Have You Played… Battlefield 1942?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

We take it for granted now, but in 2002 I was still impressed that Battlefield 1942 was a multiplayer game that let you fly planes and drive tanks and jeeps. I was even more impressed that, unlike the previous year’s Tribes 2, it was possible to have fun in BF1942 without weeks of practice and planning.

It was the level design that was responsible for that, I think. While Tribes and other vehicle-based games gave you shapeless terrain, BF1942 offered a mixture of open land and tight urban spaces. This was obviously at its best on Wake Island, which was essentially a single horse shoe-shaped corridor that clearly directed players towards one another while still offering space for strafing planes and sneaky ocean shortcuts.

Obviously the game is primitive by any modern standard, but pottering with it now, it’s impressive how much of its moving parts feel good. Jeeps are nippy and bounced along the terrain; tanks fight usefully alongside infantry without being overpowered; sniper rifles and bazookas and anti-air turrets all feel great to control. It was easy to drop into BF1942 and have fun right away, no matter what your position or role.

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46 Comments

  1. kwyjibo says:

    Wake Island was the best map in the game, and it was the demo map. Years after the game’s launch, there were populated game servers just hosting the demo.

    I never bought the game.

    • DeepFried says:

      I played that demo to death. Best BF game, right there in that demo. Though, thinking about it the network coding and hit detection were seriously jank.

  2. meepmeep says:

    The other thing I remember is that BF1942 was actually playable on a dial-up connection, which was very unusual for an fps.

    • Creeping Death says:

      I played Day of Defeat Source on 56k dial-up for a few years with a 70-ish ping just fine (Broadband didnt come to our house until about… 2006-06?). Hell when I was younger I spent more time than I care to think about playing Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight on a 33k modem.

      • popej says:

        You got a 70’ish ping with a 56k modem!? What kind of witchcraft is that?

    • VeNT666 says:

      Quake 2 deathmatch was fine on dial up as where most half life based multiplayer games? I remember racking up a £300+ phone bill on q2ctf one quarter.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    The Gaming Made Me article is also quite good

    Oh yes, I played 1942. It was the very first FPS game I had and living in a rural town sans internet connection all we ever did were bot matches, and then some more bot matches. I found it immensely captivating at the time, and I still do to some extend today. For all the fun I’ve had with the later battlefield games there was some sort of… crudeness to 1942 that gave it it’s charm. BF1 does look like it can bring some of that back.

  4. Troubletcat says:

    Battlefield really lost its way when it went present day, in my opinion. 1942 and Vietnam both have this amazing atmosphere to them, this sense of place that I felt was really lacking in later entries in the franchise. Bad Company 2 is probably the closest they’ve come since then, but that was a different kind of feel again…

    But to me, Battlefield 2, 2142, 3/4 (basically the same game…) feel somewhat soulless in comparison. Hardline had the opportunity to do something interesting with the franchise but didn’t because it was afraid to really embrace its own theme with its gameplay, and I believe Battlefield 1 will be the same. They could’ve really embraced the WW1 setting… but instead, massive proliferation of automatic and semi-automatic weapons that were in reality extremely rare because they believe that their audience won’t tolerate a game with a slightly slower pace. Like, for example, 1942. Which wasn’t a slow game particularly, but it was far less frantic and chaotic than modern entries. DICE seems to believe that their entire audience has ADHD.

    …they might be right.

    • geldonyetich says:

      My impression as well.

      Each iteration Battlefield takes towards becoming Call Of Duty just reminds me how much I hate modern arena shooters.

      BF1942 was great. BF4 is a game that heavily incentivizes camping and makes unlocking attachments for your kill sticks some kind of quasi-religious fetish.

      • Cederic says:

        Yeah, I lost interest in the series when they introduced weapon unlocks.

        I want to lose to someone online because they’re a better player than me, better reactions, more experience, better choice of weapons, superior adaptation.

        Not because they’ve been playing the game while I was at work and so they’ve unlocked a weapon or skill that I can’t use.

        This is why I now play Rocket League for my online competitive play.

      • DThor says:

        So…many…hours in this game. I had not particularly played CoD so as each subsequent BF came out I didn’t really twig on that connection, but there was something about BF1942 that kept me coming back again and again, I just assumed the map design. While I enjoyed BF3 quite a bit, all of the subsequent games after 1942 just made me go meh after a bit. Yes, it was CoD syndrome.
        Wake Island, despite being based on a real place, was the definition of choke point management.

  5. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Of course I did. Loved this game, it seemed like the FUTURE. The dream of a game in which flying and driving and running and gunning could all happen seamlessly in the same space, not only realised but actually fun. Was always surprised the reviews weren’t higher at the time. Turns out it was the future and now…still is the future, all right now that’s enough!

  6. GenialityOfEvil says:

    As much as it shames me to admit, no I haven’t. I didn’t have regular internet because this was back in the dial-up days. I bought BF2 and 2142 but only ever played them with bots.

  7. Morcane says:

    Yes, the only FPS multiplayer I actually played longer than a week. You could actually be useful and have fun even with lower skill (I’ve never been particularly good at FPS games).

