Battlefield 1942: Retail Release

by Joe "Impaler" Highman

Article Type: Review
Article Date: October 17, 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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What a wonderful world

Anyone who has ever presents a gift to a young child during the course of one's lifetime ultimately feels the sting of rejection and the futility of effort as same child discards the toy and instead indulges in the hollow confines of the box from which it came. Anyone who has ever known a pre-teen child knows how same child can have a room full of toys, shelves of books, a desk dominated with computer games, an entertainment center overflowing with all manner of games, videos, or other distractions, and still hear the words "I'm bored." It's human nature.

We, the computer gamer, are human, too. No matter how little natural sunlight we need, nor how many days in a row without sleep we can endure, nor how many meals can consist of pizza and soda, we are all still human. Well, most of us, anyway.

The inner-human and sometimes not-so-inner child of the combat simulation gaming fan base has long been clamoring for, and almost lusting for, the complete integrated battlefield. Tanks, and planes, and ships (Insert your own "Oh, My!" joke here… I'm not going to do it). So many of us were collectively crushed by the initial failures of the first real pioneer in this venture, WWII Online, and just as many had their hopes dashed against the rocks by the complete lack of vehicle support in an otherwise gorgeous Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. If not for the Day of Defeat / Counter-Strike Half-Life mods out there, or the brilliantly executed Operation Flashpoint, who knows how many of us could have survived this long.

For some time now, the community has been abuzz with anticipation for Electronic Art's Battlefield: 1942. We held our breaths and carefully studied every printed word on the subject, especially the finely crafted pieces here at COMBATSIM.COM. The beta-tester community was equally envied for the coveted chance to touch the shiny buttons of the first multiplayer and single player codes to emerge from the developers, and at the same time loathed for the seas of errors, complaints, and other delays caused by their skillful evaluation of the program.

Eventually, a multiplayer and a single player demo version flooded the bandwidth of FTP servers everywhere, and the game was one of the most widely played games in the world in only its first couple days. Sadly, even for beta testers, only two maps—Wake Island and Tobruk—were playable at the time. The only other maps to be seen publicly occurred during the “Showdown” public relations event on the USS Hornet in August.

A stately Norman cathedral

Patience is a virtue, however, and we now live in a world that is post-retail release of Battlefield: 1942, and in fact, a version 1.1 retail and server patch has already been released as well. The retail version offers a complete single player game, as well as the multiplayer code. Players may create a dedicated or playable server for LAN use as well as for public access with a few simple clicks.

Purchasers receive an instant battle mode or can choose to wage a complete campaign as either the Allied or Axis forces, from North Africa to the South Pacific. And most notably, soldiers may control a myriad of weapon platforms, from stalking submarines, devastating destroyers, brutal battleships, awesome aircraft carriers, lurching landing craft, furious fighters, hulking heavy bombers, tempestuous torpedo bombers, daring dive-bombers, assisting armored personnel carriers, jaunty jeeps, sturdy self-propelled artillery pieces, lethal light tanks, and the humongous heavy tanks.

Many of these vehicles also provide stations for other players to ride or fire weaponry, be it the ball-turret gunner's position of a B-17 Flying Fortress, an antiaircraft battery protecting an aircraft carrier or while receiving medical attention and ammunition reloads within the armored hull of the APC. Did I mention that there is still plenty of employment opportunity for the good ol’ rifle-totting grunt in the mud?

US and German Heavyweights

Wild Blue Yonder

For all the excitement of a desperate stand, defending some shelled ruin of a building against a seemingly unceasing horde of armored behemoths, belching fire and roaring smoke, there is still something to be said for the gentleman’s pursuit of aviation. Flight simulation junkies seeking the ultimate in flight models should give this portion a miss however, as much of the complexity of a WWII aircraft has been left out in favor of rapid, exciting gameplay. In fact, pulling back on the stick to pitch the nose up, or stomping a rudder pedal to yaw the nose around is just about all the realism to be had in this arena of the game.

Who says Yaks cant fly?

Hangar mainstays from each nation make their presence known in the skies over Battlefield: 1942’s spacious battlefields, and in some cases, air superiority can completely overwhelm even the most staunch ground force. Few things are as disheartening as hearing the whine of incoming bombs towards your relatively exposed position. In fact, the AI pilots have no qualms about expending their explosive ordnance against an individual foot soldier. These aerial snipers seem to possess a sight beyond sight, discerning a lone trooper laying in wait in the thick brush much like a soaring falcon detects a field mouse. In fact, this omniscience carries into other areas of the game that will cause more than one mouse (computer type, not field variety) to be chucked across the room in disgust.

