I bought Battlefield 1943 when it was released last week, and I think it's a steal for 15 bucks. The pace won't agree with everyone. Combat is slower than similar games. But the game has depth and dynamics which are not immediately apparent. When you try the demo, try to hold off final judgment until you've played multiple times. The more you learn, the more fun it becomes.
As I discussed yesterday, elevation plays a big role, distinguishing 1943 from similar games. Hills, trenches, slopes, and towers all provide for cover and surprise in wide-open exterior maps. You can view layouts of the maps here. Buildings are scattered around checkpoints, but all structures except pillboxes are destructible. For example, a tank can destroy walls with its cannon or simply run into them.
Use of cover is limited by small red icons above enemy players (allies are marked with blue icons). These icons seem to appear in some circumstances and not in others, but I haven't quite figured out the rules of it yet. Knowing this arrow is above your head giving away your position is annoying at times, but it ensures camping is rare. And you often would not be able to recognize friend from foe without them.
Don't think that icon eliminates the element of surprise! Battles are full of surprises, largely thanks to the map designs. There are 5 checkpoints to be captured and protected on every map. Having so many checkpoints relative to the number of players, and on big maps, makes it nearly impossible for any team to control all of them simultaneously. Players are constantly moving from one checkpoint to another. And every checkpoint can be approached from many directions. It's impossible to anticipate every attack.
There's no kill cam, ala CoD4, that ensures you always know how you died. But bullets have tracers and a damage indicator informs you what general direction you were hit from, so you usually know.
You don't have to wonder who has the UAV Jammer, Juggernaut, or Stopping Power perk. There's no customization in this 1943, so you can see what you're up against. Whether opponents have chosen to play as Infantry, Rifleman, or Sniper, you know which they are just by looking at the guns in their hands. An Infantry unit has a machine gun, bazooka, and two grenades; he can also repair vehicles. A Rifleman has a rifle, three rifle-grenades, and two hand grenades. A Sniper carries a sniper rifle, a pistol, and two remote-detonated satchel charges. Basically: close-range/mechanic, mid-range/balanced, and sniper.
It's very rare to run out of ammo for your primary weapon. You start each life with a lot of ammo, and you'll probably die before expending half of it.
The Sniper class seems more difficult to use than in most games. Since terrain is rarely flat, you're constantly having to adjust your aim vertically as well as horizontally. As I said before, icons reveal enemy locations. And characters are smaller than in games like Modern Warfare. Enemies can't be sniped while still on their aircraft carrier (home base).
Infantry are particularly useful for their ability to repair vehicles likes tanks and jeeps. Half the time, your tank is destroyed before you can make use of the ability, but still. If an Infantry soldier locks onto you at close range with his machine gun, then there's nothing you can do to defend. This seems to be the most popular class, judging by how often enemies fire bazookas at my tanks.
Riflemen, as I've said, are balanced. They are useful at short range, but a machine gun will win if aimed well. They're useful at long range, but not so far as snipers. Rifle grenades are weaker than bazooka missiles, but the arching shot is better sometimes.
Grenades can be thrown a mile.
As for vehicles and stationary guns, there are tanks, jeeps, planes, boats, mounted machine guns (found in pillboxes/bunkers), and anti-aircraft (AA) guns. Vehicles are found at particular checkpoints. Two planes are available from the aircraft carrier base from which you begin.
You start each battle leaving the carrier by either plane or boat. There are four gunboats with one seat for a driver, two seats for gunners, and more room available for passengers. Enemy planes often try to sink these boats before you reach the island, but your guns can attack them as well. Most of the time, this boat trip is like a calm before the storm. At any time during the battle, a player can choose to respawn back at the aircraft carrier and use a boat to sneak up on a checkpoint from the sea.
Tanks are very powerful, but also surprisingly vulnerable. The driver can operate the cannon and a turret, and another player can take the role of gunner up top. Behind the gunner's seat is hole leading to the interior. While it takes many explosives to destroy a tank from the outside, an explosive placed on or in this hole is an instant kill... analogous to a headshot. There are often hills and slopes on either side of the roads tanks must generally use, so it can be difficult to defend against these one-hit kills.
Jeeps have two seats up front and a gun in the back. I've had three passengers before, with one hanging on the side. The beauty of the jeep is its speed and maneuverability. Enemies can be run over or left in the dust as you speed on to another checkpoint. Unlike with tanks, the driver can be shot with a gun, and only one explosive is needed to destroy the vehicle.
Planes are a challenge to maneuver at first, but a lot of fun when you figure out the controls. They have machine guns and can drop bombs. It's difficult to use planes well against ground troops mainly because you can't see them soldiers from high up, and dropping near to the ground makes you vulnerable to the AA guns which are by every checkpoint.
Which leads me to the Air Superiority game mode, found on the Coral Sea map. This is a very different kind of gameplay. There are no checkpoints. It's purely a dogfight between planes over a ring of islands. Each side has two carriers, starting with four planes. This game mode isn't nearly as dynamic as the rest of 1943, but it's a nice change from time to time. If an enemy plane falls in behind you, you can only hope one of your allies is behind him unless you're a much better pilot. It's all about trying to get behind an enemy without letting an enemy get behind you.
I just realized I haven't said a word about graphics or audio. They're both great for an arcade game. You can hide in shadows or in the sun's glare. If your character is caught next to an explosion, he will temporarily lose hearing. You can sometimes hear enemies or allies making exclamations in Japanese or English, and it can alert you to dangers you didn't see. Sound effects are good. I like the music at the loading screen. If there's any music during battles, it hasn't caught my attention.
Overall, it's a great game... one of the best on Xbox Live Arcade. It's well worth fifteen dollars and will last most people months. The action is solid and there are many dynamics to provide for fresh and unique experiences.