Battlefield 1943 looks too damn good to be a download-only game, but it doesn't look good enough to be a big-budget retail release either. Instead it sits somewhere in between the two, like a football club not good enough for the Premier League but too good for the Championship.
What sets it apart from most downloadable titles are the graphics. Both XBL and PSN offer some gorgeous titles, but most of those are considered so because of their uniqueness, as opposed to technical proficiency. Braid, for example. Flower. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2. Battlefield 1943, however, is impressive graphically not because of a beautiful art style, but because it rekindles memories of last year's excellent Battlefield: Bad Company.
Similarities with that game shouldn't surprise. 1943 is being developed using Swedish developer DICE's Frostbite engine, the one used for BC. As such, it's got destructible environments - destructible environments that, DICE claims, are better than those in BC.
One of the major criticisms of that game was that while you could totally destroy the side of a building, you couldn't take the whole building down. 1943 rights that wrong. In 1943 you can destroy absolutely everything. All for between £10 and £15.
So 1943 will come packed full of "next-gen" loveliness, and retains the core Battlefield values fans know and love from the popular series. It's a first-person shooter with big open levels, loads of vehicles and support for plenty of players. It's the US Marine Corp versus the Japanese Imperial Army in classic Conquest mode. It's fighter plane dog-fights, mayhem with tanks, waiting for vehicle spawns on aircraft carriers and on-foot shoot-outs.
The classes follow standard WWII soldier conventions. The Infantry is a close-combat specialist that packs an SMG, hand grenades, an anti-tank rifle and a wrench; the Rifleman is a mid-range class that carries a semi-automatic rifle, a rifle grenade, hand grenades and a knife; and the Scout, the sniper class, is kitted out with a bolt-action sniper rifle, C4, a pistol and a sword.
Sounds a bit too good to be true, doesn't it? Must be a catch, huh? True enough, there is. 1943 is a somewhat stripped down, streamlined Battlefield experience, intended to be more of an entry level shooter than hardcore frag-fest. The player limit is 24, lower than what fans have come to expect from a Battlefield game. It will feature three of the series' best maps: Iwo Jima, Guadal Canal and Wake Island. The class count is down from the five or seven you normally get in a Battlefield game to the three described above. There are no unlockable weapons or perks in the game (the ranking system exists only to fuel bragging rights). There are no ammo crates or medic packs, either (ammo and health will automatically replenish). 1943 is all about accessible, pick up and play fun, and the blowing up of everything in sight.
DICE hopes 1943 will prove to be a shooter non-hardcore shooter fans take a punt on, perhaps even stumble upon, much like DICE itself did. Just after development on BC wrapped up, a few staffers thought they'd try to remake a 1942 map in the Frostbite engine, just for the laugh. The result was considered too good not to be released in some way. Hence, 1943, a game that was then squeezed into DICE's SKU count for 2009.
From a business perspective 1943 is an experiment. It's DICE trying something new. It's a downloadable title on both "next-gen" consoles and the PC - a first for the prolific studio. Given the more accessible gameplay, it's an attempt to make the Battlefield brand appeal to more than just the hardcore. But that doesn't mean it's not going to be any good. That doesn't mean 1943 is easy to play. A session with a pre-alpha build of the game proved that to be true. DICE will include support for private matches in the game, a move that's sure to please hardcore clan members. It's going to implement "no griefing zones" on aircraft carriers, a clear nod to 1942 complaints. There's no need for hardcore BF fans to turn their noses up at 1943, just because it's less about them and more about bringing newcomers into the fold.
The point here is that, while 1943 is clearly not as hardcore, or as big-budget as you'd expect the sequel to 1942 to be, it does promise to be a hell of a lot of fun. Take the Air Raid feature, for example. When you climb into a bunker, you're granted the time, and invincibility, to call in a squadron of bombers. Your perspective is then hurtled thousands of feet into the sky, to a point just behind the flying deathbringers. You now have limited control over their movement, and can use a zoom function to time the release of the payload, hopefully so that it lands smack bang on top of a building full of enemy players. Once done, you shift back into the head of your soldier, allowing you to exit the bunker and survey your handiwork in all its destructive glory.
1943 is almost guaranteed to end up as one of the most graphically impressive download-only games on consoles. The real test, of course, is simply whether it'll end up as one of the best download-only games on consoles. DICE has claimed it raises the bar in this respect. Fingers crossed it realises that lofty goal. Graphics, after all, aren't everything.
Battlefield 1943 will be available to download this summer for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.