• Battlefield 1943 Review Microsoft Xbox360 XBLA

    Battlefield 1943 takes the popular first-person shooter series and brings it to console download services for the first time, whilst also returning the setting to World War 2. For this release DICE have chosen the Pacific region for the field of engagement and the player is treated to a rather more attractive set of locales than the typical crater-strewn European landscapes. Ranging from the beautiful blue sea surrounding Wake Island, to the moody, orange-tinted skyline of Iwo Jima and the imposing rocky heights of Guadal Canal, the game is consistently impressive in the visual department. This same level of polish is evident throughout and, barring a few rough edges Ė such as the rigid, unconvincing way the transport boats cut through the water Ė youíd be hard pushed to tell this apart from a full, retail release.

    This is because DICE have taken their Frostbite engine, used by the main entries in the franchise, and simply packaged it up with a small collection of WW2-themed maps. Thanks to this, the game includes features like the fairly huge draw distance, which makes it possible to render virtually the entire map on screen without any hint of slowdown, and the ability to destroy practically any of the buildings and structures you'll come across. So, if that tree is in the way of your tank rush, knock it down; if thereís a group of enemies heavily entrenched in some buildings hindering your advance, blow the wall up with a rocket launcher; and if those snipers hidden away in that copse of trees are causing you a problemÖ Well, you get the idea. Buildings do break apart in a somewhat simplified manner but in reality this has no adverse effect on what is a very enjoyable mechanic that encourages a highly aggressive, mobile style of play.

    1943 is an online-only experience, with a single objectives-based mode for two teams of twelve. Each team has a health bar which is decreased through a combination of deaths and ownership of the five control points that are scattered throughout each map being lost to opponents. The concept works well, with the objectives lending a much-needed focus to proceedings, but itís the map design that lets things down. An issue that is only exacerbated by the fact that there are so few of them.

    Of the three main maps, Iwo Jima is easily the standout: an elongated island with a hilltop base placed at one end and a radar station that can be used to call in the truly devastating air strikes at the other. This layout channels the combat nicely into the no manís land in the middle of the map. Guadal Canal is something of a mixed bag, featuring a well designed bowl area with a number of overlooking control points that require teamwork between all three of the classes to dominate. However, the rest of the map feels like an afterthought, with no effort put into spreading the conflict zones evenly across the topography, resulting in a rather lop-sided affair. Then thereís Wake Island, which is nothing more than a horseshoe with control points scattered at regular intervals; thereís little real thought gone into it and it fails to provide much variety from one game to the next.

    There is a fourth map, Coral Sea, which is quite different in that it features just the aircraft, with players dog fighting for ownership of a single control point at the centre of the map. There are a couple of islands which can be used to help lose pursuers, but itís a token gesture and, more often than not, games simply end up as a hectic scrum in the middle. While the developers have done a fantastic job of balancing the planesí effectiveness in the rest of the game through a control scheme that takes real skill to effectively target ground-based units, in particular infantry, the actual mechanics of plane-on-plane combat are not terribly compelling. Once the novelty wears off (which doesnít take long) Coral Sea wonít be seeing much action from the majority of players.

    Itís not uncommon for first-person shooters on consoles to lack a server browser, instead choosing to dump players into a match of the gameĎs choosing based on its own set of heuristics and this is the route 1943 takes. Typically, games opting for this approach will offer some kind of map rotation or player voting so you donít end up repeating the same arena over and over, but, despite having only 3 real maps, 1943 doesnĎt do any of this, which is a frankly baffling decision. You might want a quick round on Guadal Canal but if the game decides you are going to play 5 games in a row on Wake Island then thatís just tough.

    At the end of the day, no matter how polished, or technically impressive the release is itís no real substitute for actual content. Thereís only effectively 3 maps on offer, 1 of which isnít even any good, and the only significant difference between the 3 character classes is their most effective killing range. DICE does deserve to be commended for doing a great job at balancing the sniper class on such wide, open maps, but, again, it still doesnĎt make up for what is predominantly a rather bland experience. The game really doesnít have the kind of depth needed to make up for such a woefully inadequate degree of content. Most control points have a couple of entrances that need to be protected, the idea being that skilful teams can sneak up back routes and catch the defenders unawares, but the layout of these is rudimentary at best. And, if anything, itís a little too hard to defend some areas. More often than not the most effective strategy is merely to assault the nearest enemy control point and, once thatís captured, repeat the process. This is all well and good in short bursts but it lacks staying power.

    Then thereís the online community. Every game will attract a variety of players at different skill levels, but it seems 1943 has attracted some of the most singularly uncooperative of the lot. All too often youíll see team mates jump into a 3-seater jeep only to drive off leaving others stranded on foot. Even if you do manage to get into a passenger seat thereís no assurance that the driver can tell their left from their right. The first time one of your comrades drives the tank you are sitting in off the edge of a cliff and spends the next 2 minutes trying and failing to disengage it from a tank trap on the beach below youíll laugh, but after the fourth or fifth time it starts to lose its charm. This is an issue that particularly affects the planes, as it seems every player wants to nab them rather than leaving them for the more qualified pilots on the team. The real problem is that 1943 does little in terms of its HUD design to promote greater teamwork between players. The only concession on this front being the ability to spawn alongside your fellow squad members instead of at a friendly control point, a good idea again held back by the rest of the framework as, unless playing with some friends, itís not uncommon to spend entire rounds sitting in an empty squad by yourself.

    Battlefield 1943 is technically very well made, with high production values and a solid online infrastructure that can easily host 24 players without any problems. Great as this is for the first 3-4 hours, though, itís not long before the monotony sets in. There simply isnít enough variety here to keep you coming back, and being an Xbox Live Arcade release is no excuse. The other FPS offerings on the service will offer much longer and more satisfying experiences than this.

    First person shooter
    Electronic Arts
    Xbox 360
    -High-quality visuals.
    -Solid server setup.
    -Well-balanced vehicles.
    -Dirth of content and replayability.
    -Questionable level design quality.
    -Weak team integration.

    Score: 5/10