Only in videogames could World War II become synonymous with madcap levity. DICE’s Battlefield series has toughed its way through many eras of combat – historical, fictional and futuristic – but it was always its origins in an erratic, barmy depiction of WWII that offered the kind of joyful chaos that EA now wishes to recapture in Pacific’s downloadable, multiplayer shooter. And it has – to a tee.
Pacific is a masterfully pared-down version of Battlefield’s class-based teamplay – each side trying to wrest control of spawn points from the other while the ability to reinforce those positions ticks down with every casualty. This time, however, there are just three roles available to the player – loosely defined as close-range, mid-range and long-range – and, as with Bad Company, swapping between them is as easy as looting a kit-bag from a corpse.
What the game’s loadout has lost in depth of customization it has gained in balance and immediacy – secondary weapons ensure that no class is helpless, even when forced out of its comfort zone. Self-replenishing ammo also turns out to be a great idea, ensuring a breakneck pace and ironing out the intimidating knowledge differential between beginners and veterans. The need to locate supplies or quickly come to terms with a complex class system are tossed away, promoting happy, impulsive experimentation. No one will sit grimly contemplating the benefits of tank combat over an aerial assault – they will simply choose: ploughing through fences and sandbag defenses, smashing the corners off buildings as enemies scrabble to land a grenade beneath the tracks. The alternative is never less appealing: soaring way into the crisp Sega-blue sky before angling the nose directly down, ejecting and rocking gently to the ground beneath your parachute while watching your craft spiral, screaming, into an enemy bunker.
The settings are returning favorites from the original 1942, and it’s not hard to see why their previous versions propelled Pacific’s forebear to such success: DICE has used the natural restrictions of these islands to dispel any confusion over where to go, funneling the player between dazzling blue seas and sandy shorelines. And yet neither do they feel cramped – the level designers exerting expert control over the flow of play.
Three levels provide for the conquest game type familiar to the series, while another, Coral Sea, is pure air combat. Variety has always been Battlefield’s defining feature, and drawing out a single facet of play will not be to everyone’s taste – but its place on the matchmaking rotation is optional. Even with only four levels, the game is a more than generous serving: for less than a quarter of Bad Company’s release price, this is the choice cut of its better half – multiplayer. And this is a yet more pace, extravagant affair, tapping directly into the whims of the player who just wants to cover a plane in det-packs and plough it into an aircraft carrier. Strategy is subordinate to a sense of fun – and you wonder if that’s what the series needed all along. A perfectly sized, expertly crafted romp, Pacific gives other download games their marching orders.
Battlefield 1943 is available on PC, PS3 and XBOX 360.