Heading into PAX Prime we knew that Red 5 Studios would have a presence
on the show floor, but apart from a teaser image showing a countdown
timer to the event on their official site and a handful of concept art
images, we really didnt know exactly what to expect. And while there
were a number of other top shelf titles on display at the show, we knew
that whatever Red 5 has been busy building over the past couple of
years, chances are it would be worth taking the time to check out.
With their new game, Firefall,
Red 5 hopes to break into the online gaming world with a bang, offering
the quality of a triple-A title but without the subscription fees that
can often be a deterrent for many gamers from the word go. However, the
notion of free-to-play as a high-caliber gaming experience still has a
way to go before being fully accepted by the masses, especially when
you throw shooter-style combat into the mix. Two recent games that have
made that particular plunge, CrimeCraft and APB, havent fared quite as
well at the developers may have hoped. Yet as many will tell you,
free-to-play doesnt necessarily have to equate poor production value
alt="Vivid landascapes in Firefall"
Vivid landascapes in Firefall
So where does Firefall
fit into the equation? And exactly what kind of game can we expect to
be unleashed by Red 5 before the close of 2011? I think its pertinent
to give a few simple points of reference before diving headlong into
the nuts and bolts of what gameplay in style="font-style: italic;">Firefall is all
As CEO and Chief Creative Officer Mark Kern began his presentation of style="font-style: italic;">Firefall, two games
from recent years instantly sprung go mind. First up is Borderlands,
due in part to the partially cell-shaded graphical style of style="font-style: italic;">Firefall, not to
mention that the game is also heavy on the team-based shooter action.
The second part of the equation would be the ill-fated Tabula Rasa,
mainly because of certain gameplay elements such as the massive swarms
of alien enemies you encounter Starship Troopers style combined with
the AI driven control point invasion dynamics. Sure, Warhammer Online
may have popularized the notion of Public Quests, but TR hit the scene
with the foundations for that system and many of its imitators first,
and deserves a mention here.
The third ingredient, and the one in the mix that likely overpowers the
other two by a fair margin, is a heavy dose of awesome. Much like a
shiny new car that wouldnt really win me over before taking it for a
test drive, its not often that seeing a game presentation alone is
enough to really woo me into believing a new title has some serious
potential. But Firefall
has plenty of interesting things going for it beyond a mere handful of
combat gimmicks or graphical magic tricks.
Once such mechanic would be the battleframes that serve not only as a
class-defining part of your character, but also help decide which
skills you bring with you into battle. Think of these battleframes as
something like an exoskeleton, only instead of simply being a means of
protection, they also come fully equipped with some seriously badass
takes place 200 years into Earths future and has a certain
post-apocalyptic vibe thanks to the Melding which is a massive hostile
energy storm that engulfs most of the planet. Humanity continues to
survive in the small pockets of the landscape that are still
inhabitable, and must harvest an energy source known as Crystite to
survive. However, a race known simply as The Chosen has also risen up
and poses a constant threat.
While there will be a strong PvP element to style="font-style: italic;">Firefall, the
portion of the game we were shown was mainly focused on the PvE side of
things. In particular, Mark showed us just how dangerous the business
of extracting Crystite deposits can be. Calling down a device to do the
Crystite harvesting for him also attracted a large number of
insect-like creatures that came at his character in increasingly
difficult waves, and turned the idea of something fairly commonplace in
MMOGs, harvesting, into a fairly intense combat situation.
When asked if players would have to deal with some of the humiliating
aspects of a new player having access to a pistol vs. vets toting
rocket launchers in the PvP aspects of the game, Mark explained that
players will begin the game with not only the hefty assault rifle his
character was using during the presentation, but youll also have
access to powerful abilities right from the start with each of the
battleframes in the game. For example, an ability used to unleash a
powerful AoE attack against some of the weaker mobs had his character
leaping up into the air only to come back down to the ground sending
out a shockwave dealing heavy damage to everything around him.
The battleframes themselves will also be customizable via a forging
process, with each battleframe containing slots for up to 3 different
abilities. We were only shown a brief glimpse of how the forging
process works, but from what I could tell it seems that theres a fair
amount of options there and ways for players to fully customize their
abilities in combat as a result.
But the battleframes were just one portion of the larger picture of
Firefall that managed to pique my interest. Rather than small maps with
basic control point capture mechanics, Firefall consists of a fairly
expansive persistent world which is far from static thanks to the AI
director that can generate interesting, dynamic content on the fly.
During the presentation, the town of Dredge came under attack and if
the invading forces werent repelled successfully they could outright
take control of the entire town and Crystite mining operation that it
sprung up around. Mark explained that the exact same invasion could
have happened at an entirely separate geographical location rather than
being a simple conditional triggered script as was the case with Tabula
Rasas control points.
Unfortunately one key ingredient in any team-based action shooter
wasnt present in any form in the presentation, aka we werent actually
shown any team play. However, we were assured that not only would
team-play take center stage in the live game, but Firefall will also
feature plenty of bells and whistles such as crafting, trading,
leaderboards and a whole lot more.
So while its still a bit too early to say just how
compelling the complete package for Firefall will ultimately be, its
certainly earned a position on my games to watch radar. The graphics
are top notch, dancing along that fine line of stylized realism, the
combat appears to be incredibly fluid with just the right amount of
controlled chaos, and the progression systems are said to allow you to
expand your character outward rather than upward which is a big win in
my books for a skill based shooter.
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