Game Review: Battlefield Heroes
EA's been conducting some bold experiments with the Battlefield franchise these past couple of years. Battlefield Heroes is the most surprising by far. Few would have expected to see this venerable series applied to a cartoon shooter built around MMO-style progression mechanics.
But though Battlefield Heroes may not cost money, your time is certainly valuable. Is it worth wiling away the hours here?
Battlefield Heroes' slapstick war is waged between two sides: the Royal Army and the National Army. Each looks very much its part in this goofy cartoonization of the deadliest war in history. Who knows why they're fighting. All that matters is that you eradicate the opposition, and taunt them after doing so with some well-timed emotes.
As of now, the war takes place over four maps, some focusing on firefights between infantry, others on using vehicles. The rules are classic Battlefield-capturing locations on the map causes the enemy team to lose more points, or tickets, when its members die. The first team with zero points loses. Though it seems like it'd be easy to deplete 50 points with two teams of eight blasting at each other, the matches can be pretty deliberate, owing largely to Heroes' MMO-style game mechanics.
By doing pretty much anything, from injuring enemies to capturing bases, your characters accrue experience, and eventually level up. This allows you to purchase and upgrade class abilities to suit your play style. The sneaky commando's stealth and troop traps abilities will appeal to you if you prefer sniping and subterfuge. If you like the front lines, the rough-and-tumble gunner has the skills to dish out pain and the resilience to stay alive. And no squad is complete without a soldier, whose straightforward combat capabilities are bolstered by key support skills, particularly, his group-heal.
EA is banking on you growing fond enough of your custom character to eventually drop some real money on personalizing him. You can't miss the store option in the game client-it's where you go to buy on the stuff you need to actually play effectively, like weapons and auxiliary items to heal yourself and repair your vehicles. Apart from these, though, which you buy with valor points earned during matches and from completing achievement-like missions, you'll see stuff on sale for BattleFunds. These cost real money, and so far, all they can get you are special outfits, emotes, and meta-game buffs that increase your advancement rate. In other words, there isn't anything for sale that will give you a direct edge over your enemies in a firefight.
It's anyone's guess how the microtransaction element will play out over time. EA has talked big about its plans for Battlefield Heroes, so it wouldn't be too surprising to see the game's commercial implementation develop as it grows in breadth.
Befitting of the ways it's cribbed from MMOs, firefights in Heroes can be quite deliberate and protracted. You'll usually have a way to escape or prolong an engagement, whether it means splitting the scene with a burst of speed, or coming back from the brink with a well-timed heal. It almost feels like more like you're playing an MMO more than a shooter at times.
The game is at its best when it allows you to take advantage of all the tools it offers when actualizing your absurd strategies. For instance, there's little that's more gratifying than hopping into a plane, flying toward a capture point as you lay down fire, then jumping out and parachuting down into the fray. In Battlefield Heroes, the most fun is often found in the least tactically sound execution.
Luckily, there's a countermeasure to whatever's assailing you more often than not. One man against a tank may seem like stacked odds until you realize than the little guy can put a big dent in it with a bazooka, or send it flying with a special ability. In cartoon-land, battlefield logic often flies out the window. But it's still easy to die when you're grossly outnumbered.
If you're among the unlucky players who are experiencing connection problems, getting ganged up on is the least of your concerns. Battlefield Heroes uses the anti-cheating program PunkBuster, and at this point, it's booting legit players more often than it should. Random disconnects are also common. Here's hoping that DICE sorts out these issues soon.
All the crazy things you can do in Battlefield Heroes make sense in the context of its batty cartoon aesthetic. The characters are expressive, and often aggravatingly so when you're on the receiving end of an emoted taunt. Given how off-the-wall some of the purchased outfits are, it's sometimes difficult to identify a friend from a foe until the red name pops up, but the variety ensures that the warzone will seldom look tame. The sound effects are in line with the cartoony productions, and as for the soundtrack, well, prepare to whistle the infectious theme song in your sleep.
You may not be able to argue with its price, but you'll certainly be surprised with how addictive Battlefield Heroes can be. As a starting point for EA's experiment with the free-to-play model, it's astonishingly well-realized, and it can only grow from here. You may get tired of the same old maps after a while, but in quick one-hour bursts, you'll have a blast with Heroes.
Reviewed on Microsoft Windows Vista.