|Dev: EA Digital Illusions / Easy Studios|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: April 4, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
With the economy struggling and full-featured games costing $60, a free version of 2005's Battlefield 2, with the character progression system from Battlefield Heroes and a touch of Bad Company 2 worked in, sounds like a pretty good deal. But is it worth spending time away from the rest of your PC library?
Yes and no. Yes because at first, it's one of the smoothest and most accessible online multiplayer FPS experiences you'll find. No because in terms of gameplay, it's nothing special in such a crowded shooter market, and a variety of frustrating aspects come forward once you spend some time with it.
Let's focus on the good first. For people who get frustrated when it takes forever to start a game, Battlefield Play4Free is a godsend. It's still in open beta, but we never waited more than a minute or so to start playing, and once you play the first game of your session, the next one starts pretty much instantaneously. If all you want is to run around and shoot other people before they shoot you, this game provides a perfect opportunity.
In addition, Play4Free isn't half-bad on a technical level; in fact, for a free game, it strikes the perfect balance between the demands it makes on your computer and the quality of the visuals. Play4Free actually features some subtle improvements over Battlefield 2, while being slightly less taxing on your system. It looks a little dated, and it supports only thirty-two players at a time instead of sixty-four, but these compromises let the game run very, very smoothly, even on older machines. Also, if you want a game that will use every ounce of processing power on a brand-new $2,000 PC, you should pay for it. The sound is well-done as well, with realistic effects and heavy music to accentuate the action.
The spawning system does a good job of keeping you close to the fight without rewarding spawn-camping. Battlefield 2's squads and commanders are gone, so you'll simply be dumped somewhere on the map whenever you die. We found that it never took more than a few seconds to start shooting again, and while some early previews reported spawn-camping problems, we didn't encounter it.
The leveling and progression setup from Battlefield Heroes provides a little bit of depth to the gameplay; as your character develops, you receive currency that buys you temporary improvements. You also pick a character class for each character: medic, assault, recon, or engineer. This allows you to explore different combat styles, though longtime Battlefield fans are miffed that you can no longer choose a new class each time you die, in order to respond to changing conditions.
The bad news is while all of that is a good start, it's not enough to hold people's attention, given all the FPS competition out there. What's worse, the more you play this game, the less impressive it becomes.