Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Q2 2008
When you think of the Battlefield franchise, your mind doesn't normally go to cartoony graphics and goofy gameplay. However, that is exactly what DICE is trying to do with its forthcoming Battlefield Heroes. This free-to-play, ad-supported fragfest is going to do its best to lure gamers away from all those other shooters, and with a price tag reading $0, it may just have a few takers.
The first thing the DICE crew pointed out in their demo was the big green button marked "Play" on the game's Web site. Once clicked, you go through simple registration (no billing or credit card information collected), and your download begins. The game is completely free, with all monetary needs supported by advertising. Don't worry about seeing a giant billboard for the next Madden on the fields of war, though, as the ads are confined to the main Web site and loading screens. Once you enter the war zone, it's all machine guns and bombs, with no distractions.
One thing you will notice is that those machine guns and bombs are awfully cute. The game's art style is highly reminiscent of Team Fortress 2, and the influence is prevalent in everything from the squat tanks to the overly chiseled characters. It's a funny and unexpected decision from a team known for making realistic-looking war games, but it's tough to tell if DICE will be able to pull gamers away from Team Fortress and into the Battlefield world.
Whether you like the visuals or not, you'd better get used to them, as the game is played from a third-person perspective. The developers said they chose this style over that of a traditional FPS because they want gamers to develop a connection with their avatars. When you start out, you opt to fight on one of two sides (National or Royal Army) and then choose your class (Commando, Gunner or Soldier). Once you've decided, you're locked into that role for good, and all future character development will be based on the class you chose. The game is adding some light RPG elements in order to spice things up, so the more you battle, the sooner you'll unlock power-ups like stealth or the ability to take more damage. Take comfort in knowing that while you may never be a commando, you're still the best damn gunner out there.
Once you've enlisted and get out on the battlefield, you'll play under standard deathmatch rules. The demo we saw gave each team 50 spawns, with the objective of reducing your foe's number to zero first. To make things more interesting, teams could capture flags that would add to a multiplier so that a single enemy kill was actually worth two or four points. While it was never necessary to hold these points, they were still the focus of some intense skirmishes due to the obvious advantage they conferred. Most battles were pretty intense, with lots of characters jostling over a small space. Add a dash of heavy artillery, and things get pretty hairy out there.
Obviously, this wouldn't be a proper war game without vehicles, and DICE has already announced two machines that will be playable from day one, the tank and the plane. The plane is especially fun because you'll never have to go alone. Pilots can swoop down over teammates who can then ride and shoot from the wings. Also, if you're shot down or just tired of flying, everyone can simply jump off the plane before it touches down and go right on fighting. Realistic? No. Fun? Definitely.
While the game is free to play, the developers have made it clear that there will be microtransactions, which will give gamers something on which to spend their money. Right now, the only announced items are clothes that do nothing more than grant your character some distinct flair, but DICE hasn't ruled out skill-enhancing items. They say they want to listen to the community regarding what sort of items go on sale, and that nothing stat-boosting will be available at launch, but players will have to keep an eye out to see if this ultimately becomes a game of the haves versus the have-nots. It would be nice for DICE to restrict stat-boosted players to their own rooms away from the general populace, but that sort of action is easier said than done.
In a way, DICE is fighting an uphill battle with Battlefield Heroes, trying to draw in new gamers with a Team Fortress 2-inspired design while still appealing to series fans who see Battlefield as more of a gritty, realistic franchise. One thing to keep in mind, though: You can shoot, shell and dive bomb up to 16 of your friends for free, so there's no reason to not at least give it a shot.
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