Thursday, March 21, 2013

Battlefield Play4Free - First Impressions, Graphics Comparison, Tips and Brief Shotgun Gameplay/x264 Test Recording (1080p)

I recently got around to trying the 'Play For Free' version of the Battlefield series and created an account through their website to try this game out.
[I remembered much later that I actually had an account that I used during the Beta phase, but I completely forgot about that - and also what the game was like back then anyway - too much Battlefield 3 cleared all of that from my brain, I suppose!]
It is free to create an Account and play forever if you so desire, but there are also many options for purchasing weapons, armor, clothing, and other items with "Real Money".

The 4 classes available to play in BFP4F, with information on each. Click to see Full Size.

After creating a free account (which is assigned to an e-mail address), I started out playing the Medic class and it seemed to get more fun as it went along. You don't start out with paddles/defibrillators, but you do start out with a healing box that you throw down (as in Battlefield Bad Company 2), a Machine Gun (MG3), pistol (M9), Tracer Darts (a'la BFBC2) and a knife - but no grenades (yet). Running around dropping healing boxes and backing up my team was great and when I unlocked the Defibs, I felt like I was playing BFBC2. After getting used to the Controls (adjusting the sensitivity, changing some of the default hotkeys, etc) in no time it felt like good'ol Battlefield.

A hotel in Battlefield 2 (bottom) and the same hotel in Battlefield Play4Free (top)
Click to see Full Size

The visuals are akin to Battlefield 2, with extra shaders and effects mixed with some BFBC2 elements. For instance, you can 'spot' the enemy and the BFBC2-type 'triangle' appears above their head for a while and they appear on the map. The environment looks more like Battlefield 2 than Battlefield Bad Company 2, with many models (shapes) looking like they were pulled straight from BF2 and just converted. This is not a bad thing particularly, I enjoyed BF2 a lot, and with some shading, fog and other graphical boosts that were done, the game doesn't look too bad - especially when you consider it's a free-to-play title and won't cost you one cent if you don't want to spend it.

Graphics comparison between Low, Medium and High 'Video Quality' settings.
Click to see Full Size

I would have liked more complexity to many things, but it makes sense that they tried to keep the polygon/videocard usage down, supporting more types of machines/older ones, so that more people could play it (and they could also potentially make more money). It does look very playable, especially if you can turn things up a bit, and the gameplay is still The Battlefield Formula, which meant soon I wasn't paying attention to the graphics at all - I was too busy capturing points, driving teammates around, an' killin' an' healin'.. If you like the Battlefield style of gameplay, especially Battlefield2, you should enjoy playing this game.
Unlabeled comparison of that apartment complex that is forever under construction.
Click to see Full Size

The starting guns for the Medic were low accuracy and low damage and you will get killed a lot in direct firefights, but with some practice with short bursts and aiming down the sights, you can still kill others, even at a distance, and slowly start to make points. The starting rifle for the Sniper packs more of a punch of course, but seems to take forever to reload and has bullets that must be made out of solid granite, because they seem so heavy and drop so much. The starting guns for the Engineer was an RPG and [what I found to be,] a decent sub-machine gun (I have always been a fan of the PP-2000 though, I remember fondly running around in Bad Company 2 with Magnum Rounds in one /evillaugh). Recoil is high on these beginning guns, but I assume it gets better later on as more becomes unlocked at higher soldier levels. Grenades don't seem to go straight all the time, in random throws, which makes for some tense-but-funny bounces.

Although the PLAY NOW buttons will get you into the thick of battle very quickly, you cannot choose what game mode to play (Rush, etc). If you want to choose what game type to play or what server to play on, there is a server browser [indicated in the picture above with green arrows] button in the upper-right corner of the Launcher.

I found at the website, after logging in that there was a 'Starter Pack' for each class, a sort of 'preview' of a couple weapons that you can buy, which included a high-damage shotgun in it for my Medic. That was a lot of fun, if you don't mind having to run-and-gun into the frays, but it only lasted one day, then the gun disappears and is no longer usable anymore. Still, it was a nice little preview and I got some fast close-quarter kills with it while it lasted (see Video).

