Summary: EA dropped the bomb at us at Comdex with the multiplayer demo. We've been eagerly anticipating the release of this World War II shooter which promises to be the be-all, end-all of first-person square warfare games. Does it fulfill the promise? Jakub puts it under the microscope here.
That’s the term that best describes the apperance Battlefield 1942. The game had a relatively low profile for a very long time. Attempts to bring it to public light succeeded, but it didn’t seem to stand out from the rest. Certainly, it was no Doom III. Then EA released two demos, covering the single- and multiplayer parts of the game. The singleplayer demo sent shockwaves through the gaming community, waking gamers to this incoming title. If the first demo was a shockwave, the second, multiplayer demo was the Big One. “Coincidentally” appearing during QuakeCon, it unleashed tsunami, not waves, in the industry. Suddenly, everyone was paying attention.
What is it?
Battlefield 1942 could be called a real-life Tribes. Five classes: the scout, the engineer, the assault, the medic and the anti-tank. Sixteen maps, covering every major front in the war – the Pacific, North African, Western and Russian arenas. Twenty weapons: Axis and Allied. Vehicles galore: tanks (from some puny Japanese lightweight to the fearsome Tiger), through jeeps, half-tracks, self-propelled artillery, fighters and bombers, to submarines, carriers, battleships and destroyers. In short, everything you need for a World War, brought to your desktop.
SIDEBAR: Athlon/Pentium 500Mhz
128MB of RAM
GeForce, Radeon or Parhelia cards
1.2GB hard drive space
56K or better internet connection
512MB of RAM
GF3 or better
What is zee word… atrocious?
Battlefield 1942 has one of the most mixed-up interfaces known to man. It starts well enough, but quickly gets brought down by a multitude of minor issues. Still, let’s go over what it does right before we highlight some of the problems that nagged at us during play.
Things aren’t quite as rosy when we get to various voice commands, requests and notifications. Obviously, no one listens to them – that’s a given. But they could be designed more clearly. Using the function keys isn’t a bad idea but then again it’s not the cleanest solution either. A Counter-Strike/Tribes/Allegiance type of voice communication, spawning from a single key would work better particularly since gamers are already acquainted with that. What is nice about the voice commands is that it highlights the person talking. In certain situations, such as when a carrier spots a submarine and requires assistance, this is vital information.
So that’s what is good about the interface. Here’s the bad. It is marked with inconsistencies and has a serious performance problem. Take the map for example. One would think that as a destroyer captain, one would see his friendly carrier on the map if they get out of visual range, so they might get back together. Except that “one” is wrong. Naval and air units don’t appear on the map to friendly units unless those units see them. More inconsistencies appear in the teams. The Axis players are always read, Allied are always blue. That makes things more confusing than necessary. It would be easier to just label enemies always red.
The last problem we experienced ties in to the general biggest problem of the game – performance. Specifically, load times are horrendously long. To make matters worse, when a map is done, it takes almost as long to unload. This isn’t as irritating between maps, where break helps calm the nerves, but when trying to select a game. See, the internal GameSpy browser tells you a server has one slot open. Like any other game then, it’s a race between you and a dozen other players for that spot. Oh, looks like you got lucky, it’s loading. At about fifteen seconds through it tells you the server is full. Fifteen seconds! That’s how long it takes the game to tell you whether or not you got the last space or not. There is clearly a better way to handle that.
SIDEBAR: Athlon T-Bird 1GHz
32MB GF2 GT-S
A good analogy for Battlefield 1942’s graphics is the blond bombshell gold-digger. She’s very pretty, but things proceed exceedingly slow unless you throw money at her. Keeping that stereotype and analogy going, once she gets her claws in your system, it takes quite a bit of effort to get them out. We’re quite certain there is a memory leak since the game spends a good minute unloading itself from the swap file, despite the 512MB in the review system. Afterwards, everything seems to load just a bit slower, from Explorer to Word.
