Battlefield: Play4Free Hands-On

EA's latest shooter takes the best bits of Bad Company 2 and brings them to a free-to-play audience.

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While Electronic Arts' free-to-play Battlefield Heroes offers a fully fledged Battlefield experience, for some, the cartoonlike graphics and over-the-top power-ups were too far removed from reality. With Battlefield: Play4Free, EA is ditching the cutesy style in favour of a grittier and more realistic experience, which takes place in a modern setting. Though the leveling system and marketplace from Heroes make a return, the classes, weapons, and gameplay have been borrowed from Bad Company 2, making a game that EA says should appeal squarely to the "hardcore gamer." We went hands-on with the game to see if it can live up to EA's lofty expectations.

Looking at the feature list for Battlefield Play4Free, you'd be forgiven for thinking it had been ripped straight from Bad Company 2. You can choose from classes such as soldier, medic, and engineer; use vehicles such as tanks and planes; and battle with up to 32 players online. Many of the maps also come from Bad Company 2, along with weapons and visual design. However, the RPG-like levelling system from Heroes is still present, albeit with different career paths. Instead of gaining power-ups for your character, you now work your way through ranks, all the way from infantry to special ops. Each time you level up, new weapons and abilities are unlocked, which you can use to upgrade your character.

In our brief hands-on, we played a capture-the-flag mode. It took place on a dusty map filled with sand, war-torn houses, and wide roads, which were perfect for driving tanks on. Playing as American soldiers, we battled our way to flagpoles and secured them from the enemy. While capturing a flag, we had to fend off tanks and enemy soldiers, who were raining down bullets and shells on our location. The game felt instantly familiar, and players with any experience with Bad Company 2 will feel right at home. The same precise shooting and character movement were present, and there was no indication other than the visuals that we were playing a free game.

Yes! Right in the face.

Though the visuals were impressive for a free-to-play title, with plenty of detail in the environments, weapons, and explosions, they lacked the crispness of the game's retail predecessors. EA explained that this allowed it to run on low-spec hardware, so even gamers with old PCs could get in on the action without upgrading. Like Heroes, Battlefield: Play4Free will use purchasable battle points, allowing flush players to buy vanity items such as character costumes, as well as more practical items such as boosts, which let you temporarily gain more experience points. Fortunately, powerful items won't be purchasable, so players won't be able to buy their way to the top of the leaderboards. Battlefield: Play4Free is due for release in 2011, with a closed beta launching later this year. Interested gamers can sign up over on the official site.

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