Sadly, the limited size and scope of each battlefield somewhat limits how effective some forms of air power can be best applied, and even the B-17 Flying Fortress is reduced to flying close air support style missions. Purists will be happy to learn that the B-17 included in the game actually carries only one-half the payload of the Yaks, Messerschmitts, Zeros, Corsairs, or Spitfires, and one-fourth the ordnance of the Vai’s, Dauntlesses, and Junkers of the campaign.

The Flying Fortress carries only eight bombs in its bays, and is without pilot-controlled cannons. However, even this seeming limitation does have its advantages. The Fort has two player-mountable gunners' turrets; one in the top turret, the other in the ball turret. Both players can defend the bomber to its target, where it exercises the only one real benefit of its class. Yes, it has only eight bombs, but it can drop all eight of these bombs in rapid succession. The result is a furious torrent of explosive destructive power in a remarkably small area, and anyone or anything unlucky enough to be in its path had best have its life insurance policy paid up to date.

Is there anything sexier than a pair of Mustangs?

The gunners may parachute to the ground below, thus putting an infantry presence onto the newly leveled ground. If the pilot is skilled, the Fort may return to base, rearm, pick up two more gunners, then return to the combat zone. In this manner, several infantrymen can leapfrog an opponent and make a stand.

Run Silent, Run Deep

While multiplayer battlefields have before combined land and air forces, very rarely have they witnessed the application of sea-borne forces, and certainly not player-controlled vehicles. Virtual marines clamor aboard landing craft bound for the teeth of the battle, using their relative speed, small size, and agility to flank defenses or to slip onto uncontested beachheads. Of course, what would a WWII-based FPS game be without a journey into the fray at bloody Omaha Beach, where the landing craft bring meat for the grinders?

Spotted Sub, Sank Same

While destroyers and battleships seem little more than massive maneuverable floating artillery batteries, the truly exciting vehicle to be had must be the Gato-class submarine fleet. The subs are conspicuously missing from the entire single player campaign, and in fact, the sub can only be found on multiplayer team deathmatch servers. The reasoning, as per local forums, seems that the AI had some difficulty in handling the equipment properly. But if you do happen to find yourself at the helm of the submarine, you are in for a treat.

The undersea environment is intoxicatingly novel, and stalking your prey from the depths has an exhilaration seldom felt in the “been there done that” genre that some FPS titles fall victim to. It's especially gratifying to put a torpedo square into the keister of some tunnel vision stricken destroyer captain shelling your comrades in virtual arms. Granted, a boat as large as a Gato-class sub doesn’t exactly handle like a dream, and thinking in a three-dimensional plane takes time. Your boat is more maneuverable up and down instead of left and right, so turning while diving and twisting while surfacing will increase your likelihood of survival under the high seas.

How to stalk a destroyer

You’re in the Army Now

The single player campaign mode is something of a misnomer, but still provides a few hours of solid entertainment. On the surface, your performance in one mission should have some bearing on the missions to follow, but sadly, one may fail every mission objective or sweep the field clean of one's enemies and the outcome is the same every time. The campaign then breaks down into little more than a timeline by which to order each of the 16 individual missions, from Operation Battleaxe in North Africa, all the way up to the Sands of Iwo Jima. I consoled myself with the inevitability of defeat for the Axis with the old axiom about winning the battles, but losing the war. I certainly mopped the floor with the Allies in battle, but could not stop the tide of defeat for the Axis powers.

While I will not provide a complete strategy guide in this document, I would like to take a moment and provide a précis of some of the missions that I enjoyed most, along with some tips, tricks, or other notable items. So, grab your ruck and follow me!

