Battlefield 1942 is a first-person shooter made by Dice and Electronic Arts which simulates battles from World War II. Two expansions were made (Road to Rome and Secret Weapons of World War II), as well as two sequels (Battlefield Vietnam and Battlefield 2). It is available for Windows and the Mac OS (the Mac OS version was developed in conjunction with Aspyr) and dedicated servers can be hosted from Linux. At the time of this writing, a fully patched version will be numbered 1.6.1b.

Battlefield 1942 is strongly multiplayer-oriented. The single-player mode basically involves choosing Allies or Axis and playing through every map in the game with bots, with a nifty little briefing before each map laying out the intelligence and strategies that the alliance of your choice had in the war — which is to say, it's window dressing. Where the game shines, and where it will suck away your life's energy, is in multiplayer.

The multiplayer game has five modes of play: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Coöp, and Conquest. The first three are self-explanatory, but the latter two are where most games are played.

In Coöp and Conquest (the only difference being that bots are allowed in Coöp, and there are thus slightly more Conquest maps available), there are a number of flags distributed around a battlefield. Any one can be held by either (or neither) team. They are contested by simply sitting near enough to them; if contested long enough, the point is "lost;" if it is contested long enough with no opposing soldiers within the contention radius, it is taken and becomes a spawn point for the team that now owns it.

These modes revolve around "tickets": each team starts with a predefined number of tickets, and certain circumstances make them count down. When a team's tickets hits zero, they have lost (and the game will rate the severity of the loss on a sliding scale from Draw to Total Defeat). Tickets can be lost through suicides and team kills, or through holding the wrong combination of flags. In most maps, this means fewer than a defined number (how many fewer affects how quickly tickets count down), although in some battles (usually ones in which one side was invading), one team must take all spawn points, at which time the tickets will count down extremely fast.

The game has a number of different classes. Before spawning, you must choose which army you're fighting with, a spawn point, and a class. This does not bind you to anything: any soldier who dies drops his backpack and equipment on the ground, and any other soldier may swap his equipment for any set lying on the ground, leaving his behind and effectively switching classes (although any ammo used by the dead soldier does not come back). This does mean that you might never need to find an ammo dump if you're careful enough, or that you can use the enemy's equipment if you manage to find the right set and you prefer it to your own (weapons of the same class vary wildly between different armies: some hold more ammunition, some are more accurate, some rifles can take a clip and some can't, and so on). All classes come with a knife, a pistol, and grenades, except the engineer. A listing of classes, in the order in which they appear in the spawn GUI:

  • Scout

    The Scout has a scoped rifle and binoculars. These work as you might expect, excepting the fact that the binoculars can be "used" with the primary fire button to signal a target for bombardment. Any soldier using heavy artillery will have a blinking icon appear on their GUI, and can (if they choose) use a very tricky aiming system to guide their shells to the targeted location.

  • Assault

    The Assault soldier has a machine gun. Interestingly, the machine gun is effectively identical to the rifles for the first shot: by aiming carefully and tapping the fire button instead of holding it, assault soldiers can act as snipers in a pinch.

  • Antitank

    The Antitank soldier has a bazooka (or Panzerschreck, et cetera). The rocket launcher is a fickle mistress indeed. Although its shells are wider than bullets, they deal no splash damage, and thus are difficult to use against enemy soldiers. However, a direct hit will destroy most vehicles, and with armored vehicles, one hit to the rear, several to the sides, or many to the front will also do the trick. Bots favor this class far more than humans, as they are gifted with ungodly good aim and know it, and humans know that grenades can be just as effective, and take out nearby soldiers as well.

  • Engineer

    The Engineer has a knife (or bayonet), a pistol, a rifle which is identical to the Scout rifle except that it has no scope, mines, explosives, and a wrench. Mines instantly destroy any vehicle moving over a certain speed which comes into contact with them (meaning that you can toss mines at tanks to destroy them). Explosives are placed and then destroyed from a distance with a plunger apparatus (making them perfect for booby-trapping buildings, roads, intersections, and vehicles. The wrench can be used to repair anything from a jeep to a flak gun to a battleship to a factory (this is key to winning, say, the Battle of Britain) as long as the engineer doesn't tire out. A meter depletes as the engineer wrenches, and slowly replenishes itself whilst he doesn't. Engineers can also see how much damage any reparable objects have taken in the form of a percentage floating near them.