    I really really really hope BF1 will prove its spiritual successor and can’t wait for the upcoming BF1 beta, to see if dreams come true or hopes get crushed.

  8. goertzenator says:

    Don’t forget the destroyers, cruisers, battleships, carriers, and subs, all of which could be operated. The simpler graphics made situational awareness easier to achieve than in today’s FPSs.

  9. Premium User Badge

    RealWeaponX says:

    Yeah, there’s a reason BF1943 used Wake Island. Dunno if it came out on PC, but I played a ton of 1943 on Xbox. Shame they didn’t do an overhaul of the whole of 1942.

    • The Algerian says:

      It didn’t come to PC.

      I should know, I got into PC Gaming when I bought my first gaming laptop because I was wanted to play BF1943 on it, which they cancelled.

    • Premium User Badge

      magogjack says:

      1943 was my introduction to the series as well. So much fun when the servers were behaving….

  10. w0bbl3r says:

    Ahhhh the last (only) truly great BF game.
    This and the mod, desert combat, still has never been beaten by those greedy a-holes at dice and EA.
    I always thought desert combat was better than BF2, and at least BF1942 didn’t make a complete mockery of the war it depicted. Sure you could do silly things like stand on top of planes as they flew around but that was mostly down to limitations of the game and engine. When people started doing it and having fun, they decided to keep that kind of thing regardless.
    But at least the weapons and settings were correct, not like that trash they are peddling for like £100 or so now, which should really be just a small expansion pack or something.

    Boy I feel old, remembering great games like this when I was already old when they first came out, I now feel ancient.
    Maybe that’s why I’m so grumpy on these new games? Or maybe it IS because they are just trashy and way overpriced.

    • meepmeep says:

      I assume you’re only excluding BF:BC2 (which is, of course, the best multiplayer BF) because it’s not part of the main series.

  11. Donkeyfumbler says:

    My most played game on the PC by probably a factor of 10,and that’s in over 25 years of PC gaming. Also the only game where I ever joined a clan.

    Loved it so much I even set up a dedicated server (remember them?) at work, as my home connection wasn’t up to the job.

    The combination of scope, all those vehicles and the WW2 setting was what did it for me. I’ve played all of the BF titles since but none have re-captured that magic. Maybe BF1 will do it – listening to its theme tune on youtube the other day certainly game me goosebumps!

  12. fiah says:

    I played the demo when it first came out, the first time I bombed a sherman tank with a zero is one of my fondest gaming memories. The guy I bombed thought it was awesome too, all of us were just messing around getting to know the game so it was a different kind of atmosphere then

    • khalilravanna says:

      Oh man absolutely this. What I loved most about the game was that it actually took a fair amount of practice to get good at bombing in those planes. So if you were one of the few people who didn’t either insta-crash the plane on take off and could actually bomb people your team would love you and the enemy team would actually have to worry about planes. Flew those planes so damn much. Wonderful times.

  13. Al__S says:

    ah, fun at uni. In my 2nd & 3rd year I was in a uni-owned flat on the main network. But the comp-sci students had tunnels. So we 1942 (and Nam) servers running and a reliable, decent, player base within gamesoc.

    And, crucially for students, a cracked copy of the game.

    So much fun.

  14. Major Seventy Six says:

    I invested a lot of time in playing online. My favorite maps were the desert maps – Gazala especially

  15. Premium User Badge

    Flavour Beans says:

    As much as we all knock big-name developers these days for just recycling the same things over and over again, if DICE came out and said “Oh, our next game? Battlefield 1942, identical everything, just running on our current engine”, yeah, I’d probably put the sixty bucks into the preorder pot without a second thought.

    Hell, I’d stick $90 in there if there if they said “Oh, preorder the season pass, too, we’re doing Road To Rome and Secret Weapons of WW2.”

    • Mr. Perfect says:

      It’s not just you, I’d be on that like white on rice.

  16. April March says:

    After I played BF1942, I couldn’t understand how someone could play it and go back to Counter-Strike. Still don’t.

  17. Warduke says:

    Until I had played Bad Company 2 this was my favorite in the series. It still might be for nostalgia alone.. So many good memories on 1942 with all my friends.

    • Chairman_Meow says:

      I think I’m with you there. 42 was great fun, simple, easy to jump in and have a blast. Bad Company 2, to me, is best FPS I’ve played. Something about the balance and (probably) just the combination of my life situation (No kids) and age (much younger). Great games, both, regardless.

  18. JB says:

    I played SO MUCH BF1942. Just so much fun, the maps, the vehicles, the classes. I have many fond memories of sitting in an arty piece or in a ship’s turret and getting the vision intel from the scouts and dropping death on hordes of enemy infantry. Spent a lot of time tanking around too, and the time I spent flying planes was elating. I was so happy when they added the buddy system thing too.

    I even joined a Desert Combat tourney/ladder thing, that was great too. Good times. I hope someone recaptures the spirit of the game, preferably with a sysreqs that I can actually meet!

  19. Wednesday says:

    Da da dum da dum dum.

    DAAAAAAAA DAA DAA

    • Son_of_Georg says:

      I knew I wasn’t the only person who saw that image and started singing the theme song right away.