Whenever the German army and the Soviet army squared off, you could expect a fearsome and pitched battle. The Stalingrad and Berlin missions provide an excellent example of this, as the armored infantry never seems to stop pressing on. However, Kursk is among my favorite battles. Fought on Russian soil in July 1943, and following the bitter German defeat in Stalingrad, the battle of Kursk could be said to represent the beginning of the end of the German war effort against the Soviets. The landscape is hilly and rolling, with a depression separating the two foes, with the advantage going to the Soviet troops defending and advancing from high ground in the North. Several weapon systems make their debut here, including the German Panther tank, the Soviet T-34 main battle tank, the Soviet Yak-9 fighter-bomber, and the mobile rocket artillery platform, the BM-13 Katyusha, better known to history as “Stalin’s Organ.”

Why aim?

This small map puts an infantryman within a 60 second jog of the action, and at any time, your forces had best have an anti-tank defense protecting your objectives, as the small map coupled with highly mobile and heavily armored vehicles place armor at your doorstep with little or no warning. I recommend that once you beat the campaign that you play this mission with the number of bots increased heavily, as the chaos that ensues is well worth the price of admission.

Beach Party, Omaha

As mentioned before, what WWII FPS would be complete without a salute to Omaha Beach? While the actual historical counterpart is the largest of the Normandy invasion beaches, at almost six miles wide, the in-game variant features a narrow sliver of obstacle-studded sand between two steep cliffs. The briefing indicates that your landing craft will attack near the Pointe-du-Hoc cliffs, where the US Rangers made their famous assault up the sheer cliff face. US forces are not entirely without punch, as a destroyer floats just off the invasion beach, ready to put a barrage of destructive fire upon German garrison forces as far inland as the local town. Wehrmacht troops shelter inside heavy concrete bunkers and man up to four beachward-facing MG42 machine guns, turning the landing site into a wall of steel. So deadly was the fire, in fact, that one of the most unique situations in the history of battle occurred, where wounded soldiers were actually dragged FORWARD for aide.

Just as then, to stay on the beach is suicide. Your only chance to achieve your goals from the US side is to rush off the beach and up the draws and to enter and clear the cliff-top trenches of defenders. From that precarious toehold, allied troops can then pressure the defenses in town and hopefully secure the objective. That isn’t as easy as it sounds, as the town sits atop a small bluff and the final objective for an Allied victory is well inland and tightly defended.

From the Encyclopedia Brittanica website

For the Germans, the key to victory is just as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel designed it…stop them on the beaches. The US troops only have one tank to assist their push inland, and if you can man one or more of the MG42 machine guns, you stand a good chance of stopping them in their tracks. I recommend that you choose the Engineer class and man the MG42 in the concrete bunker overlooking the left draw and that bunker also contains a medical cabinet and an ammo box. You will have a great firing position, solid cover, and medical support in case a lucky naval gun hits your position. The Engineer class can then repair the machine gun and restore fire as well as employ his powerful bolt-action rifle to pick off lone assaulters sheltering behind the hedgehogs and shingle. This tactic worked so well that even on the hard difficulty level with the bots doubled, I could hold the advance in check right on the beach. Occasionally some troops would rush up a draw and thus require some time away from the stationary machine gun to aid in the defense of the exit, but never in the strength or numbers to secure a hold. This map provides the best blend of action and challenge for both assaulters and defenders alike, and even a minor victory is guaranteed to be hard fought and exciting.

Defending Omaha Beach with the MG42

Counter-Battery Fire

And now the introductory paragraph will make more sense. For all the time this game spent in the hands of an enthusiastic and dedicated beta testing community, and for all the clamoring on the public and beta forums, its seems that some of the most glaring problems in this tile have yet to be addressed. Earlier, I mentioned omniscient all-seeing and infinitely talented AI bots roaming the virtual battlefield, and anyone should agree that this presents quite a challenge indeed. The AI can spot any target, regardless of size, camouflage or lack or movement, and bring immediate and accurate firepower to bear. While this is understandable to a degree with the aviators, even enemy tankers, who should be all but blind except for the 90 or 100 some degrees to their front, can spot and track targets in a 360 degree arc. Sneaking up on a tank to place explosives just isn’t an option. Once a tank spots you and brings its guns to bear on you, you might as well take one for the team and make sure the tank dies with you, because unless you can move safely to cover, the tank will track you until it can fire.

And just when you think that the AI is all-powerful, alas, but your own team players cluster around together or man static machine guns pointing back towards your already captured objectives, and very often, you will find yourself the only soldier pushing on an objective or defending a captured point. You are called upon to be all things to all people, and to do all the jobs yourself. I cannot tell you how many times I would see two of my units surrounding an objective on the mini-map but not pushing on it for the capture. Hopefully, the next patch will address some of these AI issues.

