Previews

Battlefield Heroes

Preview: 1942 million downloads expected

Should you want a demonstration of the pace of change within the games industry, try Battlefield Heroes, the latest in the pan-vehicular online multiplayer shooter series.

It's a game built on trends: on the rise of the free-to-play model of online multiplayer gaming pioneered in Korea by games like Kart Rider, and proved successful over here by MMORPGs such as Runescape.

It's also keeping up with the latest trends in consumer preferences: after the outcry over the system specs required by the monstrous Crysis, here is a game that runs on a laptop with onboard graphics (the minimum spec will be a 1GHz CPU, with 512Mb RAM and, get this, integrated graphics). It will be a game that can be played practically anywhere, and will still give you a great time.

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And, conspicuously, it picks up on the success of Team Fortress 2: It has a bright cartoon-like style. Your character is a walking Hanna-Barbera creation, third-person so that you can enjoy it all the more; every vehicle a stylised exaggeration of what we think a Sherman or Spitfire should look like.

And yet it is, in the words of producer Ben Cousins, "the deepest Battlefield game ever created." His character is sitting on the edge of a Messerschmitt's wing as he says this.

This is the deepest? How? It starts with the beginning of your career. Battlefield Heroes characters are persistent, in a similar way to World of Warcraft's. You have two choices: play the German(ish) National Army and or the British(ish) Royal Army. This isn't World War II as we know it: this cartoon conflict has been inspired by cheating in the last Olympic games.

You'll then pick a class: from commando, gunner or soldier (broadly equivalent to light, medium and heavy characters). And from that point on, you play. For free. You don't have to buy the game. You don't need to add your credit card details, or buy a subscription, or track down a pre-paid card. Just sit down and enjoy the carnage with no cost.

That doesn't mean you have to play for free. If you want to make your character unique, you can - by spending small amounts on extra widgets or fancy trousers.
If you don't want to spend, a levelling-up system will dish out rewards on a similar model to World of Warcraft - every kill releases a tiny dose of experience points to keep you playing. Think Team Fortress 2 plus Diablo.

Level-ups unlock extra abilities, which add the tactical depth Ben is so proud of. This can include simple ideas, such as a health recharge - which recharges yourself and players around you - or a damage increase via incendiary bullets. More fun is the 'spot enemies' ability, a legitimised wallhack that shows the outline of an enemy through walls. Others include invisibility and super-speed.

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How does it play? It's as chaotic and crazy as you remember Battlefield being. Perhaps even faster - tanks go down quick thanks to the sticky bombs that every class carries. Planes fall out of the sky faster, too - easily stopped with a barrage of machinegun fire.

Tank rounds suffer the same arcs of decay that made scrapping in BF:1942 such a careful balance of prediction and dodging - and when just two hits will pop the top off any Sherman, you'll need more skill than ever to stay atop the scoreboard.

The class system adds to the chaos - facing each type of foe demands a new strategy. Gunners need taking out at long range; soldiers can grab a sniper rifle to cause chaos, while commandos can go invisible to backstab their way to victory. Yes; it's like TF2: Redux. And no, we don't care, because it's such fun.

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