As with most online games that can possibly make money from you, the levels come fast at the beginning to get you hooked, then slow down quite a bit (I found it started to 'feel slow' around Level 6 or 7). You can purchase eXPerience boosters and as you level you can purchase more weapons as they become 'unlocked'. You gain free tokens called Credits as you play the game, but gain them slowly (automatically over time it seems, based on Time Played) and these Credits purchase weapons that [mostly] last one day (or items that have limited numbers of uses, such as healing bandages). You can purchase tokens called Funds ("Play4Free Funds", which used to be called "Battlefunds" during the Beta) with Real Money that you can use in the Store to purchase weapons as well, including versions that last forever.  If you are willing to purchase Play4Free Funds, you can also unlock weapons and items 'early' with them, that is, be able to purchase/unlock and equip items before the level you would normally have to be to unlock and use them.

Shotgun trial (not that kind) and the hotel from BF2.
Click to see Full Size

For the shotgun that I mentioned earlier, using these Play4Free Funds purchased with Real Money, it would cost about $.06 to use for a day and about  $1.00 to use forever. If you didn't want to spend any money for it, it seems that you can gain enough free tokens (Credits) to buy it for a day of play in about 5 or 6 rounds if your team is winning matches (about an hour of solid playtime) and just over twice that amount if your team is constantly losing matches. There was a sub-machine gun (a UMP-45) that was in the Engineer Starter Pack as a preview, and as another example, for that gun to use for one day, you would have to play about 5-6 rounds (each round lasting about 10-15 minutes) if you won most of them, and play about twice that long if your team kept losing. You can even purchase this gun (the UMP-45) to use forever with free tokens, but you would have to play about 4 hours a day for over 3 weeks and not spend much of the earned Credits on anything else. Quite a run, but if you are having fun playing the game anyway (and for free) the fact they give the option to purchase it that way is nice.

There is a Training section [the button is indicated in the picture above with green arrows] with trees and abilities to unlock for your soldier in order to drive vehicles, etc. For example: Medics do not start out with Defibrillators and must train for the equipment to revive fallen teammates.

You gain Soldier eXPerience by killing, capturing points, healing, etc and the XP gains you Levels, which unlock future items and weapons and each level gives you a Point that you can spend in MMORPG-style 'Talent Trees', where you can improve aspects of that Soldier or unlock different abilities, such as the ability for people to Spawn off of you or sense what direction damage is coming from (it doesn't do that at first), the ability to lay Claymores (and the ability to not trip them when you run by), fly vehicles and more. Thus, the more you contribute to your team by killing, capturing and healing, the more abilities to do these things you unlock. With the free Credits you gain over time as you play, the more you play, the more weapons and items you can unlock. The whole system encourages involvement and seems to work well, as there has only been a couple of games where I saw "AFK'ers" (people who have the game running but are Away From their Keyboard or not playing/helping). There were also a couple games where people said in Chat for others to "come stat-pad with them" (I left those games); but as I said, these were only a couple of games out of the 50+ I have played so far. Overall, everyone seems to be runnin'-n'-gunnin' and helping out their team just fine.

Soldiers supporting each other in a corner battle behind buildings.
Click to see Full Size

The sound in the game has differing cracks and booms for the various weapons with echo effects (Reverb) when you are inside buildings,etc and the vehicles each have their own engine sound [although there is some 'vehicle engine sounds' in the backing/environmental track that play in the background of each map (such as the rain and birds in jungle maps) that is somewhat confusing at times if your ears catch it in the background, you think a vehicle is nearby and it isn't]. I still laugh once in a while playing because every soldier uses The Wilhelm Scream. Nice. Most of the Voice Overs in the game sound like they came from BFBC2 but are tweaked a little. [The phrase when gaining control of a point still cracks me up, as it sounds like an old Clean & Clear commercial ("clear and under control.."), just like it did in BFBC2]. With the Communication Rose (Hotkey 'Q' and you choose an option, like Need Ammo) you can hear yourself and other Soldiers, but it's rare to hear someone spamming it.