A Bridge Too Far. Caine and Hackman in the same movie! This is my thesis man! This is my closing argument! I CAN STOP WATCHING TV!!!!

The multiplayer code, so much of the heart-and-soul of this title also bears some examination. While the game is fluid and responsive, seeming to operate smoothly and effectively for the majority of players on the majority of servers, there is still something missing. This ingredient was never more pronounced that while I attended the “Showdown” on the Hornet back in August. The key to success in any multiplayer tactical title is communications, letting your team know where you are, what you are doing, and working together towards a common objective. However, the communications menu is still lacking, almost to the point of worthlessness.

The chat box is alive with notes of who killed whom and with what weapon, but missing is any real valuable text about objectives, where support is needed, and the like. Unless you take the time to type the text message, of course, but that requires stopping your movement so you can use your fingers to crank out the note. Standing still in this title is lunacy, as there are snipers galore that love nothing more than a stationary target! So, rather than crash your aircraft into the sea, or stop your tank during an offensive push, or take your eyes away from your rifle’s sights and get shot in the back during the process… most players simply choose to not communicate at all!

Don't worry, men! I'm right behind you!

Imagine if you will a server populated entirely by 32 human players. I have yet to see a server supporting the originally advertised 64 players, but 32 players is certainly chaotic enough for my tastes anyway. Now imagine a mission beginning and 16 teammates scurry in different directions much like cockroaches when the kitchen light comes on. Some of these players scramble for and squabble over the coveted aircraft while others leap into landing craft and steam for shore without any passengers on board whatsoever. You stalk an unsuspecting enemy position only to have an indiscriminate rain of shrapnel tear you to ribbons from the grenade tossed by your ally who didn’t care to announce his intentions. Consider the pain of wanting nothing more than to carry a medical kit into battle to aid your fellow soldiers so that they may continue to take the fight to the enemy, only to have them run away from you or turn and blast away at you. Or imagine the dismay of that rare player who selflessly spawns as a scout/sniper and instead of plinking away at individual troops and trying to inflate his own stats, he equips binoculars and calls for an artillery barrage that never comes.

Sound frustrating? Well, it is, and the lack of an effective communications solution is at the center of this game’s shortcomings.

If you want to play this game for any amount of time, and if teamwork is important to you, the best thing that you can do to preserve your sanity to locate and join an effective squad of like-minded game players who also use one of the many third-party voice communications solutions, such as Roger Wilco or TeamSpeak,. However, if you simply want a title that you can fire up when the urge to shoot something strikes you or if you just want to play and not worry about being a teammate, then this is one of the better titles out there.

I think this is a Submarine Spiteful, the 1945 prototype with bubble canopy and 5-bladed prop

Casualties of War

Battlefield: 1942 is a great title on many levels. The graphics are quite splendid, the performance is crisp, even on a mid-range PC, and the various “careers” available for players offers something for everyone. There is ample opportunity for teamwork as well as for constructive individualism. The code is tight and runs well, and even on the busiest of dedicated servers, lag is relatively light. And it’s fun! Battlefield: 1942 is a fun game and a pleasant way to spend an hour or two. However, it’s not for everyone. It is not going to satisfy those historians and purists in the crowd, and that’s a fact! It will not appeal to hard-core flight sim jockeys with the almost child-like simplicity of the aircraft controls and flight models. It is not for the forensic and ballistics folks in the crowd who enjoy considering things like bullet drop, windage, and other marksmanship considerations. It certainly won’t suit someone who wants to be able to flatten buildings with a tank or bomb a bunker into rubble.

But it is a fun game besides. My recommendation is that if you have read this far and you have the first doubt in your mind, hold off on paying full price for the software. Give it time to come down a bit and you might not feel as wronged for having spent more for less than you hoped to get. The learning curve is not steep at all, and anyone who has played any FPS title in the past six years will quickly catch onto the intricacies of this game.

However, if you understand my caveats and you have decided that the potential frustrations are outweighed by the sheer entertainment value of a quality game, then by all means, slap down your cash at your favorite retailer, install away, PATCH it to the 1.1 release, then get yourself lost in the thick of the industry's first truly effective integrated battlefield. Battlefield: 1942.





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