Battlefield 1942 Review
Developer: Digital Illusions
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB 3D video card, 1.2 GB HD space, 4x CD ROM, internet connection (but you'll need much better than this if you want to play for real)
The world is embroiled in conflict, with armies from nearly every major power exchanging fire throughout Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. It seems as if any battle could tip the balance of power in favor of the Axis or Allied Forces. You aren't just lowly infantry garrisoned in a sleepy town. Rather, you can participate in every major battle, on every front, with a multitude of vehicles, and even (like a certain Mediterranean nation) switch sides freely.
A great many first person shooters have released a well-developed single player campaign, with a multiplayer component tacked on halfheartedly. Battlefield 1942 is a deeply considered, exciting multiplayer game with a single player mode that is, at best, a training ground for the multiplayer, and, at worst, an afterthought. Most remarkably, Battlefield 1942 allows the player to play as infantry, or operate any of a multitude of vehicles ranging from submarines to tanks and bombers. All the available military hardware is easy to learn to man, and can be operated (with varying degrees of efficiency) by just one player.
To join the battle, you connect to one of the battlefields strewn around the world. Each has its own character. Battles in North Africa tend to be dusty deserts, where armor and air power reign supreme. Eastern and Western Europe contain punishing urban maps as well as more open spaces, each with a different balance of armored power, infantry flexibility and air support. The Pacific theater is often, ultimately, an infantry battle, but is driven by control of the sea and airstrips. Once you've selected the battle, you choose one of five infantry configurations, including the scout (with a sniper rifle and the ability to call targets for artillery), assault troops (machine gun-toting footsoldiers), engineers (more lightly armed, but able to repair machinery or set demolitions), medics (with machine guns and health-kits) and anti-tank troops (with rocket launchers).
No matter what kit you choose, any player can man any weapon or vehicle. Favoring arcade-style play over gritty realism, with little more than the standard first-person shooter key configuration, any player can paratroop from the tail-gunner's position in a fighter, capture an enemy airfield and control an anti-aircraft gun, throwing up flak to prevent the other side from doing the same thing. A sniper can call out a target for your distant artillery, and having cleared out the enemy emplacement, ride off in a jeep to man enormous coastal guns.
Vehicles are incredibly easy to use. Practice and skill may raise a player's piloting skills well beyond his fellows', but anyone can just hop in a battleship or tank, and contribute to the war effort. With the exception of a few vehicles such as artillery and jeeps, and fixed emplacements, piloting military hardware allows you to both move and shoot, and uses the same simple configuration as controlling your infantryman avatar. Many vehicles have secondary positions, which you can hop in if someone is already the primary operator. This increases the tremendous range of combat roles available, such as top gunner on a tank, tail-gunner for a bomber, or secondary guns on a battleship.
The combination of enormous maps, a huge supply of vehicles and fixed emplacements really gives Battlefield 1942 extensive replayability. While an overcrowded server can hold as many as 64 players, 24 and 32-person games are far more common. With these kinds of numbers, there is usually some clever tactic or combination of vehicles and infantry kits that can break a stalemate. If the Axis have a seemingly impenetrable battle line, eject from a plane behind enemy lines, or take a landing craft around the far side of an island. Should the enemy take crew from their machine guns and artillery to man the AA guns, the line may become weak enough for tanks to storm through, or for a demolitions team to sneak up to their emplacements. Rarely are there enough soldiers to guard against all strategies, so unless a battle is an immediate rout, combat turns into a march of shifting strategies, as tactics organically drift and evolve to match current battle conditions. These drifting strategies lead to spectacular moments that you can retell to your friends over a beer or juice-box. Every game seems to involve spectacular moments – in a recent, two-hour block of play, this reviewer saw:
- A plucky Russian engineer planting demolition charges under a German panzer
- A lone paratrooper establishing a beachhead from which the U.S. troops could launch an assault
- An American scout sneaking behind enemy lines to operate a coastal battery, sinking an ailing Japanese aircraft carrier
- A Japanese engineer dropping a landmine in front of a U.S. soldier in a jeep that was intent on vehicular manslaughter
The graphics are excellent, although the game is more than capable of overwhelming even a mid-range machine. Don't expect to play Battlefield 1942 smoothly with the minimum system requirements. The maps are detailed, and look appropriate to the combat theater, but are most impressive for their size. Maps are enormous. It truly requires a plane or APC to cross the battlefield in any reasonable amount of time, and the amount of space available is impressive. The sheer scale of combat in this game contributes to the feeling that you are just a single (very important) soldier in a vast operation. You are capturing mountains and islands, rather than just controlling a tiny chokepoint in a series of branching corridors.
There are a lot of careful details in the vehicles and uniforms, but the team chat functions really take the cake for atmosphere. There is a tremendous range of commands to convey tactics, enemy locations and readiness. These notes appear in English text, but are shouted in the appropriate language by the soldiers. That said, the minor technical issues with Battlefield 1942 are many. Issues with the v1.2 patch are far fewer than with the v1.1 (shipping) patch, but be prepared for the occasional mysterious graphic and sound issues. These occurred on all of the machines tested, from very high to low-end. Overcoming these problems is more than worthwhile, in order to play the multiplayer game. The v1.2 patch has also dramatically improved the accuracy of infantry weapons (among others), making them more of a force to be reckoned with, and making the game altogether smoother than at launch. Prior to the v1.2 patch, the engineer's detonation packs were a more viable close combat weapon than machine guns – now snipers can fire with reasonable accuracy from great distances.
The single-player game is a less stellar effort. Essentially, you run through a campaign which is every game map, strung one after the other. You choose a side and play just as you would against human opponents, but with a selection of AI bots. While the bots are a viable way of fleshing out a game with only a few human players, and are improved by the v1.2 patch, they are not a fulfilling foe. Victory is simple at normal difficulties, and higher difficulties place you against overwhelming numbers of computer opponents. Single player is good for a bit of practice, in order to learn the controls, but little else.
Battlefield 1942 is an excellent multiplayer game, pitting players with a huge array of controllable vehicles against one another in vast, open maps. While not necessarily breaking much new ground, this WWII-themed shooter refines the genre of online competitive play.