Battlefield 1943

Pacific Heights.

The grass is a brilliant green, the sky a perfect blue, and down towards the sandy beaches, with their artfully ragged lines of gently swaying palms, I can just make out a hint of bleached white rock. Looking around, this could be the Greenhill Zone, were it not for a few important distinctions, the first of which is the thick plume of black smoke rising ominously from the distant jungle. And the second? The second is the fact that I'm currently under fairly heavy gunfire. Who knows? Maybe Shadow's knocking about nearby.

And so I return to Wake Island, a balmy South Pacific hell-hole where visitors can spend the day relaxing inside scarred concrete bunkers, dine at dusk on the scrubbed decks of an ever-circling battleship, and then, when night falls, wander out for a gentle stroll along the golden sands, taking in the view and shrugging off the odd headshot. As long as there have been Battlefield games, there's been this particular battlefield - it debuted with the demo for 1942, and has been cropping up ever since, even making a surprise appearance in the hit-and-miss 2142 instalment. It's familiar territory, but not unpleasantly so, and spawning there in the forthcoming Battlefield 1943 feels like coming home. The years have apparently been kind, too: DICE's latest sees Wake Island tweaked, rebalanced, and raring to soak up even more of your blood.

A spiritual reworking of the first Battlefield, 1943 is a title that's been heavily shaped by its new platforms: alongside the PC version, the game will be appearing on XBLA and PSN this summer. Launching an exclusively multiplayer title on these services is a risk few developers have chosen to take so far, but if any franchise could pull it off, it's probably this one, particularly since its attempts at single-player campaigns have almost always underwhelmed.

The most obvious change with the new game is just how much weight it has shed in the transition to digital distribution. When you load up 1943 this summer, you'll find yourself with just three maps, three classes, and one game mode - multiplayer Conquest, the classic Battlefield standard-bearer in which teams compete for capture points in order to cripple their enemy's ability to respawn.

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Wing-walking exploit fans will be disappointed - it isn't possible here. Instead, it's been deliberately built into the free-to-play Battlefield Heroes.

Playing as the Japanese, hitting the Wake Island shore, and then fighting up the beach and into a nearby airfield, it quickly becomes clear that, if 1943 is less than a full port, it's also often more. The game has been rebuilt from the ground up, using Bad Company's Frostbite engine, and that means that, as well as looking significantly prettier than it used to, its buildings and trees are now destructible. Within seconds I'm racing through the underbrush, putting huge holes in corrugated iron huts and bringing slatted wooden walls down with a reassuring splintering sound, before DICE's own QA department logs in to spoil such innocent fun with their insane headshot skills.

In fact, 1943's environments actually go one better than Bad Company's, with the developer using the opportunity to respond to criticism by allowing you to now take out the frame of a building as well as the walls and ceilings. This time, if you see a shack and you have the right tools with you, you can utterly level it - a move which adds a new tactical concern to classic Battlefield encounters, while also leading DICE to subtly rebalance 1942's maps, giving Wake Island a fair share of rocky, non-destructible outcrops to serve as cover options once the buildings are all gone.

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