Game: Battlefield 1943 (XBLA*)
Time spent: Approx. 2 (playable) hours
My enlistment began after I unplugged the power supply and Ethernet cord, let things stand for a minute, plugged everything back in, and turned on the Xbox 360. My EA server connection issue, of course, was now solved. Up to this point, I had heard plenty about the Battlefield title screen's so-called "minigame" -- you know, where you furiously pound "A" until you join a match -- and I was curiously looking forward to this challenge as I read the ominous warnings on the updates ticker. To my surprise, I joined a match on my first try, and it was relief that now swept over me.
Not so fast, Ransom-Wiley. I was up against tremendous lag. It was two steps forward, one step backward, as if I was constantly pushing through folds in time. And push I did. It was the itch that drove me. Conceptually, I had built up a lot of enthusiasm for Battlefield 1943. Here was a proven gameplay formula, pared down and packaged for digital distribution. And its timing was perfect. It served as a summer lead-in to the big-budget first-person shooters to come. Whether or not it lasted beyond those titles didn't matter. This was a cheap thrill.
The catch is the concept can't be separated from the connection. Offline, you can level a lone island as its sole inhabitant (a "tutorial" mode), but Battlefield is -- with no exception -- an online-only multiplayer game. When it's working, it's wonderful. I've managed to play in a-half-dozen or so flawless matches and was easily entrenched in the engaging territorial tug of war. The game looks as good as most you'd be loading from a full-priced retail disc, and the vibrant colors add a lively accent to the otherwise horrific death and destruction that abound. (Some players have gotten really good, really fast with those planes.)
I imagine, as with any team-based game, that working in a four-player squad adds more depth and greater re-playability to Battlefield, which is limited to three maps (and a fourth, air-only challenge). Unfortunately, I've been unable to test that theory as all of my buddy-up trials to date have been marred by connection issues and dropped chat channels. But, opponents fighting in coordinated units have certainly worked me over good.
Where frustration cuts the deepest -- where I snap -- is in knowing that I'm part of shrinking population of players with connection problems. (Perhaps, too, I've taken for granted how well my online gaming has performed in the past.) While it's inexcusable how universally broken the game was for the first few days after launch (and equally questionable that the admission of said issues doubled as EA patting itself on the back for strong initial sales), I know that the game is now working for many players. Other Joystiq editors are surprised when I recount my ongoing struggle to enjoy Battlefield without lingering anxiety about its stability. They've been playing with only occasional, minor hiccups.
So, is Battlefield 1943 working for you? I hope so -- because it can be a satisfying experience and stands alone with what if offers at its $15 price. But, if you've yet to purchase, definitely test your connection using the 30-minute demo. Good luck.
*This review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade (Xbox 360) version of Battlefield 1943; also available on PlayStation Network (PS3).