Could this be the future of PC gaming? Battlefield Heroes has the potential to be one of the most important games the PC has ever seen. Free to play, funded by advertising, super-accessible, playable on a low-spec PC, and still attempting to capture some of what makes a classic PC title so entertaining to play: it's one of the smartest things EA/DICE have ever done. And it's funny, too.
Past the jump: my impressions from the GDC demo, the trailer, and the some screenshots.
The first thing that becomes obvious is that all the people griping that EA in some way “ripping off” Team Fortress 2 have nothing to worry about. Seriously: why should you care if another game taps into the kind of charm that makes Team Fortress 2 so good? Did you moan that Battlefield 1942 was ripping off Medal Of Honor? No, well maybe you did, and if that's the case then you are destined to go to the special hell. Anyway, Battlefield Heroes makes the cartoon look its own, and it also delivers a game that is firmly, comprehensible Battlefield, with all the point-capturing and vehicle craziness that makes those games so entertaining. It's a remix of the classic conquest game modes, albeit it stripped down and made easier to digest. Simplified to loveliness - it's an action game that has learned from World Of Warcraft.
What? Yes: it's in third-person. That might seem like an odd decision, but DICE argue that people are much better at navigating their surroundings when they have a World Of Warcraft behind-the-head view, than they are in first person. It might seem counter-intuitive to grumbly old gaming veterans like us, but you can see exactly why they've decided on this: Battlefield Heroes is intended to be accessible to everyone, and whatever makes things easier for the less skilled gamer, well, that's what DICE have to do.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. What the Battlefield Heroes demonstration showed us was that DICE have created a game that is downloaded, configured and launched via a website, and that will not cost us a penny, but that has all the attributes of a fully-fledged shooter. (All this is expected to be paid for via the advertising you'll see on the loading screen. Producer Ben Cousins joked that Battlefield loading times had always been awful, but that Heroes would be "optimised" so that we'd not spend too long looking at desperate adverts for Crysis...) You'll have a persistent character, and that's designed using the website interface. It's truly impressive stuff.
What Heroes shouldn't have, however, is the staggeringly impenetrable interface and unwieldy community vibe that characterises most FPS games. Battlefield Heroes will be tracking how well you do in your games and will, should you just hop into the game and play, pop you into a game with people who are roughly the same skill level as you. The game too is right at your fingertips - equipment is all tied to a number, the maps are as clear as a summer's day, and the whole WASD-structure control is set out exactly as you'd expect. I couldn't help thinking - between laughing at the slapstick lunacy of it - that this is exactly the kind of game that those time-starved older gamers have been looking for. I've lost count of the number of times my friends have lamented how hard it is to get a decent quick game of Counter-Strike, or Battlefield, or Quake III... this model could fix that instantly. It could be the ultimate five minute blast.
DICE weren't clear on exactly how we'll get to play with friends and online chums, but I'm sure that will come clear with time.
Anyway, the GDC demo showed off a single map in which two teams battled with toyish aeroplanes (with very shooty cannons) and funny little tonka tanks (that had great big howitzers attached). It was World War Two (except it's The Royal Army vs The National Army) in Pixarland.
Battlefield Heroes retains the class-based systems of the original games, only this time there are three classes which are basically light, medium and heavy. The light have stealth systems and can turn invisible at range, the mediums are a standard machinegun-toting soldier type, and the heavy are strong-but-slow beasts of firepower. The range of different classes might have been diluted, but I really can't see this as a bad thing. If anything, BF2 and ETQW went too far in making their classes varied and versatile.
Besides, there's also a range of equipment available for each Heroes character. This might be a group-heal effect that allows you to patch up nearby buddies while patching up yourself, incendiary rounds for your gun, grenades, even a wall-hack system that allows you to temporarily see where enemy players are lurking. We didn't get to see all such abilities in the demo, so it's looking like the full spectrum could give us a game that is tactically pretty deep, despite the glossy, simplified presentation.
In summary: this is exactly the kind of game that has been brewing for the past couple of years. It plonks its feet firmly in the web-based, free-to-play, casual-but-complex trends that have been emerging from PC gaming. It's going to run on a low spec PC (1ghz, 512mb RAM, integrated graphics) so you're going to be able to enjoy the action on your crappy old laptop, or even your lumpen Dell desktop in the office. It's merging the brilliance of classic PC game design (ie Battlefield's tactical vehicular combat) with the kind of ease of use and friendliness that Nintendo thing they have a monopoly on.
There's even a meta-game being built into the website, so that the battle can rage across their fictional Europe and players can jump in to turn the tide of a particular front.
And Heroes wasn't even the most interesting thing that DICE showed at GDC. More on that in a bit.
You're our heroes, Gametrailers.
Battlefield Heroes is set to arrive this summer.
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