the other team the faster their reserves will run dry. It works a little like the highway races on Tokyo Challenge, although I’ve probably even lost more people by saying that – essentially this isn’t a team deathmatch game but one where you need to co-ordinate attacks and hold positions to win.
Microphones, then, are a must. Whilst you can set markers (that will appear on the HUD of your teammates) and on-screen text prompts will alert others when your character can see an enemy soldier, vehicle or airplane, to properly succeed as a team you’ll need to be headset-equipped. The few games we had last night were much more successful when we all communicated, so invest in one this morning before the game releases this afternoon and we’ll all love you much more for it. Whilst there’s no official clan support you can hold private games and you can set up groups within each team, in which you’ll be able to hear everyone in your particular section. You can also jump into any game and then opt to wait for an open group, at which point the game will bounce you right in – you can also opt to respawn at your group should you take a bullet, so DICE have ticked all the right boxes for keeping the gameplay flowing. If you’re not restarting at your group you can spawn at any of your captured strongholds.
Movement is slick and precise, and there’s a brief tutorial that’ll get you used to the various FPS commands, although you shouldn’t have any problem. Aiming and movement are non-acceleration based so you can flick the stick around and your character will respond immediately – likewise your soldier can jump, crouch and sprint and everything is intuitive enough to not really require the in-game instructions. Everything can be configured in the menus and y-axis are individually assignable to both vehicles and on-foot controls, along with the sensitivity. One tip though – swap the flight controls to southpaw if you’re right handed, the game defaults to steering the heavy WWII fighters with the right stick despite using that particular bit of the controller for the camera view in everything else the game does and southpaw will assign it back to the left stick. The planes are initially heavy and cumbersome, but you’ll soon get the hang of them – no such problems with the tanks, jeeps and boats – they’re just dreamy.
The three maps (with the dogfight-only fourth map to be unlocked later) all feature various elements key to success. Naturally there’s plenty of water for the boats, but you’ll find roads, huts, canyons, AA-guns and trenches from which to plan your assaults with your other 11 team members. Most objects are destructable (1943 uses the Frostbite engine) although most of these appear slightly pre-canned rather than generated on the fly as per Red Faction Guerrilla. There’s also one bomb-run control center usually in the middle of the map near the most hotly contended stronghold – capture that and you’ll be able to command three bombers as they approach the map and let loose devastating payloads on your enemies, all accompanied by a stirring air-raid siren. Naturally then the centre stronghold is the one that most of your efforts (and that of the other team) will be based around, although the flag points aren’t numbered like in Modern Combat so you’ll need to learn the names of each one if you want to alert your friends to something in a particular zone.
Battles ebb and flow with a refreshing sense of pace and unpredictability – unlimited ammo certainly helps (although you still need to reload) and the level design excels – as long as your team can still spawn you’re still in with a chance and the inclusion of the fighter planes (with parachute equipped ejector seats) means that a war isn’t won until your last points are up. Battlefield 1943 might not be the prettiest game (the edges are a little rough and aliased and there are glitches here and there) but in terms of scope it’s a great achievement – the PS3 version appears a little washed out compared to the 360 release but there’s little in it and as we said when there’s a big battle raging the last thing you should be worried about is the resolution of a texture. DICE have done a great job with this game, we’re delighted with how it’s turned out and Liam’s already working on the community aspect of it – something we’ll be getting right behind here on TheSixthAxis. For a tenner this is an absolute no-brainer – an utterly wonderful online fighter and one that shouldn’t be missed by anyone.