Version tested: PC
After the argument surrounding The Road to Rome and whether or not it was a cash-in (it was), we're not surprised to find ourselves back here, stoking our beloved copies of Battlefield 1942 with more content from the creators themselves - asking the same damn question.
Since January, we've all seen the BF1942 mod scene rise up and grab our attention, and it's brought with it some outstanding content. Free of charge. Gratis. Take Desert Combat, for example - a collection of beautifully crafted vehicles and models, a raised pace and a few already impressive maps that blew DICE's first official expansion out of the Roman bath. Gamers took note and some promised not to be stung by EA and its expandoritis again, especially when Secret Weapons of World War II reared its head and EA released the Hellendorn multiplayer demo.
So what are we getting this time? More than just more of the same, thankfully. While Road to Rome was a mere six maps and the odd new vehicle, Secret Weapons easily captures the flag in the creativity stakes. Many of the pack's addition details are outlined in Tom's first impressions, but for the uninitiated it features a wealth of new Allied and Axis weapons and vehicles that saw battle only briefly or didn't even make it off of the drawing board. Seasoned with a hint of 40s sci-fi, Secret Weapons is an altogether more interesting expansion than its predecessor.
Like Tom, the first map we went for was the Eagle's Nest, which sees Axis troops defending Hitler's mountain-top retreat from advancing Allies. The same old BF1942 atmosphere is unmistakable here as we make our way down the snowy hillside, but the this soon gives way to something more cartoon-like. It's hard to describe, but as we pelt along a dirt road on our motorcycle with its sidecar and mounted machine gun, weaving out of the way of an oncoming Sturmtiger tank and then circling and dismounting to fire a rocket up its rear, we get this very palpable sense that the brutal, harsh reality of war is making way for something far more light-hearted. Far more... Indiana Jones.
As we play on, it's an impression that sticks, as troops rain down from their spawn points inside a hulking C-47 Cargo Plane, and a Sherman tank comes rolling along, sending us flying with a stream of rockets from the T-34 Calliope turret. Piloting the enormous Flying Wing, laying impressive carpets of death and having to barrel roll out of the way of an oncoming V-3 guided missile only serves to cement this impression. Still - it's all fun.
Secret Weapons of World War II is all about the theatrics, see, like an assault trooper racing along a bridge and flying off and up, over your head, thanks to the jet pack strapped to his back. You forget this is even World War II. Cripes, a jet pack! It made us chuckle the first time we saw it, and it's a good example of some of the more comedic moments inherent to Secret Weapons.
At least DICE has been sensible about the jet pack, even if it does seem faintly ludicrous, tucking it away in some of the most unlikely places for lucky players to stumble across. It's a move which has probably saved the game from 'jet pack spam', and the limited fuel capacity prevents over-use and unfair advantages. We have in fact only come across the jet pack three times during play; once because we found it in someone's loft, once in an aircraft hangar and once when we shot a player out of the air and grabbed his equipment.
What else is there to break the established BF1942 mould? The additional Objective play mode attempts to inject a little variety, but with mixed success. Six of the eight new maps support this new mode, and most of these involve one side blowing something up and the other side stopping them from doing it. This quickly becomes a lot more tiresome than intense, and when your objective is to destroy Axis-held UFOs in hangars on the dull Kbely Airfield map you know the developers are struggling for ideas.
And we're sad to say that most of the other maps included with SWWWII are less than memorable. Only the Hellendoorn airfield map (which seems the be the player's choice as well thanks to the very open design), Eagle's Nest, and Mimoyeques with its intense close-quarters battles really stand out for memorable moments. The rest either suffer from bland design, horrible balance issues or sometimes both. Sooner or later, most of these maps are going to sink into obscurity.
Going to waste
And speaking of the disused, many of the additional weapons and vehicles, while creatively realised and nicely modelled, don't seem to fit the battlefields of 1942. The tiny Goblin Jetfighter - or, as it was referred to in the office, "the cute little Yank bubble plane" - seems practically useless, and while the huge Flying Wing is capable of launching an impressive bomb-flavoured assault on Jerry, it's so big and so fast that BF1942's massive maps feel cramped. Of the new tanks, only the Sturmtiger and T-34-equipped Sherman seemed any fun to play with. A special mention needs to go to the nippy motorbikes though, which are tremendous fun and make us feel a bit like Steve McQueen, even if they should have been in BF1942 from the start. We like feeling like Steve McQueen a lot, see.
Aside from the toys, the troops themselves aren't really worth dwelling upon, with the exception of a shotgun-carrying Allied engineer and his grenade rifle-wielding Axis counterpart. Those are the fun changes. The new Allied assault rifle and Axis sniper rifles serve only to increase the pace of artillery combat, and the throwing knives are hardly ever useful unless you can set up some kind of throwing knives duel - but how many BF1942 players do you know online who wouldn't just whip out an assault rifle and spit on your mutilated corpse? Exactly.
No, the online experience hasn't changed much. Unless you're playing with mates, there's a good chance you're going to end up bundled with a pack of rude, un-cooperative, unfriendly players merely interested in furthering their kill count and flying the planes. No amount of tweaking is ever going to change human nature, and in fact the effort DICE has made to make people play properly (hiding the jet pack, for example) reflects rather well on the pack.
More whizzbang for your buck?
Naturally then, it comes back to value for money. We're not afraid to point out that The Road to Rome was a blatant cash-in and we'd forgive you for assuming Secret Weapons of World War II stinks the same way, but the pack does inject some honestly good, fun and creative features into what is still one of our favourite multiplayer games to date.
It alters it to the point that it feels like a slightly different game, and it's a commendable effort by DICE to refresh and revive the BF1942 experience. However, when you've got a similar amount high quality content streaming out of the Desert Combat team and others for absolutely nothing, you have to ask yourself just how willing you are you fork out £20 for the privilege of a handful of wheat, and a wealth of chaff.
7 / 10