  • Medic

    The Medic has a machine gun identical to that of Assault (and sometimes with more ammunition) and a medical kit. The medical kit can be used similarly to the Engineer's magic wrench, except that it repairs people. The Medic, like the Engineer, has a radius inside which any soldier (including the Medic himself) will be healed while the Medic does his work (from the sound, he has been given a special military grade of gauze which heals all wounds). Arguably the most useful class, a good Medic can be assault, sniper, and antivehicle while healing himself at need.

The big thing that I haven't yet mentioned is the vehicles. Battlefield 1942 was pretty much the first game to get vehicles right. There are a lot of vehicles in this game, and a lot more with the Secret Weapons expansion.

Getting into a vehicle is as simple as walking up and "using" it. You can steal any vehicle that the enemy isn't using, including (in the Pacific theater) stealing carriers and piloting them off the edge of the map. Land vehicles and airplanes almost entirely spawn near flags, and taking a flag for the first time in a map often makes a set of vehicles drop from the sky, ready for use. Once inside a vehicle, the number keys switch between positions (including pilot, gunner, bombardier, or just guy who hangs out). Most maps are so large that walking them is a chore, and vehicles are practically a necessity. Unfortunately, this leads to a great deal of competition: it's not unusual to be gunned down by a jealous teammate who thought that she called the plane you just took. However, the combination of the vehicles and unusually consistent physics engine is enormous fun. One can waste hours just driving around in search of excitement and kickass stunts. All soldiers have reusable parachutes, which are usually opened upon leaping out of a plane, but can also be used leaping out of towers, off bridges, or anywhere else where you find yourself very high off of the ground.

Battles usually have an enormous number of players. The game sets a limit of 64 soldiers, human or computer, in any game. Proportions are highly configurable. With many maps, playing with fewer than 30 soldiers just doesn't feel right. Larger maps (especially those in Road to Rome) become enormously more fun if you can manage to get together a lot of friends and populate the rest of the 64 slots with bots. There's something about being on a team with 31 other "people" that just isn't replicable in another game.

Every map has two armies preselected. The original features America, Britain, Canada (only in Liberation of Caen), Germany, Japan, and Russia. Road to Rome is entirely America against Italy, and Secret Weapons is entirely America or Britain against Germany. Nearly every map is playable in coöperative mode, with the exception of a select few. A patched version of Battlefield comes with the following maps:

The game is quite expandable. Many homebrewed maps are available for download, and a number of mods have been made, with Desert Combat above and beyond the most popular. It makes a startling number of changes to the game and its mechanics, changing classes, weapons, vehicles (including the addition of the helicopter) and many other changes. I know people who will refuse to play the game without Desert Combat enabled.

One of the best (or the worst if you're that sort of person) aspects of Battlefield is that it eliminates all of the hatred that made World War II possible. Every army is simply represented by its country's flag. There is none of the overt jingoism that show up in so many other historical games. Because neither the world Nazi nor any Nazi symbol appears in the game, a version of the game is sold in Germany. One does not feel bad playing against their own country. The game can feel downright silly at times, but never do you have the feeling that you're perpetuating hatred. It's war without the rancor.

There is a great deal of complexity I haven't mentioned here. Nearly everything has been thought out: shooting vehicles at an angle does different damage than shots along a normal; soldiers begin to drown after swimming for a while; urban maps are riddled with secret back alleys and fire escapes; airplanes can be taken out by excellent aim towards the engines; soldiers spread-eagle while attempting to parachute, and a million other tiny details that won't present themselves or matter until you've played the game for far too long. Really, every complaint about the engine that I have could be resolved with a solid afternoon's worth of modding (or possibly a great deal more AI research than has occurred).

So why play this game? Firstly, as I mentioned above, it has more replay value than just about any other game out there if you're the right sort of gamer (which is to say, I have known some unfortunates who didn't like Battlefield). Secondly, Battlefield 2 threw the baby out with the bathwater and eliminated, overcomplicated, or overpowered many good things, although this is not to say the game is entirely unfun. Whether you're a period enthusiast (although the authenticity is somewhat limited), or just looking for a good game, you should give this a try. During my sophomore year of college, a friend and I played this game long enough and raucously enough in a quiet computer lab that it was banned for a semester. There's something magical about seeing soldiers and vehicles racing through a relatively authentic landscape towards an oncoming army, guns firing nearby and in the distance, flak dotting the sky as airplanes dogfight and strafe ground troops, dozens of messages going through your HUD, and you trying to commandeer a jeep so that you and a friend can take the secret route to the north that you've discovered. Battlefield 1942 is possibly the most fun first-person shooter ever made.