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Battlefield 1943 Review (Xbox Live Arcade)

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In the beginning of their respective console launches, XBOX Live Arcade had Geometry Wars while the Playstation Network had Super Stardust HD; two extremely addictive retro inspired shooters that gave gamers an accessible, more casual way to spend their gaming time in lieu of the pricey retail releases that were available at the time. Due to their comparatively low budgets in relation with retail releases, these titles relied on time tested rock solid gaming fundamentals to get the job done and in doing so, earned a deserved myriad of critical praise in the process.

Fast forward to 2009 and this time it is EA and developer DICE who are reaching back into the past of their own portfolio with which to draw inspiration for their latest digital download release; Battlefield 1943.

A simultaneous remake and streamlining of DICE’s inaugural 2002 FPS Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 1943 cuts out most of the maps, the single-player mode and classes from the original; sorry medic-lovers, no slacking and handing out med-packs like candy to rack up the points. Instead the title boasts only four maps and just three classes; rifleman, infantryman and scout. Battlefield vets may well balk at the lack of features on offer here, but it is important to remember that this is not a full-retail release and even though it’s attractive visuals may say otherwise; this still remains a £9.99 digital download that was created with casual play in mind.

This being a Battlefield title the objectives remain as timelessly compelling and simple as they always were; capture and hold checkpoints at key locations and structures whilst you whittle down the opposing forces numbers to zero using a variety of classes, vehicles and gun emplacements to do so.

The maps which are available with the title are to be frank, some of the best and most memorable maps that made Battlefield 1942 the accomplished multiplayer experience that it was in the first place. Focusing on the World War II Pacific theatre of war, Guadalcanal, Wake Island and Iwo Jima are all present and rendered with modern technology in glorious HD-o-vision. In addition to these three classic maps, there is a fourth map; Coral Sea that became unlocked when the community achieved a total of 43 million kills over all the games played. Unfortunately, this map stands as a wasted opportunity since it can only be played with the cumbersome airplanes in mind and completely fails to leverage the main strengths of the game.

Of the three classes you can choose from, the rifleman is the anti-infantry specialist; boasting good ol’ iron sights aiming with his M4 carbine rifle and a launchable grenade from the rifle itself, this is certainly the class of choice for hunting down lone enemy soldiers and engaging in medium to long range fire fights.

The infantryman gives a fairly good account of himself against soldiers too, with a short range automatic gun that whilst not terribly accurate, can make short work of an unsuspecting foe that places too much stock in latter accuracy issue. Ultimately however, the primary strength of this class is its anti-tank capabilities. Boasting a rocket launcher capable of destroying a tank in three hits and any other vehicle in one, this class is the one to be feared if you’re rolling around in anything but your own two legs. With that in mind however, there is much skill needed in firing the rocket at long distances as the rocket itself is launched in an arc which can sometimes be difficult to predict. Kudos and personal satisfaction await those who make a well-aimed rocket kill, especially when cheekily hitting aircraft is concerned.

Finally we come to the scout; the oddity of the bunch. Equipped with a very long range sniper rifle, the scout class can pick off long range targets with ease, gaining instant kills with headshots and near-kills with body shots. In addition to this, the scout can also lay hugely explosive ‘det packs’ which can be used to trap an area or, as many scout players have learnt to do already, destroy any vehicle with a single explosion. To do so however takes an equal measure of skill and stupidity, as you quite literally have to run up to the vehicle in question plant the pack, step back and detonate – running the risk of being seen and gunned down in the process.

In addition to these classes, players can also ride in and take control of a number of gun emplacements and vehicles including jeeps, tanks, landing craft and airplanes. The tank and jeep are both great fun and easy to drive and by allowing multiple players to ride in each they can often make the difference between a successful offensive and failed charge on an enemy position. The airplanes though, are a different and much trickier proposition altogether however. Turning relatively sluggishly and moving at high speeds, these winged devils are a nightmare to control, but those that take the time to preserve can be a real threat in any given match; caving in buildings and ground vehicles with bombs and strafing unsuspecting soldiers with due aplomb.

In addition to these vehicles, wanton mayhem and carnage can also be inflicted on the enemy through the clever use of smartly placed gun emplacements and the radio bunker. The former comes in two varieties (AA and Anti-Infantry) and allows you to shoot down airplanes and mow down soldiers respectively. The latter however, is a radio bunker which may be used every two minutes or so by either team and allows the player to guide a formation of slow moving bombers over the battlefield, quite literally carpet bombing everything not friendly into the middle of next week with instant death bombs that can ruin entire base complexes, vehicles and infantry immediately. Like the airplanes however, these slow moving airborne juggernaughts are susceptible to anti-aircraft fire and the attacks of other airplanes, thereby making the use of these bunkers a gambit which may or may not pay off depending on how switched on the other team are with their anti-aircraft capabilities.

On the topic of explosions and general devastation, Battlefield 1943 employs the impressive Frostbite engine that was showcased in 2008’s Battlefield: Bad Company. The greatest perk of this engine is simply the wholesale destruction of structures that it allows and the inherent shrewd play that such a mechanic invariably encourages. Cornered in a building and need a quick exit? Simple, just blow a hole in the side of the building and escape. Need to get at somebody who is camping nice and secure in a building? Just bring down the structure around them and problem solved.

Fortunately however, there are a number of structures (pillboxes, wrecked ships, bunkers) which are safe from such destruction and this serves to balance things out somewhat. It is this impressive technology however that lends Battlefield 1943 its high class, high budget retail looks, with the old clunky maps, vehicles and environments of yesteryear brought bang up to date with impressive flair and aesthetic impact.

This game could be and has been mistaken for a retail title countless times; its impressive visual veneer however is merely the icing on a much larger, more accessible experience that effortlessly raises the bar that we expect from digitally distributed titles.

As cautious and restrained as this title appears with its light feature set, it is in its pleasingly robust fundamentals that it arguably achieves its greatest victory; players all gleefully rushing for vehicles at the start, flags getting raised and people, vehicles and buildings all involved in chaotic conflict – it is the quintessential Battlefield experience, tempered with the ideology of accessibility and in doing so DICE have created one of the best downloadable titles to date on any format.

Now with that mission complete, it’s time to for DICE to report back to base and bring on the DLC.

Highly recommended.

Overall Score: 9.0

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Written by bitsnark

September 11, 2009 at 4:09 pm

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