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GENRE: Action
PLAYERS:   1-24
Q3 2009
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 Written by Troy Matsumiya  on July 24, 2009

Review: Banzai!

Battlefield 1942 holds a special place in the hearts of shooter fans for its insanely fun multiplayer battles and popularizing the intense Conquest game mode. Seven years after its release, console gamers can now relive those fond memories (or check out what they've been missing) as Swedish developer DICE's classic game is remade as Battlefield 1943 ? and you don't even need to open your disk tray to play it.

Battlefield 1943 raises the bar ? heck, launches it into the stratosphere ? for what a downloadable game can be. This is no wussy dumbed-down 2D side-scroller; this is a high-quality 3D first-person shooter worthy of a retail box release. Similar to how The Lost and Damned downloadable expansion pack for Grand Theft Auto IV redefined our expectations for premium add-on content, so too does Battlefield 1943 set a new standard for Xbox Live Arcade games.

Having said that, some compromises were made to keep the file size and price reasonable. The game only focuses on three islands in the Pacific theater: Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Wake Island and the bonus Coral Sea, which is designed solely for air combat and was unlocked when gamers racked up a cumulative 43 million kills. You can't fight in Europe or the Eastern Front but don't be surprised if both DICE and EA have premium downloadable maps in the pipeline.

Each map will be intimately familiar to Battlefield 1942 vets, though they are not exact recreations of the originals. The biggest change results from the destructible environments courtesy of DICE's exquisite Frostbite engine (which powered last year's Battlefield: Bad Company). Trees, wooden buildings, concrete blocks, fences, sandbags ? most of what you see can be shot up, blown up or crushed by a vehicle, so cowardly campers beware! Some buildings like the concrete bunkers by capture points are indestructible, so you are not entirely without protection.

And all that destruction is beautiful to look at. Graphics are stunning for an XBLA game with impressive detail, lighting and shadow effects, and of course big fiery explosions. The graphical quality is so close to a full-sized retail title you likely won't be able to notice the difference. The sound effects are excellent too, with loud explosions and gunfire, though not up to the aural assault of Call of Duty. The voice work is especially lacking, with only a few warnings about grenades and some cries of pain.

Gameplay is classic Battlefield Conquest, where the US Marines and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) fight to capture key map positions (marked by flags bearing the holding team's nationality) which turn into new spawn points for your team. If a team loses all capture points on the island they will spawn at an indestructible permanent home base, like an offshore aircraft carrier.

A ticket system runs down with each death; if your team runs out of tickets first, you lose. Needless to say, battles are focused around the all important capture points and are both intense and crazy fun. Note that Conquest mode is the only gametype available; there is no deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag or anything else.

The wide variety of soldier classes that the Battlefield franchise is known for had to be trimmed down to a more manageable size but don't worry; all of your favorite weapons are still here. Many classes were combined together, so the Infantryman carries a SMG, a tank-busting recoilless rifle, grenades and a wrench that can be used to repair vehicles or bust open enemy heads. The Rifleman carries a semi-automatic rifle, rifle grenades, hand grenades and a nasty bayonet. The Scout has a sniper rifle, pistol, sword and an explosive pack that can be detonated at will. Since everyone has regenerative health and unlimited ammo, there is no need for medic, support or commander classes. Some may decry the reduced classes but while the numbers are down, each class is much more versatile and accessible to new players. As you might expect, each soldier uses period accurate weaponry but you nitpicky types will notice a glaring exception with the Japanese Scout. According to DICE:

?The IJN are using a German K98 [sniper rifle] instead of an Arisaka. This choice was made not out of ignorance but rather because of budget constraints and we could not afford to build the correct rifle. We had a German rifle and had to go with it.?

Of course, you won't notice or care if someone is carrying the wrong weapon because you'll be too busy running for cover and mowing down enemies. The pace is fast, furious and loads of fun.

It wouldn't be Battlefield without vehicles, and 1943 doesn't disappoint with a three-person jeep with a mounted machinegun, a two-person tank and a fighter plane. The vehicles have some odd controls ? the left trigger is the accelerator while the left bumper is the brake ? but you get used to it quickly. The real challenge is with the aircraft. True to the franchise, the fighter planes handle realistically and can be difficult to control. This seems like an odd choice since the soldiers are more arcade-like with regenerative health and unlimited ammo, so it would have made sense to provide more arcade-like plane controls. As it stands, it will take a lot of practice to get good in the planes (heck, it takes a lot just to avoid crashing within the first few seconds) but when you do, you will provide invaluable support for your team by strafing and bombing enemy positions, and shooting down enemy fighters and bombers.

Yup, you can call in bombers to plaster enemy positions but beware that they (along with your fighters) can be shot down by anti-aircraft cannons.

The game supports up to 24 players over Xbox Live and is online multiplayer only; sorry, there is no single-player campaign and no offline multiplayer. The game suffered from nasty connection issues and lag during its first week due to overwhelming response from gamers ? basically, it was a victim of its own success. DICE scrambled for days to add new servers and to their credit, the connection issues are now gone. Some lag still remains with distant enemies teleporting around, but this is only an occasional occurrence.

You can form your own four-player squad to better communicate with each other and coordinate your tactics. Being in a squad also means you will spawn close to your squadmates after you die. As with all multiplayer shooters, the team that communicates and coordinates will conquer the team of lone wolf individuals doing their own thing, so needless to say this is a handy (but sadly underutilized) feature.

Bottom Line
Overall, Battlefield 1943 successfully condenses down to the essentials what makes the franchise fun. Sure, it doesn't add anything new and is limited to four maps (one of which is strictly for air combat), three classes and one gametype. But for only $15 and with additional maps likely on their way, it's a must-have for shooter fans everywhere.

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