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If you skip this review and go straight to the score at the end, you'd probably be surprised. How could a $15 downloadable FPS be good enough for a 5 out of 5? As it turns out, DICE is pretty much a master of their craft, and have created the perfect budget-priced online multiplayer game. The level of simplicity, ease of access, and subtle depth in every match makes for a game that provides exactly what you want from an XBLA or PSN game: straight up, quick fun.
As a guy who isn't very familiar with the Battlefield series, I didn't really know what to expect when I popped into my first match. The first thing I noticed was how amazing looking the game is. 1943 looks about as good as a retail 360 game. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it's safe to call it the best-looking XBLA game ever. The orchestral soundtrack is pretty impressive as well, and I've found myself humming the epic intro song several times over the past week. That says something great about the quality of the song, but it's also a bad thing when random old ladies give you the stink eye because you busted into some impromptu orchestral humming on the elevator.
There's a delicate balance between the three classes in the game. The Rifleman is great for medium to semi-long-range combat, and is doubtless the most effective unit for taking out enemy troops without vehicles. The Infantry unit has a pretty ineffective machine gun, but his rocket launcher is great for taking out tanks. He also has a wrench for a melee weapon that doubles as a tool for repairing damaged vehicles. As a result, Infantry is really only good for driving tanks, as in any other situation a Rifleman would be more effective. The Scout is (of course) the token sniper of this game, but he comes with a few tricks up his sleeve. While his secondary weapon is an incredibly weak pistol, he packs a powerful set of satchel charges that can be attached to nearly anything in the game, and then activated later. This makes for some great strategic opportunities, like lining a bridge with satchels and punching the win button right as an enemy tank rolls over them.
There are only three maps in the game (not including the planes-only map, Coral Sea) but they're all so ridiculously gigantic that it will likely take a while before you're familiar with all of their intricacies and strategic positions. There is only one mode to play with on the three main maps, but it's a good one. Two teams of up to 12 players compete for five different bases (marked by flags) scattered at specific locations across the various Pacific battlefields. Having captured most of the flags and/or getting kills will lower the life bar of the enemy team, and upon emptying it completely you'll have won. Each battle lasts from about 20-30 minutes, and there are no lobbies or significant load times once you've made it into the main menu of the game, so 1943 really sets itself apart as one of those perfect games to play when you've only got a little bit of time to spare.
The vehicles are all pretty fun to control. The tank is an overpowered, slow beast that requires coordination and a couple lucky rockets to take down, the jeep is used mostly for transport but is decent for taking out infantry because of its attached turret, and the boat is really good for getting a sneak landing and taking an unattended-to base. The plane is the only vehicle in the game that will require some serious practice to master, but that makes it that much more rewarding once you finally figure it out. Planes are great for transport, as well, as you can parachute out at any given time. Naturally, there's a sweet chance that you'll get sniped by some jerk as you float to earth, but it's worth it if you can get positioned behind the red guys. The best place to play with the planes is the planes-only map Coral Sea in "Air Superiority Mode," which was unlocked on the 360 only a few days after release. The dogfighting takes a good bit of time to get decent at, but it's almost like having a different game. It's just one more thing that adds to the value of the package as a whole.
During the first couple days of release, several significant server problems caused big time connectivity issues for pretty much everyone that owned the game. I can happily report that at the time of this review, the issues have been completely wiped out as far as I am aware. After 10 hours, 32 minutes of playtime and 311 kills, I can confirm that problems are now rare, especially when compared to before.
Each individual part of Battlefield 1943 has the polish and quality of a full retail game. It definitely doesn't have a ton of maps or options, but it's a $15 online FPS. This game raises the bar for what downloadable games can be, and opens the door for a future that I'm excited for. It sets itself apart by not trying to be the biggest, hottest FPS of the year. Instead, it carves out a small niche for itself and excels in what it sets out to do. There's really nothing more that you could ask for when this game is priced so fairly and offers so much pure fun gameplay. Battlefield 1943 is worth it, clean and simple.
Platform(s):Xbox Live Arcade (reviewed), Playstation Network
Developer:EA Digital Illusions CE