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Review by: Richard Leader
Published: October 11, 2002
World War II games have traditionally come in two distinct flavors: strict simulations and titles merely possessing a W.W.II theme. The latter group has always been a diverse crowd, with some even adapting science fiction conventions, such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Most themed offerings, however, have been reluctant to recreate actual engagements of the War. Battlefield 1942, developed by Digital Illusions, is the first great exception to that rule. It seeks to bridge the gap between the two flavors in a way that’s sure to generate popular appeal – appeal not particularly concerned with the moral ambiguities of combining horrific events with online deathmatch.
Battlefield 1942 seeks to deliver nothing less than everything. Featuring over 35 vehicles for players to command over land, sea and air, the sheer number of options that it brings to the table makes comparisons to more authentic simulations such as World War II Online and Operation Flashpoint inevitable, even if it has both feet planted in the realm of the first-person shooter, and is more comparable to games like Tribes 2. While a pair of single-player modes are offered, both the campaign and the instant action modules consist of the same 16 maps that make up the multiplayer component, with the addition of computer-controlled players, or “bots”, filling the ranks of each side. Between the online focus on team play and the attention paid to authenticity, at least on the material level, Battlefield 1942 is a true genre bender. On a critical level, it might be easy to classify it as a first-person shooter, though its historical setting and diverse gameplay dynamics often make it feel like a true military simulation.
Though many of the maps can be played as pure deathmatch or a more traditional contest of capture the flag, the more popular and compelling mode is that of Conquest, where teams vie for command of various control points, which serve double duty as spawn locations for both players and vehicles. The Conquest mode is further divided into two subcategories: Assault and Head-on. In Assault matches, one faction begins the round with control of every point on the map, while the other is required to strip it from them, such as when the Allies land on Omaha Beach. In a Head-on game, each side begins with a permanent base that cannot be captured, and must scramble to take control of the board, typically resulting in longer conflicts.
To make things even more interesting, the concept of “tickets” has been added to the mix. Each side begins with a certain number of tickets that’s reduced whenever a player is killed in action and subsequently re-spawns. When the number is reduced to zero, the game is over. However, fulfilling certain victory conditions will cause the opposing team’s tickets to slowly deplete every second until they manage to reverse the situation by reclaiming a required control point. This gives teams a chance to come back from the brink of disaster, or at least give players the resolve to stay in a losing game and manage a minor, rather than a total, defeat based on the percentage of tickets by which they lost.
The battle for Wake Island is illustrative of this: The Americans initially hold the five control points on the island and are given 150 tickets, while the Japanese begin at sea with 180. As the latter have not yet met their objective of possessing at least one control point, they lose tickets at a rate of about one per second, giving them a half minute to invade the island, lest they receive a ticket disadvantage. Even a small disadvantage might come back to haunt them toward the end of the match, when having more “reinforcements”, or re-spawns, becomes critical. Only by capturing all five of the control points can they force the Americans into a ticket drain situation. Should that be accomplished, the Allied team would not be able to field any new reinforcements whatsoever, as all the spawn points have been captured – requiring the few remaining soldiers to stealthily take back one of the control points to avoid losing the match, no matter how many tickets they have remaining.
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