Just what do you expect from a £10 downloadable title on Xbox LIVE or PSN? Games like Geometry Wars 2 might not be bursting at the seams with content, but the pure arcade gameplay and handful of game modes are enough to make it perfect for some binge gaming when there's nothing else to do. But what about a budget-priced Battlefield 1942 follow-up from FPS king DICE? What amount of content and features should a gorgeous looking downloadable shooter have, and with genre heavyweights monopolising practically every online gamer, is a cheap price enough to tempt any of them away?
Being an XBLA/PSN release, 1943 isn't nearly as feature or content rich as you might expect from an online first-person shooter. For your money (around £10) you get a proper Battlefield experience (on-foot combat and lots of vehicles), but only three maps (plus a soon to be unlocked fourth). These are pretty big maps though, with support for up to 12 versus 12 matches. There's also a solid ranking system that awards you over time with new badges and medals. Despite this there's a sense that this is a Battlefield game that's been trimmed of all the fat, leaving behind only the pure team-based gameplay. It's not perfect, seeing as there are plenty of features missing that fans will have wanted, but it's good, accessible fun for console gamers.
By far the biggest issue many will have with 1943 is the single game type. The base capture mode that sees the US and Japanese fight over five bases across each map will be familiar to many, and it's an ideal set-up for large-scale fights, but that's all you get. The more bases your team controls, the faster the enemy's re-spawn ticker depletes, until eventually it's victory or game over. Perhaps wanting more game modes in a game that costs £10 is asking for too much, and the four maps (eventually) seems good value, but we fear the lack of options could hurt long-term appeal.
On foot the combat feels Bad Company-like, which is no bad thing really. There's a class structure in place, with Rifleman, Infantry and Scout selectable from the Enlist menu. The Rifleman carries a rifle and anti-infantry weapons; Infantry are your general grunts, carrying short range weapons and heavy tank destroying RPGs; and Scouts are your long-range specialists, equipped with sniper rifles and demolition tools should you get close to your target. It's worth noting that there's no character customisation at all here. You choose your class and that's it. If you've spent any time playing a recent Call of Duty or any other FPS that allows you to kit out your character as you see fit, this strict set of options will likely feel somewhat restrictive, but remember this isn't a full-price title.
Battlefield 1943 isn't just about on-foot combat, though, with ground, air and sea battles in vehicles being a key component of the gameplay. Vehicles add some much needed variety to the gameplay, with jeeps and tanks for use on the ground, planes to fly around in, boats to ferry men into battle on, and fixed anti-air turrets to man if you're feel like playing as a sitting duck. There's the usual problem of other players jumping into vehicles when they spawn and not waiting around for passengers, but the four-man squad system means that you're always going to be with a few like-minded players who are trying to complete the same objectives as you - should you choose to use the system.
After a few teething problems to do with the servers being over-populated we're glad to report than 1943 is running well online. Even in full 24-player matches the lag has been hardly noticeable. As expected there's the option to play online with friends or you can hop straight into a match through the Quick Match option. Award hunters can view all the medals and badges earned through success online, and the worldwide leaderboards are available to show how you compare with the best in the world.
Judged against all games, Battlefield 1943 would stand up well, but as a downloadable title it's among the best looking we've ever seen. Built on the same Frostbite engine that powered DICE's Battlefield Bad Company (and the forthcoming sequel), this World War II FPS could easily pass as a full price retail release. The maps are massive, the draw distance is impressive, the frame rate holds steady, there's building destruction (although not nearly on par with Red Faction: Guerrilla) and the whole thing is colourful. It might sound strange to be complimenting a WW2 shooter for its use of colour, but considering we get so many dull grey and brown games, 1943's blue skies and green hills make for a welcome change.
Despite the lack of game modes and a bare bones class system, Battlefield 1943 differs enough from the competition to make it a worthwhile alternative to the likes of CoD, Halo, Gears of War, Killzone 2, Resistance and the rest. Presumably EA will extend the game with premium map packs, but to keep gamers away from rival games it'll need to expand the backbone too. As it stands Battlefield 1943 is like an FPS starter kit, designed to get people playing without too many barriers to entry. With a new character class system, extra game modes and a heap of new maps, 1943 could end up being the true sequel fans have been waiting for.