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Battlefield Heroes

All dressed up.

I get this feeling quite a lot: enjoyment in spite of my better judgement. Ultimately, I know that Battlefield Heroes is an uncomfortable experimental mess of a game, but I can't help enjoy rambling about in its four brightly coloured maps, shooting the dudes, and trying to figure out how best to use the points I've earned to bolster my armoury. It's free via the website too, which skews any critique of value I might be inclined to make.

Anyway, yes, points earned. That's the peculiar conundrum that beats so awkwardly at the heart of Battlefield Heroes: it's a level-based third-person shooter. While the level structure is not one that means that high-level dudes are indestructible, it does mean you're in it for the persistent character, and your early chappy really is at a disadvantage to his better-equipped foes as time goes on.

The more stuff people have been able to unlock, the more versatile they become. It works for some other notable shooters, I guess, but here there's a definite sense of, well, I'm grinding. I'm trying to earn points to spend, and it never seems entirely appropriate. That said, the distraction of getting new toys is often enough to keep you interested, especially when you spot something someone else has, that you don't.

Of course you could also spend money to get stuff. This is largely dominated by paying to change your appearance from the near-blank template of your basic character, but it's really little more than dressing up. You either end up looking like a clown, or a very seriously gay biker with a splendid handlebar moustache. There are few other visual options, and it leaves me with considerable doubts about whether people will part with the best part of five pounds to make permanent their adventures with the Mr Ben dressing-up box comedy wardrobe.

Behind all these hand-waving distractions is a game that tries to boil down the Battlefield series to their essential soup. There are four maps, which are wide open, but with "base" spawns for both teams, where vehicles can be obtained. Across the map are capture points, the holding of which reduce enemy "tickets" until it's game over. The winner, of course, will be the team who held the most of the map for the longest time. Tickets go down real fast in Heroes, and if a team managed to cap all the points for any length of time, it's game over.

The other Battlefield basic that the game takes on board is the idea of class: you can be one of three classes, which is defined when you make your character on the website. (You can make and play a whole bunch of characters as you see fit.) The three archetypes are commando, gunner, and soldier.

MMO-like character screens are dealt with on the web.

The soldier is the middling character, and his abilities and later upgrades very quickly make him a master of all trades. He's best for short-range battles, and can support his buddies: perfect for battles around the capture points, which are generally enclosed by buildings or other structures.

The gunner is the lumbering damage dealer, and he can take a colossal amount of damage - and I mean a skyscraper full of hit-points - before he goes down. This makes for some interesting "oh god hold him back!" moments as a gunner sweeps in, disgorging firepower, and taking down multiple enemies before he too falls.

The commando is a kind of spy/sniper hybrid creature. You can turn invisible, which doesn't seem to work particularly well, backstab with a knife, and also strike at long ranger with the sniper rifle. Given the astonishingly slow-moving nature of the BFH characters, this makes sniping particularly effective, although you'll still get minced at close range, taking those capture points. (The commando also means spawn-camping is a very real and continual nuisance.)

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Jim Rossignol