EA have really got behind the whole "free to play" thing of late, announcing it'll form the basis of future Tiger Woods and Need for Speed titles. The first such game to test those waters, however, is Battlefield Heroes.
The premise is simple: take Battlefield, then make it absolutely free to play, by stripping some elements out and reserving them for paying customers, while supporting the whole thing via front-end advertising.
Such a move is like walking a knife's edge. Make too much free and there's no point running it as a product. Make too much paid content and you'll piss people off who want to play for free.
Question is, then, can Battlefield Heroes manage to walk that line?
War Is Not Hell, It Is Gorgeous: Battlefield Heroes' design initially drew "TF2 clone" accusations, but those are unfounded. This game has a look all of its own, part Max Headroom, part, well, Wind Waker. It's charming, it's attractive. Even the theme song is catchy, and we haven't stopped whistling it all week long.
Learner's Permit: Being a Battlefield title, vehicular control is a big part of whether the game succeeds or fails, and Battlefield Heroes manages just fine. Land vehicles are quick and responsive (the tank's power has been reduced in exchange for added speed), while planes can even be controlled semi-successfully with a mouse.
Money Can't Buy You…Poisoned Knives: Had EA restricted certain special powers and weapons to paying customers, this game would be an instant failure. Thankfully, that's not the case. Money can only buy you a few things; mostly avatar clothing, along with a few upgrades that do things like level you up faster. Everything else is paid for via XP, gained only through playtime and accomplishing missions, and while paying customers can get access to higher level weapons faster, they're not locked out for those playing for free. If you think that's slightly unfair, remember, you're playing for free.
Walk Right In, Sit Right Down: Battlefield Heroes is all about jumping right into the action, and once in, staying there. To play, you just visit the site, login, then hit a giant yellow button that says "PLAY NOW". You'll be automatically whisked away to a server. Then, while in the game, respawn times are kept to an absolute minimum, at most 6-8 seconds, but sometimes only 3-4.
Smooth As Ice: We played Battlefield Heroes for a week, and in that whole time, only once encountered connection or server issues. Considering the game is still technically in beta, that's not too shabby.
Spongeheads: There's only a single one-shot kill in this game, and that's if you're run over by a land vehicle. Everything else, from sniper headshots to grenades to dynamite, only takes off part of a player's health. It means that you're never blindsided, and never killed off instantly because of something you never saw coming.
Spongeheads: Yet this is a double-edged sword. It's great that you can't instantly be killed by a camping sniper from across the map. But if you're the camping sniper – or anyone else tricky enough to lay something like an ambush – it's frustrating as hell. Vehicle damage could also do with a tune-up, as it shouldn't take 3-4 shots from a tank to kill infantry. 2-3 would do just fine.
Matchmaker: Like we said, Battlefield Heroes is all about jumping into the action. Which in some ways is great, but in others, quite frustrating. We only want to play vehicle maps, for example. Just vehicle maps. But there's no way of selecting this. You can prefer to play vehicle maps, but when you hit PLAY NOW, you're automatically taken to a server, and half the time, it's for an infantry map. Nothankyou. Favourite servers can be bookmarked, but we'd love a server list option where we can filter for specific maps, or map types.
Class Warfare: Maybe we've played too much Team Fortress 2 of late, but if a map is stacked with heavies, and we join as a heavy, we'd love to be able to respawn as a commando. Mix things up. But you can't. Because when you create a character, you're bound to that character, as is all the XP you accrue while playing as it. You can create additional characters, sure, but you can only play as one at a time.
There's just something about the mix of clean, cartoon visuals and refined multiplayer mechanics that make Battlefield Heroes an absolute blast. The fact you can play it effectively without paying a cent probably helps. Series purists may turn their noses up at the new visual style and slightly more "arcade" feel of the game, but that's fine. For those people, there's alway other Battlefield games. That they have to pay for.
For everyone else, though, Battlefield Heroes is a fun, accessible shooter that retains the best strategic elements of the series while making the game appealing to a broader range of people. If EA can add a few more matchmaking/server options to the game, Battlefield Heroes could be one of the sleeper hits of the year on PC.
Battlefield Heroes was developed by DICE, and published by EA for the PC. Launched on June 25, and is free to play, worldwide. Created two characters, a level 7 Gunner and a level 10 Commando, in the Royal Army.
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