Battlefield: Play4Free Reader Review
PlayStation Network is down, so it might be a good time to check out the open beta for EA and DICE’s latest and probably most ambitious browser based shooter. At least, that’s what I did. Battlefield P4F is a fun and frantic game, with well-filled servers and a very low threshold for getting started: the game will run on almost any PC, and no purchase is necessary to play the game. This is, after all a “free” game.
Well, its not exactly "free", of course. Battlefield P4F is “free” the same way a shopping centre is “free”; while there is no admission fee, absolutely everything has a price tag on it. Battlefield Play 4 Free is relentless in its efforts to make you open your wallet and upgrade your arsenal. Sure, you’ll be able to get a few kills and victories using the “general issue” kits, but you won’t be on equal footing with the paying players. Dishing out for a more accurate weapon with longer range, better damage and a higher rate of fire has a huge impact on the game. I started playing with a standard sniper rifle, and soon realized that I needed two shots to kill an opponent at full health. With a slow and laborious reload, it would take a few seconds between each shot. This meant that most attempts at hitting something turned into a duel, which I invariably lost, as everybody else seemed to use one-shot-kill guns. Headshots do more damage, but with a low-accuracy rifle, they are unlikely at long range.
Upgrading to a better rifle changed the game completely. Suddenly I was able to fire off several targeted shots in rapid succession, which made me able to win the occasional duel. My Kills-to-Deaths ratio (K/D) began to climb, along with my scores. Also, my stash of “Credits” grew much faster with the new rifle, so it was a good investment, I thought. Soon, I was ogling a better sidearm too, and some field bandages would help a lot. A black beret would look pretty good on my handsome soldier. Some of these items can be bought (well, rented for one or three days, really) for “Credits”, which is a reward generated while playing the game, and thus does not cost anything. However, most items can only be obtained by means of “Battlefunds”, which must be bought for real world money. The value of a single Battlefund is hard to pin down, which is exactly the point: like in Las Vegas, replacing real world money with casino chips makes spending a lot easier. It is not like your plastic (or virtual) chips are actually worth anything, right?
The biggest pack of Battlefunds contains 8750 Battlefunds, and buying a pack of these will cost about as much as a new PC game. Or you could buy a smaller pack, containing either 3290, 1540 or 700 Battlefunds. Why not just make it packs of 10.000, 5.000, 1000 and 500? Because that would make it easier for players to figure out just how much a Battlefund is actually worth, and that might strengthen the psychological barrier against using them for buying stuff. Battlefunds are designed to appear like monopoly money, easy to obtain and even easier to spend. Things are complicated further by the ability to choose how long you buy a piece of equipment for: 1 day, 3 days, 30 days, 90 days or forever. The whole shopping experience seems designed to confuse and obfuscate the value of the various currencies in play.
So, I wanted to buy the M95, which is apparently the best sniper rifle in the game, a MP412 Rex (a powerful sidearm), the black beret just for vanity and 100 field bandages. The M95 costs 980 Battlefunds if I want to own it “forever”, the revolver is 900 BF, the beret 600 BF, and the bandages 140 (although I could also buy five bandages for 200 Credits). The grand total comes to 2620. I was tempted to buy an XP booster pack too, as that would let me rank up and get access to new perks and abilities 50 % faster. That would be another 1050 BF for 30 days worth of XP boost or 4200 Battlefunds for a lifetime of XP boost. I also have an assault soldier alt. He could really use a better Assault rifle. And I’ve been thinking about starting up a medic. They rack up a lot of points by just throwing some health kits around. But is the game worth investing in?
Getting decent kit and XP boosts for three soldiers is more expensive than buying a new PC game at the store. Just evening the playing field for a single soldier would cost 15 to 20 pounds. That is actually rather expensive for a “free” game. You can find Battlefield: Bad Company 2, a far superior game, for about the same price or cheaper these days. When compared to "real" games, Battlefield Play4Free just doesn't cut it. It is not worth it for a frugal gamer, as you'll be seriously outgunned by the paying players. It's not really worth it for the paying gamer either, as you'll get a lot more bang for your buck from a "real" game. You could get decent value for money just buying one decent weapon and sticking with it, but you'll probably feel restricted very quickly (I know I did).
Battlefield Play4Free won't let you respawn as an RPG-toting Engineer after being killed by a tank - you'll have to quit the game to change characters. A fun shooter lies at the core of the game, but Battlefield Play4Free is overburdened with incentives to "Pay2Play", and that greatly lessens the appeal of the game, even for paying gamers. While kit is no substitute for skill, good weapons certainly helps. Some times, Battlefield Play4Free feels like a game of throwing money at each other. For a game with "free" in it's title, it is absurdly entrepreneurial. I don't think there'd be much of a market for a WoW-clone MMO where the balance was this far skewed in favour of the heavy-purse customer (pay for XP, epic gear AMD gold!). I guess we will see if there is a market for a "serious" shooter doing the same.
The maps in Battlefield Play 4 Free from the glorious Battlefield 2, and the weapons and vehicles are from the equally glorious Bad Company 2. There’s no terrain deformation or structural damage, so expect snipers hiding behind indestructible trash cans. But then again there are no exploding barrels, so I guess it evens out. In the way of looks, it’s pretty much BF2. Maybe lower. It certainly cannot measure up to the mighty Frostbite engine. While Battlefield Heroes used the low-res challenge to its advantage, by going for fun, cartoony charm, Battlefield Play 4 Free is a much more serious game. Once I got past the nostalgia of playing Battlefield 2 with crap graphics, I realised that this is a rather old game in a new format, but it both looks and plays worse than the original. So what is the point? Or as they say in leetspeak: Meh.
On the plus side, the maps are great. For someone who has probably spent far too much time with Battlefield 2, the maps are instantly recognizable. The gameplay, too, is pretty good – they have succeeded in bringing the tried and tested Battlefield experience to lo-res browser games. You will need a decent PC to run the game at full settings, and at anything lower than high this game looks like Battlefield 1942 on a Pentium 2. There is a friends list, but there are no squads or clans. There is absolutely no reason not to take the game out for a spin - installing it is quick and hassle free, and it will cost you absolutely nothing if you don't want to upgrade your kit. Battlefield Play4Free is easily worth an evening of shooter nostalgia, or the start of a long and expensive relationship if you want to invests your time and money in the game. I certainly don't because there are so many better games out there, which are both cheaper and more rewarding to play.
When compared to its grown-up siblings – perhaps Bad Company 2 in particular – Battlefield Play 4 Free falls flat on its face. With Battlefield 3 coming up later in the year, and a whole host of other great, affordable shooters out there, like Gameloft’s decent “Modern Combat” and the new Section 8, I just don’t see much point in this “free game”. Battlefield Play 4 Free is just too expensive for a “free” game.
I hope PSN will be back up again soon.