As of today Battlefield Play4Free is available to everyone in open beta form. Having played the closed beta for a few weeks now, I’ve now got a good idea of the potential of the game. Will Battlefield fans like this new version of the franchise? That’s a difficult question to answer.
Players are given four classes to choose from as soon as they begin the game. This is a persistent choice and therefore players should be sure that they choose their favourite class from Assault, Medic, Engineer and Recon. Each of these classes has their own progression path and unlockable perks, but there’s a great deal of these perks that are common to all classes to. Those who play contemporary FPS’s won’t be surprised to see abilities like increased sprint duration and faster ladder climbing. These abilities don’t unbalance the game, but they do provide a slight edge for dedicated players and are an incentive to keep playing.
The game itself is launched from a browser and exists technologically somewhere between Battlefield 2 and Bad Company. The game environment always looks a little blurry and textures are low in detail but environmental effects, character models and animation seems improved from the (now ancient) Battlefield 2. Despite this most of the maps are remixed versions of Battlefield 2’s with sensible changes and some clever additions. Overall it feels like the game will appear to a far wider audience than Dice’s more cartoonish previous free offering, Battlefield Heroes.
There aren’t many carry-overs from Bad Company but the ones that have been included are well judged. In particular, the ability to tag enemy vehicles for teammates helps build cooperation and goes some way towards balancing the powerlessness that comes with being on-foot and exposed.
Perhaps the best feature in the whole game is the way that vehicle piloting is locked to lower skill level players. Battlefield was plagued from day one by greedy, selfish assholes that would camp and wait for flying machines and teamkill to get them. More than often the teamkilling idiot would proceed to fly a chopper or plane straight into the sea. Although this has not been eliminated completely, the fact that fewer players are even able to fly means that congestion at spawn point airfields is cut down considerably. I was always a good pilot in the Battlefield series who rarely got a chance to prove it, but in Battlefield Play4Free I’ve had plenty of chances to claim my wings and rain down fire from the skies.
Surrounding the meat of a very solid Battlefield experience is a lot of social and micro-transaction trimmings. The ability to buy customisations, weapons and even private servers is strange but not necessarily detrimental to the game. While it’s there for those who are interested, I never found that it intruded on what I wanted to do: shoot people in the face.
Battlefield Play4Free is a strange release that manages to be simultaneously trimmed down and padded out. Modern conceits like perks and unlocks add to the package while a lack of map variety and simplification of the team structure detract. Despite this, playing Battlefield from a browser, finding a server quickly and playing the game on a modern PC is a remarkable experience. The basic Battlefield formula is still fun and it’s amazing to think that what was once the ultimate hardcore team based FPS could move so far towards being a more social, casual experience.
One of my friends loves Battlefield. While he mostly wants to play 2142, he would love to get back into Battlefield 2 as well. An obscure graphics card bug means that he’s been unable to play for years though. For him, and many more like him, Battlefield Play4Free is a revelation. No install, no major bugs, no expenditure. Just Battlefield. Why not?