 If you are having trouble hitting the numbers for the different weapons and slots, or just want to change them, you can assign other keys for them in the Game Launcher under Settings (the gears button at the top). I liked to assign the numbers for items only, so my weapons are actually Spin Mouse Wheel Up for one and Spin Mouse Wheel Down for the other.

The music, which doesn't play during regular gameplay, is a nice hard-rock/heavy-metal take on the BF theme by Corroded. A looping 2-minute track called Age Of Rage plays while you are in the Game Launcher menu that sounds a lot like the music from The Terminator movies (not a bad thing). Short phrases from their version of the theme play when you Win, Lose or Level Up and a longer version plays while Loading. The hard-rock sound fits the game well.

Always take time to enjoy the scenery in life. Here are some trees and shadows.
Click to see Full Size

Overall, Battlefield Play4Free is like most free-to-play online games that use Microtransactions: it is in fact free to download, install and play and there is also the ability to purchase items and 'boosters' to level up/unlock items faster as well - but you don't need to spend any money on it at all if you really don't want to or cannot do so (and of course have the time to play to get what you want the slower/free way). Although it feels a little clunky to play at first if you're coming from the Retail versions of the Battlefield series, once you get used to the DirectX 9 graphics and mechanics, it eventually 'feels' like a Battlefield title (A Good Thing) and once you get used to it overall - it is a lot of fun to play (The Main Thing).

I almost forgot.. the gameplay video!  This clip was a test of a few things at once; Bandicam's 'External Codec' setting using x264 (H.264/AVC) available in version 1.8.2/2012-09 [new version at the time writing this post began] and higher, Bandicam's automatic Logo overlay with transparency (our logo, lower right corner), BFP4F's one-day-only 'Starter Pack' 870 Combat Shotgun, and the uploading of a clip directly from the recorded file/output to YouTube.

Video Specs and Tech Talk:
Recorded game: Battlefield Play4Free, Online FPS
Recorded with: Bandicam Registered Version @1080p
Recording codec: x264 (H.264/AVC) using the 'External Codec' implementation in Bandicam
Recording settings/variables: 'VeryFast' Preset, CRF23, 'Zero-Latency' Option selected, Logo option with transparency (our logo, lower right) 
The first of many recordings testing out Bandicam's usage of other codecs installed in a system (called 'External Codecs' in the program), this clip was recorded using the x264 Advanced Video Coding codec. Not an editing-friendly codec (it is slower to seek/move between sections within an editing application and can have artifacting issues), it still manages to work well with little effect on framerate, with the proper settings. The Constant Rate Factor quality setting of 23, recording at 1920x1080, gave an output bitrate of about 20000kbps, resulting in a file size that uses about 150MB per minute of recording (a half hour of recording at this resolution and bitrate [with MPEG-4/AVC] would take up about 4.5GB). 
The 'VeryFast' Preset in x264 auto-selects a few things, such as 1 reference frame per GOP, no Trellis encoding, no Deblocking, no CABAC and no B-type frames in the original recording/output. I suggest the faster Presets, as the slower ones compress far too much on-the-fly and create lag in the game and in the recording - more on this will come in a future article**. The CRF set at 23 allowed some 'breathing room' for recording and compressing on the fly (it is a medium quality setting, a CRF of 18 being more of a 'standard high-quality' MPEG-4 setting), it also saved a little bit of disk space as this just-over-two-minute file was only about 300MB. While still watchable and acceptable in quality, the absence of deblocking (to hide macroblocks and other compression artifacts) and the high compression of flat/low-detail areas, making them smoothed out/blurred is visible, however. It is suggested to use a higher bitrate/rate control factor (if the system can handle it), even though more diskspace will be utilized. Youtube seems to have recompressed it as well, as even at the '1080p' Youtube setting, some quality has been lost from the original uploaded file. Still, it seems acceptable for a medium quality recording setting.

**A separate article/post testing out and explaining recording with h.264/AVC (MPEG-4 Part 10) in detail, for use in programs like Bandicam, Dxtory, MSI Afterburner, etc. can be found here at this blog:

Have fun and See You In The Game!

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