In the four months or so since our review of Battlefield 1942, the game has fast become one of the most popular multiplayer games in existence. Obviously seeing a prime opportunity to make a bit of extra cash on the back of this tremendous success, EA have seen fit to furnish fans with the Road to Rome expansion pack - can it successfully pick up where DiCE left off with the original BF1942, or is it more of a pathetic stumble in a vague forward kind of direction?
Did someone say this was an expansion?
The original set of maps included with BF1942 haven't aged particularly - the experience is still just as exhilarating as it was on release, perhaps even more so with the tweaks introduced by the recent patch. The single player game has become a legitimate and worthwhile feature with the introduction of some semblance of intelligence in the AI controlled soldiers, small arms have an actual use these days, you can't be sniped with a machine gun from hundreds of feet away any more, and everybody is generally happy. So what are we getting with Road to Rome that makes it a worthwhile purchase, when we're quite happy with what we've got?
Well, EA's official feature list says it all: six new maps from the Sicilian and Italian campaigns. Eight new vehicles including the German BF-110 and British Mosquito fighter bombers, British and Italian tanks, and anti-tank guns. Two new fighting forces: the French legionnaires and Italian forces. Three new weapons including a rifle grenade launcher, the British Sten SMG, and bayonets. And that's your lot, basically. Frankly, a compliment of six maps and some extra toys is pathetic, and does not constitute an "expansion" in my mind. Eight "new" vehicles may seem a significant boost, but to call them "new" is stretching the meaning of the word, as they don't particularly bolster the game with fresh new vehicles, they're effectively new models for existing ones with tweaked off-ence and defence statistics.
This isn't to say the content here is by any means bad; the maps that have been included are fantastic for the most part. Monte Cassino in particular warrants a special mention for creating such a frenetic and tense battle, as French forces attempt to storm Germans entrenched within a monastery, all the while the crack of thunder mixes with the booming of anti-tank shells. With a relentless assault on the part of the Allies, and strong defensive positions for the Germans, it's a battle that could swing either way very easily. It's this type of map that reminds us why we loved BF1942 in the first place; it really feels like you're part of a war. This is easily the strongest map in the pack, although hardly worth the admission price alone, and some of the other maps pale in comparison, with the Anzio and Salerno missions coming across as particularly weak.
So we have a curious problem here. The content is actually really very good; the new models are great, the new forces have, er... pretty uniforms and funny accents, most of the six (six!) maps are excellent, and of course there are the bayonets - cool. The single player game, with the addition of the extra missions, feels a little fuller than before, but is it worth the money for an expansion that doesn't particularly, well, expand?
With the mod community still in its infancy and a noticeable lack of extra missions available on the internet, it seems wise for hardcore Battlefield addicts to grab a copy if only to satiate their cravings for a while, and that's who it seems sensible to recommend this patch - sorry - pack to. Then again, you're not going to pass up the opportunity to play it even if I tell you to. For the rest of you casual players, unless you've really got £18 burning a hole in your wallet, it would probably be wise to steer clear if only to show EA that this kind of blatant cash-in is pretty unacceptable.
This is the sort of content that should be made available to faithful customers absolutely gratis, and it's a shame EA feel the need to charge their swelling community for the privilege of getting their hands on a smattering of new missions and models which should have been in the game in the first place. Meanwhile, Digital Extremes today releases a six map pack for UT2003 - for free. Then again, if you're prepared to fork out your hard earned for a patch, be my guest.