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Joystiq hands-on: Battlefield Heroes

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Producer Alexander Grondal said the team wants Battlefield Heroes to run on your Grandma's PC and -- with a sub-250MB download and the ability to run on Intel's anemic integrated video offerings -- we're sure it will. But that doesn't mean Grams is going to kick the Pogo crack pipe and be racking up levels in Heroes anytime soon. It's about as simple a shooter as you can imagine -- everything from the cartoon aesthetic to the streamlined controls reinforce the game's message: have fun -- but it's still a shooter at heart.

It's a curious message coming from the same team that's been bringing the popular, and complicated, multiplayer Battlefield games to the hardcore shooter fans of the world. Has some of their audience grown up? Run out of free time? Still using the same gaming rig they built to play Battlefield 1942 in 2002?

In our brief experience with the game at EA's Spring Break event in San Francisco last night, we were initially disoriented by the third-person perspective. Even though you see your character, Heroes doesn't play like a third-person shooter; it's an FPS through and through. A quick mental adjustment later, and we were running after enemies, grabbing flags, flying planes, and driving tanks.

Gallery: Battlefield Heroes (5-13-08) | 9 Photos

We went back to create our own character and Grondal explained that the number of slots that were open was something that would be unlocked by leveling up. Leveling up will also give you special "hero" abilities (think perks in Call of Duty 4) and open new missions, but it won't necessarily make you a more powerful player. That's good, because the micro-transaction driven game will allow you to purchase double-XP, so in theory you couldn't buy your way into a better character. "There are no game-altering items," Grondal assures us. In fact, he tells us the whole issue of game-altering items was dealt with by the Heroes team before the recent Bad Company kerfluffle.

So, if you're not buying a more powerful character, what are you buying? Grondal says they expect that "95% won't pay a dollar" for the game. Their business model revolves around that remaining 5%, who may want to purchase more maps (Update: There are no plans to charge for new maps, says Grondal), or more outfits, and expand their experience.

battlefield heroes

With games like Quake Live and Fallen Empire: Legions coming to a web browser near you, Heroes has the unfortunate distinction of being the one free shooter that isn't web-based. Grondal said the decision to use Battlefield 2142's engine locked the team into this path and, while the decision wasn't his to make, it was an important part of getting the game made. Could they port it to the Mac? They "would love to," he says, but will need to wait and see how the Windows release is received first.

And that's their "biggest challenge" he concedes. How does one pitch a multiplayer shooter to an audience that, ostensibly, doesn't play multiplayer shooters? With the game entering an open beta "soon" before being released at the "end of this summer," hopefully that audience will be hearing more about it soon. If the idea of a free, fun, pick-up-and-play shooter sounds appealing to you, we suspect many of you may be part of that elusive audience as well.

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