by Joe "Impaler" Highman
Article Type: Preview
Article Date: July 12, 2002
Product Name: Battlefield 1942
Category: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Digital Illusions CE (DICE)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Summer 2002
Rec. Spec: TBA
Files & Links: Click Here
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Whereas once there was a void in our gaming hearts longing and pleading with developers for high-quality World War II era flight simulators, real-time strategy games, and first-person shooters, we now live in a world filled to the brim with competitors for our game-playing affection. The leaps forward have been impressive, considering that one of the first entries into the fray of WWII-FPS titles was the original Castle Wolfenstein, which I still remember fondly from my days in the Apple IIc lab in sixth grade. Show me a gamer from that era, and I will show you someone who can expertly mimic the in-game speech of the sentries demanding you to “Come Here”, asking for “Your Pass” and saluting with an enthusiastic “Heil!” before making the almost always fatal mistake of turning their 2-D backs on you. Ah, memories of a more simple time.
|The sleepy town of Tobruk |
Recent entries into the marketplace have shown either a strict adherence to historical accuracy; a dedication to smooth and effective multiplayer action, often at the sacrifice of graphical splendor; or simply painting on some swastikas and Thompson sub-machineguns into an Unreal Tournament Arena game and passing its arcade sensibilities off as cutting edge entertainment. However, for all these enrichments, game developers have yet to strike the delicate balance among game play, multiplayer integrity, rich environments, and combat simulation.
Electronic Arts, the proverbial 800 pound gorilla, in conjunction with development house Digital Illusions CE (aka DICE) have recently opened a private beta test of their latest contribution in to the WWII FPS universe. This venture offers fast-paced yet “historically respectful” game play for up to 64 online players per battlefield ranging across some of the most famous campaigns of the war. While this has been attempted before in other titles, Battlefield: 1942 is one of the first to combine massive and complete integration of infantrymen, naval ships and boats, and aircraft without sacrificing a stunning graphical presentation to accomplish the game play.
|Half a mile away is a nice place to view a standoff between destroyers and shore artillery |
For all of the attention paid to the integration aspect of the weapons systems, the game is ultimately won or lost, as is real war, by the man on the ground with a rifle. While there will always be players who live or die by the aerial or naval element, and even in service in the armored divisions of the community, the versatile and adaptive ground-pounder is still the key to victory. To this end, EA and DICE have crafted five distinctive infantry player classes to choose among.
The five player classes, by now familiar to all fans of the genre, are the Assault soldier, the Scout/Sniper, the Anti-Tank/Anti-Armor specialist, the Combat Engineer, and the ever reliable Combat Medic. Each role has its distinct strengths and weaknesses and most players will quickly discover a favorite.
All classes, regardless of specialty or nationality carry a dagger/trench knife/bayonet for a melee weapon and a sidearm pistol. Beyond that, the weapons load of the characters is class-dependent.
The Assault Soldier comes loaded for, well, the assault role! Depending upon the nationality of the combatants involved, the assigned weaponry is some manner of squad automatic weapon, like the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) or the Sturmgewehr-44 (Stg-44) German rifle, the precursor to the modern AK-47/AK-74 family of assault rifles. The Assaulter combines acceptable speed with high firepower.
The Scout/Sniper carries, again, you guessed it, a sniper rifle with which to decimate enemy infantry from extreme range. However, perhaps the most powerful function of the Scout/Sniper is the ability to use a set of field binoculars to communicate with, and even to visually share designated targets with artillery pieces elsewhere in the map. This allows true indirect fire support missions, which I will address later in this piece, but Battlefield: 1942 is the first title of its kind to properly support the vitally important strategic concept.
|A British Sherman tank, minus a gunner! |
The Anti-Tank specialist sports a shoulder-mounted armor piercing high explosive projectile weapon. Two of the more famous models include the German Panzerschreck and the American Bazooka. A well camouflaged or concealed AT trooper can wreak havoc on an unsuspecting armored column in very short order.
While primarily a defensive class, the Combat Engineer proves to be among the most successful and prolific classes in the early goings of the private beta. The Engineer carries a bolt-action rifle with a slower than desirable, but historically proper rate of fire. However, this is compensated by excellent damage dealt against targets at long ranges, and the round is almost completely deadly inside 100 yards, depending on hit placement. The Engineer sacrifices grenades in favor of another deadly bag of tricks, the high-explosive Det pack and the indiscriminate land mine. However, despite the ability to demolish structures, material, and personnel and to generally cause havoc in the field, it is the issuing of the trust Monkey Wrench that gives the Engineer the most punch.
