This week marked my somewhat ambivalent return to gaming. After trying WOW for the first time, activating my Dungeons and Dragons Online beta account, and watching my productivity nosedive while my self-loathing spiked, I decided I needed a game that would lead me towards the lifestyle of a "casual gamer." My friend told me he was going to pick up Battlefield 1943 from XBOX Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft points and I decided that I could afford twelve-fifty to avoid spending ten bucks a month on WOW. It wasn't just spending money, it was an investment in my future.
Despite the fact that I own a used copy of Battlefield 1942, I have never played a "legit" battlefield game before – I suffered an unfortunate condition known as "weak computer syndrome." It's a problem that all too many children in the world must deal with daily. I had however played Battlefield Heroes in beta so I kind of knew what was going on.
I should mention at the outset that BF1943 is a "domination" type game based on capturing and holding flags. Just like Battlefield Heroes, the aiming system is unforgiving. I like that though, assisted aim makes for lazy players and all sorts of bullshit "spray and pray" scenarios. Here, you quickly figure out that you're going to have to do more than unload a clip while strafing an enemy and chalking it up to odds. As frustrating as it is to feel like you should be hitting someone only to die yourself, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with knowing that you deserved your fate and were solidly outplayed. It also makes you feel that much more successful when you do finally start to get the hang of it and rack up kills.
The radar system is also crafted in a way that encourages more thoughtful behavior from players, (although it doesn't always succeed). Instead of the sound of your gun or physical activity revealing your location like in Call of Duty or Halo, you will only appear as an icon for your enemies if one of the enemy spot and fire on you. So, if you're using guerrilla tactics and popping up from the side of the road and retreating you might escape detection completely.
Now for the bad. While the levels are designed well and the vehicles add a much needed amount of chaos, there still isn't a whole lot of variety. The three maps that were immediately available all feel pretty much the same. Sure, one's shaped like a U, one doesn't have aircraft carriers, and the other one has more trenches, but that isn't really a whole lot of differentiation. I can't even tell you which is which. To make things worse, the game doesn't even mix up the interchangeable locales properly; I was forced into seven games on the Iwo Jima map in a row. The XBOX community unlocked a fourth map by reaching 43 million kills, but it's an air only map and if you've ever played a Battlefield game you know that it would probably be easier to become a licensed pilot in real life than to become proficient at in-game flight. To be successful, BF1943 needs to release more maps down the line.
Then, there are limited statistics provided. My gut reaction is to say that this is awful. The game doesn't even calculate your K/D ratio. Everyone knows – despite protest from mathematicians who are under the impression that is the golden ratio – that the true golden ratio is in fact, the almighty Kills to Deaths. It has been proven that a K/D < 1 = n00b while any K/D > 1 = a range from respectable to 1337, with cutoffs varying by region and culture. It's even important in non-FPS games. I used to find myself screaming about what I like to call "intangibles" when facing a post-game screen on the original Smash Bros. (and you cannot underestimate the value of having a teammate with an extremely high average lifespan who can deal damage and who has lives to give if a team member bites the dust too early. Avoiding that 2-on-1 at the end is crucial.)
Golden ratio or not, I have often complained that the emphasis on the K:D ratio can feel restrictive and holds me back from enjoying something like Call of Duty to its full extent. I think twice about pursuing challenges and achievements because it'll hurt my K:D and I won't be able to defend myself from my friends' smirks — I'd be the laughingstock of my clan! Without worrying about dying in BF1943, I went out looking for some absurd style kills with some success. The first time I got a kill with the sniper's remote charges was exhilarating. I ran up on a guarded flag, disregarded everything and everyone pelting me with bullets and tossed two before pushing the detonator and cackled as I turned two enemies into a widely dispersed human smoothie.
I do feel like there are a lot of interesting things that could be revealed about my game play in BF1943 via various statistics. A breakdown of activity by class a la Team Fortress 2 for instance could prove useful. If the point of the game isn't about kills vs. deaths (which isn't exactly true because you have to think about time spent on the level instead of waiting to respawn or keeping the map clear of enemies as a resource) then maybe a tally of flags captured, a single game best for caps, time spent in a flag zone, etc., would prove hugely informative. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the statistics developers choose to track do encourage behavior and should be considered.
Half the fun of playing these games is going over what your friends did when the dust has settled and arguing over who won or lost the game for your team. There are such a variety of ways to rack up experience points that a breakdown would go a long way towards facilitating some battles of rhetoric to complement the game. "Oh you just got one lucky carpet bomb," "Sure I only got a few kills but look it was all defensive, I let you spawn, you owe me," "Look I was just concentrating on tanks O.K.? Do you know how many times I had to die to clear the path for you?"
Because this is a game you're going to want to play with friends. The squad system works wonderfully. You can make a squad out of your live party or join in with strangers. Each squad gets their own private channel to chat and most importantly can spawn to each other instead of players being restricted to spawning at flags. Squad spawn can be particularly helpful for getting that much needed "surge" at contested flags or for pairing up in vehicles. Plus, it means less time walking. And trust me, you will get tired of covering the same tufts of foliage and sandy crags (on every map).
Lastly, the leveling system is purely aesthetic. There's no player benefit to leveling. I would have liked to see some sort of nod to the level hierarchy, even if it was just a minimum level required to access the radio tower and call in an air strike. Ten years ago it wouldn't have been an issue but we've come to expect tangible in-game rewards for putting in time. It's kind of disappointing to sit down to play and realize that there's nothing new to look forward to. Within the first day I had played every weapon combination and become at least somewhat proficient with every vehicle class (shakes fist at plane).
For an arcade game Battlefield 1943 still excellent and there are certainly much worse ways to spend $12. The game is a pleasant distraction for people waiting for more fully formed shooters to come out during the holidays, but I wouldn't expect to be playing it again more than six months from now.
Battlefield 1943 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for violence. This game is also available for PS3