Battlefield Heroes Preview
Let's face it—the internet's full of jerks with great aim in first person shooters, and these jerks can't wait for some unsuspecting noob to dip his toes into the waters of a casual action game just so they can shoot them off. Besides the possibility of suffering through a virtual ego-bashing, many of the non-online crowd still think these ambitious, persistent online games require too much expertise and too big a commitment in time and money. Well EA and Swedish developer DICE appear to agree with them and are hoping to level the playing field; or more accurately, the Battlefield.
Battlefield Heroes, the latest installment in the Battlefield franchise, aims to open up the shooter/MMO market to a more casual audience, giving the term “armchair hero” an all new meaning. If anyone can pull this off, it's Swedish developer, DICE. During the last six years, they've made some of the most popular multiplayer combat games out there. Heck, aside from meatballs and IKEA, most people would probably agree that the Battlefield franchise is the best thing ever to come out of Sweden.
Previous Battlefield titles have been gritty action/shooters aimed at a more hardcore audience, the kind of gamers who spend hours strategizing and memorizing maps. By contrast, Battlefield Heroes is a much more light-hearted, take on the WWII capture-the-flag combat genre aimed at a more casual crowd. Maybe the most significant difference between previous Battlefield titles and Battlefield Heroes is that Battlefield Heroes is free! In a business model adopted lately by many smaller companies, but until now, not by a behemoth like EA, the game will be completely free to download and play. Sounds too good to be true, eh? I know what you're thinking; “What's in it for them?”
Aside from making your little hearts go pitter-pat, they're hoping you'll want to buy some of the cool-but-completely-inessential gear and weapons they'll have for sale on the website. None of your hero's gear is bought within the game; it all comes from an online shop and can be bought with game-earned “Valor Points” or cold, hard cash. Either way, it's all so much bling; none of it's necessary for success in the game. It may be hard to believe, but by combining the most accessible elements of a shooter and an RPG and making the game free, DICE just may have invented an online shooter for those who aren't really into them.
The game's angular, cartoony art style is bound to have a wide appeal and has a lot in common with Valve's Team Fortress 2. Some view this artistic similarity as more than a coincidence but even Valve can't lay claim to that approach since it's been the trend in popular entertainment for some time now (see Mike Mignola's “Hellboy” or Genndy Tartakovsky's “Samurai Jack”).
The sunny, colorful look of the game is a big departure for art director Gustav Tilleby, who also art directed Battlefield Vietnam, Battlefield 2 Special Forces, Battlefield Modern Combat, and Battlefield 2142. Gone is the “all battleship grey, all the time” aesthetic, and in its place is something decidedly more...cheerful. Fighter planes whiz past puffy white clouds in a blinding blue sky while tanks roll over sunlit stretches of greenery. It's pretty surreal, fighting for your life in this Disney-fied landscape but it's also refreshingly unexpected.
So assuming you're sold on the idea and you want to hit the Battlefield, how do you join up? Predictably enough, once you've downloaded the game from the Battlefield Heroes website, you'll jump into character creation right on the site. You're allowed four characters at a time, one more than there are classes. At launch, there'll be three classes: Soldier, Gunner and Commando, and two factions: the Royal Army and the National Army. Having chosen such “trivialities” as alignment and profession, you get to move on to the good stuff—clothes, skin and hair color, hair style, and mustaches that any Hell's Angel would be proud of.
Once you're done creating your character, hit the big yellow “Play” button on the website, and a level-based matchmaking system lands you and up to 15 other players in the middle of what looks to be a quaint European village. (Which is really fitting considering most of the characters end up looking like the Village People.) From then on, it's on!
Go Soldier and batter the enemy with a rain of grenades; go Gunner and spread shock and awe with a rocket launcher; or go Commando and deal death Jean Reno-style at the edge of a knife. Like a good RPG you level up by gaining combat experience but unlike like most of them, you gain experience by damaging your enemies as well as by killing them. An achievement system also allows you the means of earning badges as well as additional Valor Points by completing various missions.
As you level up, you unlock special abilities, cooler weapons and better clothing options. Stat bonuses are gained solely by leveling up and are not gained by equipping certain gear. This explains why you'll often see a high level Commando running around in nothing but his underwear and a trucker hat. Some of you might object to the non-gear oriented approach but DICE has done this not only to give players the freedom to make their heroes unique, but to encourage them to win through skill and strategy, rather than “equipage”.
Speaking of strategy, what better strategy is there than jumping in a tank and going all Crazy Taxi on a bunch of fools? At this writing, there will be three types of vehicle in the game: jeeps, tanks and fighter planes and all three classes can operate them. Sure, it's impersonal, bombing targets from the air or blasting folks with a cannon, but who can deny the satisfaction of leaving tread marks all over an enemy's back?
Those of us with an itchy trigger finger have been waiting on the edge of our seats for the game since January but the wait is nearly over. Currently, Battlefield Heroes is in closed beta and is set to be released winter '08. The system specs—Windows XP and Vista, 1.0 GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM (1Gb on Vista), 1 Gb hard drive space, an integrated video card and an internet connection—make it possible for all but the most tech-challenged to jump into the pool. So get ready y'all, 'cause come winter, there's victory, glory, and a trucker hat with your name on it!