Wake Island and Midway look fantastic from the lowly eyes of a GI or the high vantage point of a Corsair pilot. Large, varied textures comprise the ground, sea and sky. Trees, military structures and buildings litter the landscape, sandy beaches contrast with a blue ocean. In Kursk and Kharkov, the beaten ground, the dark green grass and trees, the overcast skies feel like a more appropriate setting for battle between two evil powers. Berlin is a city of wrecked buildings, obstructed streets and machinegun emplacements, vividly showing the brutality of war where gains are measured not by blocks or buildings, but by mounds of ruin that are yards apart. The Battle of the Bulge must be seen to be believed, it has so much atmosphere. You feel cold, looking out at the white snow with dark brown patches of dirt, the barren trees. The cold really is almost tangible as you hear your feet hit the mush.
Like the interface, we found the sound effects a mixed bag. Almost all sounds related to weapons ranged from solid to superior. Pistols, rifles and machinegunes are a bit weaker than we’d like, they sound like they’re muffled by blankets. Larger weapons, like artillery, ship guns and tank cannons have the right boom to them, so that’s all good. Explosions aren’t earthshaking but they’re fair enough. We expected more particularly from ship gun shells exploding, but you can’t have everything. Ambient effects are done far better. The battlefield is eerily quiet, except for your footsteps, the rumble and whine of engines, and the staccato of gunfire.
Music doesn’t make much of an appearance in the game, which is fortunate since it is utterly forgettable – typical military movie drivel. The voice acting, even though it is used only for the rare voice command, is actually the strongest part of the sound department. The developers went to the effort of getting actors who spoke the genuine language, though we’re not all too sure how Americanized the accents are.
SIDEBAR: My favorite map is probably Kharkov, though the air units don’t really belong there. It’s annoying to see someone parachute down into your home base and steal a tank. People are wasted defending the rear when they could be having fun on the frontline.
Eat hot lead
Battlefield 1942 is a blast, the kind that comes from the 16” shells that the USS Missouri hurls. It’s like the 'merely' great multiplayer from RtCW was taken and refined to excellence. Truthfully, after playing the game, ones comes to the conclusion that there is no finer activity in life but to log on and lob some bombs at an IJN carrier or put a hole in the side of a T-34/85 with a Tiger’s 88mm.
Conquest mode is where the game really shines, in fact it is usually the only way worth playing. Capture the Flag works on some maps, but a match on Berlin can go for hours without either side getting a score. While the other modes do work, it is clear that no compromises were made to the play in Conquest.
Singleplayer, if you haven’t guessed yet, is a joke. The campaign mode is little more than playing the maps through in a series until you beat them. AI suffers from Daikatana syndrome. On the one hand, the things that the bots accomplish are really rather amazing. They fly, they snipe, they run and gun, they can pilot tanks and ships. On the other hand, they’re totally unnatural and blatantly stupid at times. When on your team, they can be as stupid as Superfly and Mikako from Daikatana. When opposing you, they’re generally smarter and get the kind of aim that gets the Q3A bots on Nightmare mode jealous. Either way, they are completely artificial and show none of the ‘life’ that bots in UT displayed.
The performance of the game is horrible. In singleplayer, the bots can slow a computer down to a crawl. In multiplayer, it is usually the server’s fault. Everyone and their mother has at least a 24-player server, but only about one in three of those can actually run decently at that speed. The others suffer from lag that ranges from spiky (like when making high-speed maneuvers in a vehicle) to unbearable. With the official EA servers out of the equation, the ratio gets much worse. To make matters worse, a good 25% of all servers are passworded, seemingly 24/7, always with 0 players. Why host a server if you’re not going to let people play on it? We already mentioned the rather heavy system requirements.
SIDEBAR: Funniest. T-shirt. Ever. (Remember girls, this does work both ways.)
Gameplay. The only thing we liked about Return to Castle Wolfenstein was the multiplayer. Battlefield 1942 improves on that and cuts out that singleplayer junk (for the most part.) No complaints.
Singleplayer. It’s a joke. Anybody who would buy BF1942 for this obviously doesn’t have internet access, never mind reads our reviews. Still, the singleplayer isn’t something we’d engage in even if the cable went out.
SIDEBAR: The German 88 was the most versatile gun of the war. It served anti-air, anti-tank, tank and anti-infantry roles. The 88 was deadly in all its configurations. Its anti-tank role was reinforced when anti-air guns were forced to defend themselves from tanks… and won! It was also the only consistent method Rommel had of destroying British Matilda tanks during his desert campaign, since his own tanks didn’t have enough firepower.
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