2002's Battlefield 1942 wasn't the best-selling game of all time, but with a few million copies sold under its belt, the franchise name was certainly respectable. In this era of sequels to established, tried-and-true franchises - and more importantly, in this economy - the announcement that EA DICE would not be releasing the long-awaited Battlefield 1943 as a full-price boxed game on shelves, but rather as a low-price, downloadable, multiplayer-only game via services like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. In effect, 1943 is the multiplayer equivalent of episodic titles like the Half-Life 2 episodes, or any of Telltale's adventure games - bite-sized content for gamers looking to get the most bang for their buck in this worldwide recession.
1943 abandons its predecessor's attempt to cover most of the different campaigns in the second World War, instead focusing on the battles in the Pacific Theater between Japanese and American forces. In particular, the game features three of the more famous battlefields: Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, and Wake Island - a fourth map, Battle of the Coral Sea, was unlocked once players had amassed a combined 43 million kills between them.
While 1943 scales back from the five classes in the original Battlefield, featuring only three, the three classes still manage to cover most of the bases: Infantry fill the assault and anti-tank roles, Scouts are snipers and can plant demolition charges, and Riflemen are a middle ground - ranged, but not as long-ranged as the Scout, and while effective against tanks, their rifle grenades aren't quite as powerful as the Infantry bazooka. You can choose from the three classes every time you respawn, and they all seem decently well-balanced.
Though vehicle options in FPS games are now the rule rather than the exception, Battlefield 1942 was one of the first to incorporate vehicles as a chief multiplayer option, and 1943 follows suit - any of the classes can operate any of the vehicles, with your choice of powerful tanks, speedy cars, or airplanes. The planes are perhaps the most fun to operate, but they also have the highest learning curve - and it's frustrating to see all your team's available aircraft in the hands of incompetent pilots. (Confession: I am one such incompetent pilot)
Battlefield 1943 is not a very deep game. This isn't to say that there isn't a decent amount of replay value in it; its ranking system and internal achievements (complete with period-appropriate artwork a la postcards or propaganda posters of the era) should be enough to keep gamers interested for quite some time. But what you see is, for the most part, what you get.
At $15, you get what you pay for. There are only four maps, which seems rather small for this sort of game, but DICE could always add more (and the community unlock of the Coral Sea map was a pretty cool idea, so there's a perfect vehicle for delivering more content). The game looks decent, but not spectacular - though the beautiful Pacific islands are certainly a welcome change from the ubiquitous drab gray-and-brown found in many of today's modern shooters. It also showed a lack of polish in parts: Playing the 360 version, I encountered some graphical glitches, the sound seemed to randomly cut out for a second or two every so often, and I still haven't figured out why some enemy soldiers are tagged with a red arrow and others are not.
Perplexingly, one of my most frustrating issues with the game is not actually a problem with 1943 itself - after being so accustomed to the Death Cam in Team Fortress 2 that shows you precisely who killed you (and more importantly, where they were), it's hard to get picked off by a Scout or Rifleman and then have no idea where your murderer is lurking in order to exact vengeance. That isn't a complaint with the game so much as it is a warning to any TF2 veterans looking for a new multiplayer experience.
In the end, the game's shortcomings are balanced out by one major point in its favor: It's just $15. It might have a few rough spots, but you'll probably get more than enough replay value out of it to justify the price tag several times over. Even so, as tasty and cheap as this morsel of World War II gunplay is, when all is said and done, it can still leave you wanting a bit more.
Bottom Line: Fairly well-balanced classes, a quartet of interesting (if not particularly inspired) maps, fun vehicle play, and an appropriate WW2-era presentation counterbalance occasional graphical issues and a lack of the options many modern FPS players will be accustomed to regarding class selection, vehicles, and gametypes (though admittedly playing CTF on Iwo Jima would feel kind of strange...)
Recommendation: It's $15. If you're even a slight fan of FPS games, Battlefield 1943 will probably get you more than your money's worth.