Battlefield 1942 “Showdown”

by Joe "Impaler" Highman

Article Type: Field Report
Article Date: August 29, 2002

Product Info

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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The USS Hornet, CVS-12 of the United States Navy, is a vessel steeped in history and honor. Built starting in August 1942 and commissioned in late 1943, she participated and endured vehement conflict, dealing blow after blow to the air, sea, and land forces of the Empire of the Rising Sun. But her storied history does not begin or end with armed aggression. The Hornet is the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 capsules upon return from their lunar voyages. Men whose names have become legend in man’s exploration of the moon, Al Bean, Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong called the Airstream trailer below Hornet’s deck home. The ship is a national treasure, having served America with valor in wartime and in peace.

The first steps taken on Earth by a man who stepped on the surface of the Moon

Today, the USS Hornet rests comfortably in Alameda, California, a dedicated museum and historical landmark. However, from time to time, she opens her doors for special events and corporate outings.

You have no idea how large this ship is until you stand next to it

Thursday evening, 22 August 2002, EA Games hosted 46 journalists, developers, and guests from the media shuffled aboard the awesome USS Hornet to attend and participate in the Battlefield: 1942 “Showdown”. Players from across the pond, including representatives of Sweden-based development house DICE, were on hand to take up arms against or alongside other players from around the United States and Canada.

Our hosts

The open hangar bay boasted 64 high performance systems equipped with the latest in GeForce4 cards, large Viewsonic monitors, and subwoofer-adorned sound. The workstations communicated with two dedicated game servers divided in half to host 32 players per game, although the official specifications indicate that a single game can support up to 64 players.

Just in case we forgot what we were playing, I guess

Among the highlights of the session was the unveiling of some game maps never before seen by the public. These maps included the mainstay of WWII infantry shooters, Omaha Beach. Less of a beach and more like storming an angry volcano, the determined German defenders in the room seemed to make it a point to use my skull as a waste receptacle for old bullets. Another map dominated by furious action was Kharkov (Soviet versus German troops), an interesting landscape of high ground and valleys, featuring two team-held areas separated by a small ruined village with only a narrow bridge coming to or going from either side.

Other maps displayed included Al Alamein, the famous engagement in the desert between the British and Hitler’s vaunted Afrika Corps; Iwo Jima, with its sandy beaches and craggy hills; Kursk, another Germans versus Soviets map and seemingly designed for the flag-runners in our midst; and a quaint Normandy ville complete with hedgerows, Norman architecture, and plenty of cool green grass above which B-17 Flying Fortresses and P-51 Mustangs battle a whole mess of Messerschmitts.

The finale of the evening was a raucous battle between German invaders and Soviet defenders in the shattered streets of Stalingrad, and just as the historical event it represents, this map provides ample opportunities for the motivated sniper.

As noted, new maps also invite new weaponry to experiment with. Among the more loathsome platforms to face, from an opposing mechanized infantry standpoint anyway, is the BM-13N Katyusha, better known as the "Stalin’s Organ.” While an inaccurate rocket artillery system, the Katyusha barrages an area with its 132mm rockets, decimating infantry and armor alike.

Another impressive weapon debuting that evening, for me at least, was the B-17F Flying Fortress heavy bomber. While the traditional historical B-17 served as a high-altitude, highly accurate level bombing platform, limitations of the Battlefield: 1942 world forces it into an ungainly low-level close-air-support and tactical weapon. Three players crew each B-17; A pilot/bombardier, top turret gunner and ball turret gunner. Besides delivering a heavy payload of explosives to rain down on enemy positions, the B-17 doubles as an airborne transport. The two gunners may choose to eject from the bomber and drift to earth behind enemy lines, and in fact, all three players may choose this tactic, if they don’t mind allowing their ship to crash nearby.

In-game art of a B-17F Flying Fortress

Besides new maps and new weapons, much of the gameplay and performance is the same as it was from our August preview. Sadly, little has changed to help Battlefield: 1942 become more of a simulation and less of an arcade-like run-and-gun frag or capture the flag fest. This title is amazingly addictive, yet the lack of an effective communications network, even when all the players are contained within the same freezing-cold hangar bay, still hampers gameplay for those of us who want more of a squad-level simulation.

However, lets look at it for what it is. Battlefield: 1942 is visually stunning. The landscapes are widely varied and offer a good order of cover and concealment allowing a good balance of energy and tactics. The sounds, from the ripping of rifle cartridges to the throaty purr of a landing craft steaming to shore, resonate convincingly, although a good subwoofer is essential hardware for the ultimate experience. The character classes are balanced and effective, and offer the adept player many situational options; sometimes a skillful engineer in a lumbering tank and next time around, a camouflaged sniper carefully perched in a hayloft.

My largest complaints to-date, ones that have not been assuaged by this special event, center around team play and communications. The mechanism is weak to useless at best, and the style of play does little to encourage competent team strategy. However, even this shortcoming can be countered with the many third-party products employed by clans, squads and teams worldwide. Roger Wilco and Microsoft Sidewinder Game Voice are both valuable options for voice communications among squads. Combined with defined roles and objectives, the coordinated team will quickly show its dominance on any level.

Ultimately, I think Battlefield: 1942 is destined for greatness. I believe that the “cons” will quickly trivialize when put before the “pros,” and this title will achieve classic status quickly. The multiplayer demo, freshly released, is already among the tops of the charts for most widely played multiplayer titles, and the base of fans is substantial and fervent. Clans, squads, or whatever you wish to address their collective units as, have already sprung up worldwide. One can only assume that their numbers will swell once the title is actually released.

In sum total, Battlefield: 1942 looks to be an excellent balance of action, energy, and strategy, offering something for everyone. Chances are that if you are a fan of the tactical FPS, the arcade sensibilities of this title will not wholly appeal to you, but it's hard to argue with the raw fun to be had.

Let Freedom Ring

I sat along with dozens of my colleagues in the hangar bay of the USS Hornet. The wind off the bay entered freely, and the air was cold and biting. Yet even in my tourist's garb of a COMBATSIM.COM T-shirt and shorts, and being subjected to four hours worth of low 50-degree winds, the night still ended far too early. Battlefield: 1942 is simply too much fun to walk away from.

The seal of the CVS-12 USS Hornet





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