The Engineer can, with a twist of a wrist, repair damaged armor, vehicles, and gun emplacements. Couple an engineer with his own tank, and you quickly find among the most powerful combinations on the battlefield. After all, if you find yourself on the receiving end of an attack from this target, you might land two excellent shots, but the Engineer/Tanker simply hops out between incoming shells, repairs 90 percent of the damage from your last shell, and then hops back in the safety of the armored vehicle in time to fire a round before repeating. Fear not, because this is a beta test, and some things, like the mighty mechanic are being tuned and tweaked to ensure balance among the player classes.
|The M4 Sherman in traditional US markings |
Rounding off the platoon, enter the Combat Medic. While it would be the easiest thing to assume that this role is only a support person who sits back and tries to help keep the troops doing the fighting healthy, this is not entirely the case. In fact, the Medic sports a light machine gun, such as the American Thompson .45 caliber submachine gun or the German MP-40. This weapon provides the medic with a terrific rate of fire, high accuracy, and good damage, and in many testers’ opinions, makes the Medic the platform of choice for offensive operations. Of course, what would a medic be without the ability to heal wounds of stricken comrades? The medic sacrifices some grenades in favor of a medical kit. In the current versions of the beta, the medic cannot heal himself, nor drop med packs on the ground for pickup by passing soldiers, but these are things under discussion.
As mentioned previously, this title far exceeds the run-and-gun antics of the men on the ground. Battlefield: 1942 offers total integration of a variety of weapons platforms, including Land/Infantry weapons, Sea-borne ships and boats, and Air/Anti-Air units.
|Opening moves |
Land units include transportation only platforms in the form of Jeeps and small cars. A step up from there is the Armored Personnel Carrier, which so far, takes the form of a 2-ton truck with armor plating and a player-crewed heavy machine gun atop for protection of the driver, gunner, and their four to six man cargo. Lastly what would WWII be without tanks, and the players will not find themselves disappointed by the quality of the tank engagements to be had, nor with the supply and availability of tanks.
Many tanks are multiplayer enabled; so one player may drive and fire the main gun along with the coax machine gun, while a second player may serve as gunner with the heavy machine gun in the cupola. This position just begs for a snipers’ round, so I don’t recommend it if you could use the coax gun just as easily. Rounds from the main gun typically shred opposing armor at long range with only a few shots and at close range to vulnerable areas, only one round may be required. At this point in the beta, tanks cannot transport infantry, but the developers have inserted a plentiful bounty of other transportation methods for moving infantrymen.
|The UK Priest, self-propelled artillery |
Another battlefield heavyweight making its presence felt comes in the form of self-propelled artillery batteries, basically tanks with artillery pieces mounted to them. Working in conjunction with scouts in the field, an artillerist is able to sit far removed from the immediate danger of the battlefront, where his thin armor will provide little cover from grenades or other anti-armor weaponry.
Here is a brief explanation of the phenomenon of indirect fire missions. The scout observes a group of targets with his binoculars, and "calls back" to the waiting artillery guns with a request for a fire mission. In game terms, the player may then switch his view to that of the scout and send his high-explosive rounds skyward. Once the rounds impact, the artillery officer can literally "walk his fire" right up on the targets by making minor adjustments. Another method of indirect fire support takes a less technical approach. Simply fire at an area, and if you have good communicators in the area, they can tell you if your rounds are sailing long, falling short, or on the money and to Fire for Effect! Artillery commanders enjoy hearing those words nearly as much as the infantry enjoy saying them. In and of itself, this feature doesn't seem like anything new, but it quite literally is. No other title has yet to offer a functional method of calling in artillery support from a human player.
|Anchors Away! |
Sea forces do not enter into every scenario, but on the maps where they are present, their thundering cannon and ability to launch aircraft and to serve as floating mobile headquarters is invaluable. Assets include small vessels such as the LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) with a crew compartment for the coxswain and heavy machine gunner, as well as an area to carry the troops. They are not alone, however, because the larger capital ships, like a destroyer, cruise off shore in the deeper waters peppering the predominantly prepared positions with plentiful power and precision.
The destroyer sports two crewed large cannon batteries that can fire independently of one another, depth charges, and two crew-manned .50 calibers for anti-air protection. The destroyer is best suited for anti-shore battery fire and for keeping heavy concussive fire concentrated on an area, perhaps to pin down and eliminate a pocket of resistance while infantrymen move around a flank in preparation to engage. Lastly, in beta terms anyway, an aircraft carrier floats just off the coast, and not only serves as a floating runway from which to launch aircraft and to retrieve them, but also provides five crewed positions, including the bridge and four separate anti-air batteries. Ships are certainly vulnerable to air attack, and this helps to ensure that balance among units that we mentioned earlier in this piece.
|The US Navy's SBD Dauntless Torpedo Dive Bomber |
Aerial forces, including fighters, torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and even the famous B-17 Flying Fortress heavy level bomber populate the sky like the birds of prey they are modeled after. As with almost every other vehicle in the game, multiple players may choose to crew a single craft. In fact, this is a central strategy on some beta maps. An assaulter will serve as tail gunner on board a two-seat craft, and once over an objective, that assaulter will eject from the aircraft, pop the ‘chute, and drift toward earth and hopefully, to a surprise capture of the objective.