  20. Mr. Perfect says:

    According to the XFire game-tracking program I used back in the 1942 days, I clocked 900 some hours in that game. Most of that was in the Desert Combat mod, but also some in the base game, Forgotten Hope mod and the ever-amusing Pirates mod.

    Sure, I bought and played 2, 3 and 4 to keep teaming up with old friends made while playing 1942, but each new iteration has been a bigger disappointment. In 1942 there was none of this unlock madness or leveling up nonsense. Everyone had the same weapons and abilities, so games where won with pure skill and superior teamwork. With the newer games success is more commonly decided by who has the best unlocks or has bought all of the DLC. I don’t plan to get BF1 at all.

  21. Jabberslops says:

    BF1942 was great for it’s time and Desert Combat mod made it even better. Unfortunately BF1942 hasn’t aged well with all it’s jankiness and lag. I fondly remember the nights with people yelling in all caps to stop moving the ships so people can get in the boats. Abandon all hope for your plane trying to take off from a moving Aircraft Carrier. The jeephad was a skill few people have mastered in BF1942/DC mod.

    Also because I feel like it hasn’t been said enough (sorry (not really though)), right now I still feel like Battlefield Bad Company 2 is the best BF game to date for 3 reasons; BC2 has combat very similar to CoD4, still better destruction than BF3/4 and the smaller halfsize maps and player count (32) made it more “tight”. I understand why people like playing on 64 player servers and massive maps, but I think it just makes the game worse. Everyone is spread out to much, no one wants to coordinate attacks and increased vehicle spawns just means more “single person vehicles”.

  22. ThePuzzler says:

    Some of my fondest gaming memories are of playing this LAN in the office. One time I saw an enemy fighter plane passing high overhead, fired a bazooka in the general direction it was headed, and actually blew it up. The guy flying it was amazed at my skills. (He probably didn’t know about the previous thirty or forty occasions when I’d tried something similar and failed.)

    • Cederic says:

      Sigh. Nearly got through the whole article without this, but you’ve forced an obligatory..

  23. Yachmenev says:

    It’s really only BF1942 and BF1943 that have felt manageable for me. The others are too much, especially BF3 and BF4 that seems so relient on way to quick gameplay, unlock focus and confusing DLC plans.

    I want another developer to do a BF1942 style game.

  24. gingerbill says:

    BF 1942 and BF Vietnam are my two favourite online FPS games , nothing since has been as good , loved them when I played them and I played them a lot.

  25. UberWaz says:

    BF1942 was THE multiplayer game. It got everything right.

    You could log in and instantly play a part in the battle.

    If they made it now, you’d have to play every day to earn unlocks that made you godlike on the battlefield.

    So you’re essentially punished for not playing.

    Being killed within a few seconds by someone with an uber sniper rifle from 2 miles away isn’t my idea of fun.

    BF1942 put everyone on exactly the same level.

    So if you were good, you’d prevail.

    If you weren’t, you would die. Simple. Elegant. Fair.

    And, unfortunately, never repeated.

  26. WJonathan says:

    The maps and weapons were amazingly well balanced. At first certain classes/weapons/vehicles seemed to have a huge advantage. But spend time fooling around, and you realize there is a built-in counter for every apparent advantage. For example: Tanks at first appear devastating. But spawn as an engineer and you can insta-kill a tank with a well tossed mine. But what if the driver is infantry? He can exit the tank, and machine-gun you before you can load your rifle. The engineer’s counter-counter reaction? PRETEND to mine the tank (showing mine and allowing the driver to view it through the front port), then jump in as the driver exits, speed away, and blow him up with the stolen tank. And enjoy his angry accusations of cheating in the chat box, as his avatar stands bewildered behind me as I speed away.
    What a hilariously brilliant game.

  27. Player1 says:

    I remember the day I saw the first video for BF42 exactly. My jaw dropped, and then the most intense gaming years of my life started. The sheer variety of vehicles, maps, mods, and things you could do amazed me. I played the game constantly, online and against bots. BF Vietnam and BF2 were also good, but then the series went downhill. Less and less vehicles to use (especially ships) meant that the game was becoming more and more like any other shooter. The only other game which kept my attention like BF42 was Bad Company 2, which I still play to this day. The destruction is spot on, and the maps are gorgeous. I still have hope that one day there will be a game combining the variety of BF42 with the destruction in Bad Company 2.

  28. _bsp says:

    Sometimes I would start the game up just listen to the opening cinematic.

  29. NephilimNexus says:

    Still a better game than WW2OL.

  30. Chaz says:

    I wish the Battlefield series would go back to this kind of gameplay. No leveling or unlocks or any of that bullshit. Just pick a class and jump in with everyone on a level playing field. Instant action fun, no need to spend hours learning how to fly or use the vehicles. And as stated nothing felt over powered. Most importantly it emphasised fun over anything else.

  31. MADDDOG says:

    I loved Battlefield 1942. I played day and night. Usually on the 5thMRC and some other servers. I miss it to the world. I would pay top dollar to play it again. Is there any chance we would ever see again the light of BF 1942?
    Please Re-wind it and let’s play again!