Preview: Battlefield Heroes

With all of the fervently-paced, action-packed FPSs available for various types of gamers, when a brand new one is released it really needs to stand out above the rest. Something needs to give it that extra oomph so that it will move units, draw more players in, and rise above the rest of what’s out there.

In the case of Battlefield Heroes, EA and developer DICE are teaming up to bring a fresh new multiplayer experience without the pesky commitments. The game has more going for it than other options out there already–it’s free. Not only will it be free to play to your heart’s content online, but it will be free to obtain. What’s more is that this game is very light on your computer’s resources. The creators’ intention was to create a simple and fun game that anyone could pick up and play. It’s safe to say that Battlefield Heroes will run on just about any system you can throw at it, within reason.

Though the game will be free to play, EA and DICE will be making their share of money. There are advertisements and an online shop in which players will be able to buy clothing items and other bling with which to deck their soldier out with. Just like we’ve seen in online communities such as IMVU or Gaia Online, people will pay cold hard cash to get their character looking exactly like they want. Having a shop that provides more customization possibilities will draw the loot in, so the most important part (the game) can stay free. With no fees to pay and no hoops to jump through to get up and started, anyone (even less-privileged folk) can become a great asset to the Battlefield universe. All you’ll need is your computer, your internet connection, and the drive to win.

Having been granted a look at the closed beta that’s currently online, it’s clear that Battlefield Heroes is a force to be reckoned with, to a fault. While it delivers a very fresh and easy to get into shooter experience, it also displays the ugly side of the genre.

It draws heavily from the colorful world of Team Fortress 2, with character classes of its own and scenery that looks like it was plucked straight from a cartoon. While it does lack some of the more strategic elements that TF2 contains, it makes up for it with its charm and humor.

First things first–when the game comes out of closed beta and it is released to the public, players will need to create EA accounts to use for the game. When that’s all said and done it will be possible to visit the official website and create a character. If you don’t feel satisfied with your first creation, you can create up to four different soldiers to switch between at any given time. You can choose to side with the Royal Army or the National Army, neither of which make much of a difference in combat. It’s all about the pretty colors and aligning with the “good” or “bad” characters.

After choosing sides, players will need to decide on a class that their soldier will specialize in. The three available to choose from are Soldier, Gunner, and Commando. The Soldier fills the “all-purpose” category in that it’s a very well-rounded class. The ability to throw more than one grenade at once can be quite the frustrating move for Soldiers to pull, since when one grenade explodes, it forces the rest to spread out and bounce away to unexpected locations. Using this can get you out of a few sticky situations or shift the balance from which team is winning. For those of you who feel more comfortable as enormous thugs with loads of gunpower to boot, the Gunner is the path to take. Players can stand behind Gunners for protection, and Gunners are the slowest class available to pick from. They’re armed with machine guns and bazookas, to make up for the fact that they’re sluggish. Last but not least, Commandos are the stealthy, fox-like bunch. They’re adept with knives as well as sniper rifles. However, one perk that I found to enjoy more than anything else in the beta, was the fact that Commandos cannot one-shot kill with their sniper rifles. This is always an annoyance to me in most multiplayer games, because you always have the players with unfair advantages since they can sortie to a point where you can’t find them. You venture out into the open and are blown away repeatedly. With Battlefield Heroes, the creators sought to reduce that level of frustration. It’s a welcome change that could use some implementing in future games, if only to level the playing field.

Character customization possibilities are a bit limited. There is no option to create female soldiers, and the faces you can use for your soldiers are a bit bland. However, more parts are available to purchase if you accumulate Valor Points in-game or spend real world cash. Aside from those purchases, there are clothing items available such as hats, necklaces, different clothing, and various other articles that you might find interesting. My Soldier, Baltimora, currently runs around in tighty-whities and a very effeminate hat that I deemed worthy of the battlefield. So, it’s up to you how you want to present your character to everyone else. Whatever you choose to deck out your virtual soldier in, it has no bearing on how much damage you inflict on opponents or even your hit points. They’re simply available for the sake of vanity, which is very much appreciated after seeing how being able to purchase special equipment gives more privileged players an unfair advantage in some other similar games.

As of right now there are two maps available: Seaside Skirmish and Victory Village. Out of the two I have to say that Seaside Skirmish is my favorite by far. Simply put, it’s a quite little village by the sea that’s overflowing with vehicles and weapons with which each player can wreak as much havoc as they please. When one gets a quiet moment with which to spend looking around and sightseeing, they find that without war having broken out all around, it’s quite a peaceful landscape that wouldn’t be out of place in a quaint little RPG. While it’s built more for larger-scale battles via tanks and planes, close-quarters combat is still very useful. From my observations, however, it’s very much a race to see who can get to which vehicle the quickest. Obviously, players in planes and tanks are less susceptible to gunfire than an ambulatory soldier.

Victory Village is your standard little town landscape where man-to-man combat is much more acceptable than a host of vehicles wreaking havoc everywhere. It’s chock full of houses to hide behind and scenery to explore. While both maps are fun to play on, they do not feel as fleshed-out as I would have liked. For instance, they both feel very flat and lifeless compared to environments in more graphically-intensive games. That’s to be expected, of course, since it is crafted to run on most computers.

As far as the actual gameplay goes, Battlefield Heroes has one mode to explore. Mixing elements of classic team deathmatches and Battlefield’s tried-and-true Conquest mode, the goal is to be the last team standing. There are flags littered throughout the landscape that can be captured, and they award different perks to your team depending on how many points you have under your control. You are assigned 50 tickets. Each ticket is a respawn. When you die 50 times, it’s game over for you.

To get from point A to point B, you can travel by foot or obtain a vehicle. While movements are generally smooth and utilize the normal WASD key configuration, even regular running is sluggish and a pain to do. It almost seems like you’re being punished if you must run instead of cruise around in a sprightly tank. The typical WASD configuration is used, which is familiar, but moving around on foot is so painfully sluggish that if you’re forced to do it for too long, not only are you at a disadvantage, but the game becomes less fun.

When you make shots at enemies, the damage you inflict appears onscreen above their heads. It seems that some players simply take years to whittle away any damage off of, which can get particularly frustrating and it can make leveling your soldier up a major annoyance. Not only that, but as of right now at any given time during the beta, there are hardly any players around with which to match up against. You could be left wandering around an open map for quite a while at certain points during the day. This is of course to be expected, but something that begs the question, why isn’t player matching more streamlined?

At the end of the day, after all the carnage is over and you’ve sat through a twenty-minute match, you begin to wonder what else there is. Shooting other players is fun. No doubt about that. But right now, there’s nothing else. There are no other maps and no other multiplayer options to explore. It can and will get old. Playing the same mode over and over begins to feel more like work, because it can get so bland. I’d like to see some newer, more interesting maps than what is offered. Perhaps some real variety, like tropical stages or even a space arena, just for the fun of it. It’s not like this game is aiming for realism.

All in all, Battlefield Heroes is (at the time of the closed beta) a double-edged sword. You have this stellar, easy on the resources game that caters to both the casual and hardcore gamer, offers extra customization options, and a potential close-knit community in which to thrive, but it also presents its fair share of problems. It gets very dull after a couple hours (or even one in some cases) of gameplay. There is limited character customization until you earn the money to do so, and there is no option to create a female player (which is the standard these days in character creation). It brings little to the table that you haven’t seen before, and the servers can drop right as soon as you sign into a game. With a little polish and a bit more variety added in to mix things up a bit, Battlefield Heroes could just be a force to be reckoned with. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when the full version of the online Play4Free shooter is released.

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