Early last week, we saw Battlefield Play4Free launch into open beta. Yet another victim of the numerical title plague that Driv3r instigated, I found myself, quite understandably, apprehensive at first – however a game that’s proudly flaunted as ‘the best of Battlefield’ piqued my interest enough for me to give it a whirl. Take a glance at the score sheet, and you’ll find that Battlefield Play4Free is heavily built upon Battlefield 2, with a dose of ‘perk’ based influence from Battlefield Heroes, and a dash of Bad Company (in the way of operable vehicles) sloshed in for good measure. Whilst on paper this sounds rather impressive, Battlefield Play4Free (which I’m now coining as BFP4F) doesn’t quite succeed in execution. However, this isn’t entirely the fault of the game itself, and instead it’s EA’s nothing-for-free mentality that restricts the potential of this venture.

Accessing the game is a fairly simple affair, just head over to http://battlefield.play4free.com/ and sign up with an associated EA account. You’ll be presented with an option to download the game, oblige and before long BFP4F will have tucked the installation files away, and launched accordingly. Oddly enough, the entirety of this installation process happens within the browser, meaning that very little control is afforded to you, the user, regarding installation settings. Furthermore, the game (as far as I can tell) can only launch via the browser – an inconvenience, albeit minor.

Regarding the game itself; things start well and good. Battlefield Play4Free is multiplayer only, which is no surprise coming from Battlefield Heroes, and has evidently been designed with quick-matching at the forefront. You’ll only be presented with a handful of options through which to source a warzone and wreck havoc, but surprisingly this doesn’t feel that limited in execution. You can opt to go it alone or play with friends; either way the matchmaking is a swift affair with the wait between games rarely longer than 30 seconds. Unfortunately, this desire to get the player stuck-in-quickly brings with it caveat – you’re far more likely to join existing games, than to partake in freshly created ones. That being said, round times are fairly short to compensate. A domination style mode makes up gameplay within BFP4F, and whilst this is quite fun, things can become rather stagnant before too long through a lack of variety. Yet with the game still in open beta, perhaps it’s a little early to judge, as alternative game modes may very well arrive at a later date.

Visually, you can expect a very similar affair to Battlefield 2. Although the graphics may look slightly dated by today’s standards, they’re still rather pleasing if cranked up to high, and perfectly reasonable for a free to play title. Effort has been made to tailor this game towards the greatest potential player base possible, and thus in-game graphics are remarkably scalable as a result. Opting for ‘very low’ will result in awfully blocky weaponry, and buildings that are often indistinguishable from the terrain they’ve been built upon, mostly because they’re lacking in any form of detail, and although visually repugnant, this does result in BFP4F becoming somewhat ‘netbook friendly’, which is a big plus. Treat yourself to ‘high’ settings though, and Battlefield Play4Free (as mentioned previously) is fairly pleasing to look at. In the same vein, I also found myself rather impressed with the audio quality; it certainly adds an air of realism, perhaps even above that of BFP4F’s spiritual sibling, Battlefield 2.

As we’ve come to expect, the Battlefield series has become something of a snipers’ paradise, and sticking true to form Battlefield Play4Free is no exception. However, this issue is made somewhat worse by the perplexing restriction of match-size’s to a mere 32 players instead of the tradition 64, which results in a relatively disappointing and often unimaginative firearms exchange, consisting almost entirely of the loud thud of sniper rifles against the occasional soft patter of pistol duels, only separated by the brief whirl of a helicopter overhead. Moreover, a couple of the maps, particularly those derived from Battlefield 2 itself, suffer from gigantism; most probably due to the fifty percent decrease in anticipated player base – however, despite this hiccup, they mark a welcome return to form, and will most definitely impress newcomers to the series, if there’s any of those left.

Certain skills, such as the ability to pilot aircraft, are only unlockable via the use of ‘training points’, which you receive each time you level up. This certainly provides an incentive to continue playing, although due to the fact that it’s not explained from the offset, time spent jumping in front of a fighter jet scratching your head in confusion is likely to ensue. Still, at least this aspect of the game is entirely free.

Before long though, the real issues present themselves. Unlike Battlefield 2, class switching isn’t available mid-match. When you create an account, you create a soldier, and he as your online alter-ego is tied to a single class. Thus, when you undoubtedly find yourself in a situation where operating a different class would benefit the collective war-effort, you’re unable to do so, and it’s probably a result of this bizarre gameplay decision that there are so very many sniper classes floating about.

Graphical glitches and tearing also pepper the map as you play, which although you can forgive to a limited degree considering the free-to-play nature of this game, you’ll find yourself unwittingly less tolerant when you recall that BFP4F is little more than a tweaked Battlefield 2 port – a game which managed to avoid these issues entirely. In addition, a handful of depth of field and blurry screen errors present themselves if you plump for ‘high’ graphics settings, and you’ll find yourself forced to play in full screen mode to avoid inconsistent minimizing and unpredictable crashes to the desktop. Mysteriously, the option to go prone is also missing, which in turn makes sniping far more difficult than it should be.

Furthermore, although the Play4Free element of Battlefield cannot be criticised, after all on the face of it we’re getting something for nothing, it’s also responsible for restricting the replay value this title offers – unless you’re willing to splash the cash, of course. The predominance of micro-transactions is not inherently obvious to begin with, but after playing for a couple of hours, you’ll notice other players with access to better upgrades or a more expansive skill-set, the likes of which you simply cannot obtain without cold hard cash.

With this EA have crippled BFP4F, which is surprising given that Riot provided the winning formula for free-to-play games via League of Legends (where every facet of the game is available, spending money merely speeds the process) and thus the decision to opt for this rather archaic method of free-ish game is baffling to say the least. As a result, the majority of players who, like me, have no desire to pay-to-play, partially on principle, will find that before long Battlefield Play4Free becomes a rather repetitive and unimaginative First Person Shooter, which offers very little to differentiate itself between the countless other faceless FPS titles that have already saturated the free-to-play market.

In reality, Battlefield Play4Free is little more than Battlefield 2 reincarnated for a free-to-play audience, but then there’s nothing wrong with that per se.  In fact, bugs, griefers and glitches aside; it’s quite enjoyable, and I would encourage you to give it a whirl for yourself. Whilst it’s not likely to steal the well deserved FPS crown from the Call of Duty series, Battlefield Play4Free is great in small doses. And given that it’s still in beta, the issues that are associated with the game may very well disappear before launch, which if coupled with an overhaul of the micro-transactions system, could very well result in an approachable and replayable FPS.