It is unclear if a pure transport, like a C-47 Skytrain will become available, so until then, fire-jumping from the 6 o’clock seat is the method of choice for paratrooper insertion. Those unfortunate enough to find themselves the hapless victims of relentless strafing can choose to man scattered anti-aircraft cannons, although at the time of this writing, many players have not mastered the art of defensive warfare and choose to man other vehicles instead. However it should be noted that this title is primarily a FPS title, and as such, is not a pure flight simulator. The flight model is simple enough to be picked up by slightly experienced virtual pilots, but could prove TOO basic for advanced or expert pilots. As a good rule of thumb, those players who are excellent pilots in other titles can expect to dominate the skies above Battlefield: 1942.
|Iron on the target! |
The map system at work in Battlefield: 1942 contains several design features that players are either going to love or are going to hate. Again, keep in mind that this is a beta test, so design features may come and go without notice and without fanfare!
For starters, instead of having one big geographic territory with scattered firefights here and there, and larger battles in other locales, the folks at DICE and EA have divided the major engagements of WWII into 15 separate game maps. These locations include places such as El Alamein, the Ardennes forest during the Battle of the Bulge, Guadalcanal, the bridges of Belgium that were the targets of Operation Market Garden, Berlin, and Stalingrad, just to name a few. Of course, no WWII multiplayer game is complete without the obligatory, and often times most compelling invasion at Omaha Beach.
|In the rear with the gear |
Each map will support up to 64 players, depending on the server that hosts the game. Most servers will probably choose to max out at 32 players for performance reasons. These servers can opt to publish Internet-based games or rather over Local Area Network. A single player campaign mode is in the works, but no beta information is available on this feature.
Both sides of a particular conflict are not assigned specific mission objectives in the traditional sense. Rather, game maps have specific control points, or choke points that must be controlled. These points become strategically important because control points double as spawn locations for new players or those returning from the dead. Many key vehicles, especially tanks, tend to spawn near these points as well.
The control points also work in conjunction with another design feature that will curl many an eyebrow in the community. Rather than rewarding both sides for reckless game play or for failing to properly push on objectives in a timely manner, the developers at DICE installed a “ticket system.” In this system, both sides are given a pre-set amount of “lives”, if you will. Each resurrection will cost your team one life from the pool. When the total available in the pool reaches 0, that side loses, regardless of territorial gain. However, death and dying are not the only things that can detract from your teams’ pool. In fact, failure to hold any control points will dissolve an ample pool within a minute or two, and during an invasion mission, casualties will mount until at least one control point is taken, thus establishing a foothold on the map. Frankly, I enjoy this ticket system as it discourages reckless or sloppy play and rewards those teams who can learn to serve together towards a common aim.
In years past, the general impression around the gaming campfires is that the software developers and publishers often rush a product out the door knowingly full of bugs with the intent of patching the release soon after. The goal is often to beat the competitors to the street, and the consumer is called on to provide a post-release-beta service.
|Look, Ma! I can swim! |
This practice has become so common, in fact, that it becomes a rarity when a developer takes the time to get it right. DICE and EA are among those fighting the good fight in an effort to release a solid product. The developers work closely with the beta testers to answer issues and to test errors almost immediately. New builds come out frequently, but not recklessly, and often incorporate suggestions from the beta community itself.
The group of players, fans, and journalists selected for participation in the closed beta has, for the most part, provided an accurate measure of respect and patience with what is, after all, SUPPOSED to be a buggy product. Testers must sign an agreement stating that they will give X number of hours of playtime per week and report errors as they happen. This has served the overall health of the game well, as one can almost feel the daily progress resultant from the hours of testing.
While a certain number of bad apples will always ruin the bunch, for the most part, the beta community is remarkably civil and professional. Some rivalries have, of course, sprung up here and there, but the forums are still remarkably flame free.
|Tailgun Charlie here. |
Battlefield: 1942 is a compromise through-and-through. Sometimes, compromise is a great thing! Battlefield: 1942 offers exciting, quick paced play with a good community of players, using weapons, tactics, and platforms in a lovely environment. The title is still in beta, and as such, there are still improvements to be made. That having been said, Battlefield: 1942 is going to offer everyone who is interested in our genre with something. There are better simulations out there, to be sure. There are larger, more expansive maps and environments out there as well. However, if you enter into this title expecting a wonderful gaming experience, fabulous environments, and just utter chaos all around your virtual self, you will certainly not be disappointed.
- Single Player Demo [133 MB]
- Multiplayer Demo [130 MB]
- Dedicated Multi-player Demo Server [21.5 MB]
Above files available from the following providers:
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