Version tested: PC
Chances are, you already know what Battlefield 1942 is like. You've already been caught up in the hype, you've already played it and you've already been hooked by it. I grudgingly had to take some time out from playing the thing in order to pick it apart for your pleasure. I hope you're satisfied.
We'll take them on the beach
In case you haven't been paying attention since Battlefield 1942 first surfaced, then let me introduce the two of you. At first, the idea of a multiplayer focused first-person shooter set in World War II isn't all that exciting, and not at all surprising given the recent proliferation of such games. At first glance, the game appears to be a pretty ordinary affair, similar to the Day of Defeat Half-Life mod but looking a bit prettier. However, add about thirty five entirely controllable vehicles into the mix, including enormous aircraft carriers, submarines, battleships, bombers, fighters and tanks right down to the nippy little jeeps, and we have something rather intriguing.
With the release of the single and, most recently, multiplayer demos, the game has taken the online gaming community by storm. This is thanks in no small part to the depth with which the player can get involved in the battle - the aforementioned vehicles add an enormous amount of character to an otherwise fairly ordinary team-based shooter, so much so that the possibility for each game to be completely different comes into play. The random run-and-gun approach of similar titles pales in comparison to BF1942's theatres of war.
Capture and hold
The feeling of being embroiled in fierce battle can only be fully replicated when you manage to locate a server of about 31 like-minded individuals who are entirely willing to play as a team. Actually finding 31 gamers on a random public server who want to play the game properly is another challenge in itself though, as most people seem to be interested in flying the planes in circles, into trees, into the sea and into team mates [chortle! -Ed]. It's not funny... I've actually witnessed players queuing on an airfield waiting for planes to spawn - why they don't just play with themselves offline is beyond me.
But once you have a decent amount of likeminded players together, the game ventures further into multiplayer nirvana than much else has managed. The basic idea on each map is for your team to capture and hold spawn points, which lowers the opposing team's number of "tickets", which will decrease faster the less spawns they own. While simplistic in theory, the reality is a lot more complicated. Players can either be spawning from the skies, or out to sea on battleship and aircraft carriers, or on the land itself, and keeping track of where the invading forces might be coming from can be tricky. Strategising about how to sieze towns and islands is crucial to the success of you team, and your enjoyment of the game.
Aiding your ability to communicate with your team is a simple command menu controlled with F1 through 7. A press of one will expand it down to a few more options, which could be anything from confirming or denying a command and reporting where reinforcements are needed to reporting enemy ship sightings and requesting a pickup when you're stuck on foot.
Battlefield 1942 looks almost as good as it plays, too. Digital Illusions crafted their own engine especially for the game, and it's surprising just how much it can sling around, from troops battling it out on foot and reinforcements pouring out of boats onto the shores, to their comrades dogfighting in the skies and lumbering tanks firing flaming shells of death at each other across sand dunes. Despite the frenzied approach, everything still looks perfectly decent.
The vehicles all handle effortlessly as well, with only a slight learning curve to piloting even a lumbering B-17 bomber, and this compliments the game's admirable level of accessibility. You can expect to jump onto a server for the first time and have picked up the fundamentals of the game within about fifteen minutes.
Of course, the superb engine doesn't come without its costs, and there's a hefty price tag in the shape of system requirements; the recommended specifications will barely cut it, and in fact our Athlon XP 1.5GHz, GeForce 4 Ti4200-powered test system had a bit of a hard time with the game on only medium detail settings. Also, don't even think about trying to play on a server with more than four players if you're stuck on a dial-up modem connection, as it really is sheer hell. The netcode works very solidly over a broadband connection, however, only faltering when the servers themselves are a bit dodgy.
Two short planks
For those of you who are, for one reason or another, stuck on a 56k connection (you poor things), Battlefield 1942 does include a single player option, but DICE have pulled this part of the game off with a mixed amount of success. You can either opt to take part in a series of maps as Allied or Axis forces in a Campaign mode, or you can set up a quick multiplayer game with some AI bots.
However, both of these modes are unfortunately marred by the frankly abysmal behaviour of the computer controlled opponents and team-mates. It becomes extremely difficult to play the game properly when you're forced to run around the map capturing points by yourself, simply because the bots don't know how to. When they do capture something, it's usually because they stumbled across it whilst aimlessly driving a tank back and forth. They'll climb into vehicles, drive six feet, and get out again so one of the other bots can have a go; they'll get out of a tank so you can drive when all you want to do is man the machine gun on the roof; and they'll sometimes fly in circles in the sky forever until somebody shoots them down. And you can be damn sure nobody on your team is going to do it.
Somewhat perversely, to counter-balance the sheer stupidity of the AI, the bots are also ridiculously accurate. They can drop a bomb on your head with pinpoint accuracy, snipe you from machine gun nests without fail and utilise the rocket launcher for one-on-one combat with impossible efficiency. As well as the shoddy AI, there are the odd bugs here and there; one of the more amusing glitches I saw came about when I was on a bombing run high above the island, only to see a tank spawn in the sky and come whistling past my cockpit window.
While it has its faults, Battlefield 1942 is currently peerless for sheer absorbing multiplayer action. Even though its leanings are more towards action than realism, it still manages to play far more tactically than old crusties like Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat, as long as you've got the right players with you. If you've got the system and connection to handle it, there is no reason why you should be without this game.
9 / 10