Battlefield 1943 Updated Hands-On - Running, Gunning, and Dogfighting

We see everything there is to see in this downloadable first-person shooter from DICE.

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Since its inception in 2002, the Battlefield series has undergone a number of fairly dramatic evolutions. It has made wide jumps from historical to futuristic settings, while adding a heavy emphasis on storytelling to a franchise that once boasted AI-controlled bots as its sole single-player offering. The next entry in the series is Battlefield 1943, a game that will circle back to those early roots as you return to World War II in a fight between US Marines and Imperial Japanese. The action is classic Battlefield through and through, but a number of departures from previous games make for a fresh take on that familiar formula. With the game's release right around the corner, we played several online matches on all the maps to see everything there was left to see in this upcoming first-person shooter.

Guadalcanal feels like the most expansive of the traditional maps.
Guadalcanal feels like the most expansive of the traditional maps.

Battlefield 1943 feels like a hybrid of the original Battlefield 1942 and the series' most recent entry, Bad Company. The retro feeling comes from the setting and overall style of gameplay: you go at it by land, air, and sea with WWII-era weapons and vehicles on a number of famous islands from that war's Pacific theater. However, 1943 will first be released on consoles in the form of a $15 downloadable title available on both Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Network. With that console focus, it shares an important trait with Bad Company, the first game in the series developed exclusively for consoles. But they also share the Frostbite game engine, so all the destruction (collapsing buildings, trees, and so on) that Bad Company was known for will also be present in 1943.

1943's $15 price tag will get you a pretty robust overall package, with matches that offer support for up to 24 players. The game comes with four island-themed maps--three that offer the traditional Conquest gameplay mode and one that does something altogether different. The three standard maps are Wake Island, Iwo Jima, and Guadalcanal. Wake Island is the most straightforward of the bunch, with relatively flat terrain and short distances between each of the five flags that teams fight over. On the other side of the spectrum is Guadalcanal, which feels much more expansive. The main island in Guadalcanal is filled with winding roads, steep hills, and some dense wilderness areas, making it a very sniper-friendly map that requires careful movement and a heavy dependence on vehicles.

The fourth map is something of an added treat that a lone DICE developer managed to create on his own time. The team liked it so much that they wound up keeping it in the game as an unlockable bonus. It's called Coral Sea and it's strictly for dogfighting in airplanes. There are enough fighter planes for all 24 players--as opposed to the small handful on the standard maps--and the challenge is to chase other players in the sky and shoot them down with your machine guns. It's a huge map with a bunch of exotic islands that offer the opportunity to fly through rock rings like a stunt pilot (and it definitely makes you scratch your head that DICE managed to make such a nice-looking game that only clocks in at a 560-meg download). Coral Sea will be locked until the total number of kills on either platform reaches 43 million, at which point the map becomes unlocked for everyone to play.

You are given a choice of three classes, each with its own primary, alternate, and melee weapons. There's the rifleman, who comes equipped with a rifle, a grenade launcher attachment, and a bayonet; the infantry soldier, who has a submachine gun, a bazooka, and a wrench; and the scout, who uses a sniper rifle, a pistol, and a sword. The latter class also forgoes grenades in favor of remote charges, which come in handy against tanks or as makeshift roadside bombs on the enemy's favorite jeep routes.

The maps are expansive, but you generally won't be wandering around looking for stuff to do because there's always a turret gun, vehicle, or sniper hideout nearby. Options for violent mayhem include .50-cal machine guns, antiaircraft guns, air-raid stations that let you call in and control an airstrike, and just hitching a ride on a jeep and getting on the turret. The only time we did much wandering was when we played as a sniper and went exploring the thick foliage in search of the best hiding spot.

We had a great time with Battlefield 1943. The overall package seems like a rock-solid value at $15. The game should be released very shortly, though no official date has been given by EA. Similarly up in the air is the PC version, which is slated to arrive in September but has yet to be given a price. Stay tuned for more on that front.

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