If Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 is any indication, there is no such thing as a casual fan of first-person shooters. If you don't know every map and every weapon, you'll quickly find yourself buried in grenades. I learned a long time ago that if you don't invest enough time on the battle ground du jour, there's little hope of catching up. That's why Battlefield 1943 on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 is such a refreshing departure from the norm. With only three maps and three classes, skeptics may wonder if they're getting a good deal, but the lean package is actually one of 1943's greatest assets.
Of course, if you're an Xbox 360 owner, the much-publicized server problems may be the greater deterrent. For whatever reason, Electronic Arts was overwhelmed by the demand from gamers following 1943's launch last week. Even as of this Tuesday morning, the "Quick Match" option is still anything but. This isn't the first time that an online-only shooter has been bogged down by network problems; the PS3's SOCOM: Confrontation was almost unplayable when it was released last year. However, EA seems to have a much better handle on the situation, and the upside is that there is already a large community of gamers ready to hit the beaches running.
Bogged-down servers or not, 1943 is simply very fun to play. Players may initially be surprised by the game's streamlined menu, which doesn't offer any map or mode choices. Instead, developer DICE is pushing for an immediate experience. Within seconds of booting up your console, you're right in the middle of the chaos, with bullets whizzing by and explosions all around. 1943 is instantly exhilarating.
The game is also very friendly to new players. Right now, there are only three maps from which to choose, but the limited selection means that everyone will learn the terrain very quickly. Newly enlisted folks will still have to worry about hotshot snipers and bombing runs, but even early on, they can make major contributions to their team. Whether it's capturing a distant base or hopping in a buddy's tank, there are always ways to help out in 1943.
This is made easier by very clear objectives. I noticed as I was playing that most people weren't using their headsets, but this was surprisingly not a huge problem. Your opponents are always labeled in red, and icons blink whenever a base's capture point is under siege. I would imagine that if players keep in touch with each other, they might have a slight strategic advantage, but you won't be missing much if you tune out the whiny 13-year-olds.
At the same time, it's very frustrating watching selfish "teammates" sit on the aircraft carrier, waiting for the next batch of planes to arrive. A dogfight-centric map on the way — unlocked once players collectively earn 43 million kills — should alleviate this problem, but these occasional stragglers will likely remain annoyance. I'm also not crazy about the respawn system in place; the game has a bad habit of dropping you right in front of a parade of enemy tanks and armored turrets. However, when you play with friends, you can at least be revived near their position.
I am admittedly a relative newcomer to the series. There have been a handful of console Battlefield games, but it's main following has always been on the PC. If you've invested countless hours into the original 1942, I think it's safe to say that you won't find much new content here. But as someone who liked the multiplayer content from Battlefield: Bad Company but didn't dig the rote campaign, I could not be more thrilled with the 1943 package.