Battlefield Heroes Hands-on

We took a refreshing sip of EA's upcoming, free-to-play Battlefield shooter.

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At EA's recent ”Spring Break” event, every game on display had a signature drink to match. The "Battlefield: Heros" cocktail was a blend of gin, fresh raspberry, strained cucumber, and kumquat soda. It was...fleshy. But it was not good or easy to drink (the cucumber pulp did not want to be sipped), and so it was a terrible match for the game, Battlefield Heroes (add an E, hold the cucumbers). Whereas the beverage was weird and foreboding, the game was accessible, bright, and refreshing.

In case you haven't already heard, Battlefield Heroes is a free Battlefield game scheduled to come out this summer through EA's Play 4 Free service. You will be able to simply download it from the site www.battlefield-heroes.com and start playing war straightaway. The game will make money off of microtransactions; you will be able to purchase custom items from an online store with which to distinguish your characters from the rest of the gun-toting masses.

If the available accoutrements are any indication, the accessories on sale through the service could be well worth the money, given that the character customization quickly proved to be one of the most arresting and satisfying features on display. Before jumping into a match, you create a character, pick a side, and choose from one of three classes. Don't worry about limiting yourself, though, because you can create up to four colorful killers. And that isn't just talk; the extent to which you can outfit your avatars in Heroes is practically unheard of in first-person shooters, and definitely goes way beyond anything featured in a Battlefield game.

For instance, we began with a surly-looking chap in puffy pants, a fancy shirt, a handlebar mustache, and a military hat. We replaced the hat with a top hat, gave him a cigarette holder, decided not to give him a skull earring, removed his shirt, added a huge dragon tattoo to his bare back, threw on suspenders, and ended with a way saucier-looking killer than we started out with. The result was a much more personal experience: Rather than simply getting killed by a nondescript spook in camo, our enemies were utterly destroyed by Bill the Butcher's crazy stepbrother.

That's where the Team Fortress 2 graphical styling really comes into play; everything is vivid and distinct. When you put a cigarette holder in your guy's mouth, you can see it. When you run up and blast enemies in the back with a shotgun, they'll see the dragon tattoo smiling at them like the license plate on a murderous truck as you run past. And though we got to wage war on only one battlefield, it was a doozy. Our killing field was composed of quaint cottages at midfield, surrounded by pleasant meadows and happy trees. The look was so friendly that we wouldn't have been surprised to see Thomas the Tank Engine...running people over and crushing their bodies in his wheels.

Instead, we saw jeeps, tanks, and planes. The jeeps were fast--like, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride fast. The tanks were much slower but packed powerful explosive rounds that could destroy men as easily as vehicles. The planes were unwieldy because, on such small maps, it's difficult to make tight-enough turns to get a target in your sights. Surely experienced players will find ways to put them to good use; we just crashed them into things.

On foot, you can see your little warrior's array of abilities lined up at the bottom of the screen, much like in a role-playing game. The first two are your primary weapons, then come grenades and other utilities, and toward the end of the list are special abilities such as healing and invisibility. Most of these, aside from your basic weapons, have short cooldowns to keep you from using them all the time. You also have about 100 hit points (the exact number varies by class) that decrease every time you are damaged, and once you reach zero, you die. A direct hit from a tank removes about 60 points and knocks you 20 feet or so into the air, whereas a headshot from a machine gun will hit for about 30. As you fill your foes with holes, you can literally see the hit points flying out of them, floating up and away above their heads, just like in an RPG. This does take some of the impact and implied lethality out of shooting people in the face, though on the other hand, it's nice to see exactly what damages your enemies, and to what extent.

Battlefield Heroes will allegedly be about 200 MB, and will be free to download from www.battlefield-heroes.com sometime this summer. It certainly isn't the most nuanced or realistic shooter in the series, but it is definitely the freest and by far the most entertainingly stylish. And perhaps best of all, there are no cucumbers.

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