By Joseph Luster
Battlefield 1943, for all its back-to-the-shores World War II familiarity, is the type of online-only game that remains relevant well past its July debut. The entire release is a potent example of the proliferation of quality downloadable titles; a distinction that, many years ago, was lathered with low expectations and even lower prices. For $14.99, however, DICE (who branched out last year with the original IP Mirror’s Edge) has further refined the price-to-content ratio, deploying some truly tight-laced action into the Pacific Theater.
Viewed at face value, the range of options on the main menu are fairly slim. There’s not a whole lot to go through to just jump into a quick game, and as soon as one relatively sprawling match ends, another map loads up, creating a potentially hazardous time-sink that can easily obliterate anywhere from a couple hours to a healthy chunk of the day.
In the battles themselves, the player starts off by choosing between three classes—Infantryman, Rifleman, and Scout—from their designated side: United States Marine Corps or the Imperial Japanese Navy. The differences between each essentially fall on the starting armaments, and preference will depend on whether you’re into long-range sniping or up close and personal ground combat. Whatever the decision, the experience really opens up once it’s made. Vehicles litter the landscape on both ends, from M4 Sherman tanks to jeeps and—something many will be racing for—planes. Don’t trust the power of your vehicle against the opposing team’s rifle grenades? Stay on foot or, if you’re feeling especially bold, man a nearby anti-air gun. There’s a “job” here for everyone.
Like all good games in the genre, 1943 is about the Big Moments. The advantage to this being solely multiplayer really ramps this aspect up, too, because every major event is user-generated. Sure, those heavily scripted sequences in other war games have their own special impact, but did, say, the frantic sinking ship escape in Call of Duty 4 ever compare to the kind of madness that went down online? The excitement here is all about hopping in a tank with a friend (or a stranger, as is often the case), and zipping out of your base just as a group of Zeros go kamikaze mere feet behind you in a startling array of fire and pluming smoke. A lot of the spectacle happens thanks to one of the other 23 players running about, making the prospect of death via collateral damage a constant danger.
One of my personal go-to “moment generators” is Air Superiority mode, which takes place in the skies over the Coral Sea map, doing its best impersonation of the famous battle. What makes this map and mode pairing particularly special, though, is the method by which they were unveiled. In no time at all, Battlefield players collectively reached 43 million kills, effectively unlocking Coral Sea and Air Superiority at the low, low price of a staggering death toll. Whether or not DICE imagined this achievement would happen so quickly, it’s a great carrot and stick approach to getting players out in the thick of it, even if it meant that some may have been focusing more on netting cumulative kills than securing territory for the good of their squad.
As is the case with a lot of multiplayer-centric offerings, there can be a mighty learning curve to it all. This doesn’t just extend to wrestling with the plane controls (which actually don’t take too long to properly finesse), there’s simply going to be a lot of death in your future shortly after booting Battlefield 1943 up for the first time. That rampant, take-no-prisoners beating will continue, well, possibly forever, but not without the balance eventually shifting in your favor as maps become laced in memory. As in all of our world’s great battles, there will be good and bad days, but there are many rewards at the end of the tunnel for those that keep fighting on regardless of how many times they’ve coldly kissed the ground.
Battlefield 1943 isn’t designed to replace the full retail experience, DICE has said as much itself. What it does offer is an easy-access pass to some intense operations in the Pacific Theater campaign, from ground to air and back again with the ferocity of a screaming Zero. While it should come as no surprise, it’s worth noting that the game is still jam-packed and finding a match is as easy as selecting the first option available on the main menu. Hopefully this will continue for a good while, and there’s no better time to hop in than now; hell, maybe we’ll all eventually grind our way to another unlockable map down the road. Either way, the neverending battle will remain just that until the successor to this conflict arises.