Boston may have been fairly cold this past weekend, but the presence of
online game developers certainly cranked the heat up for the second annual PAX East. One
of the true gems of the show, Firefall made its second PAX appearance, this time
offering attendees the chance to get up close and personal with the games
competitive multiplayer mode.
Arriving at the expo center early on Saturday morning, I
managed to snag some extra hands-on time with Firefall by running through the
Sunken Harbor team deathmatch map. This gave me a chance to
tinker a bit with the controls, different battleframe abilities, and get a
general feel for combat prior to my appointment with none other than Lead
Designer, Scott Youngblood. If that name sounds familiar, its because Scott was the design lead on Tribes 1
and 2 titles that PC gaming enthusiasts should remember well.
Hands-On in the Sunken Harbor
Before digging deeper into some of the details that make Firefall unique in the
vast seas of competitive multiplayer shooters, its worth looking at how the
core gameplay stacks up.
While the Sunken Harbor team deathmatch map is only one of many that will be
available to players once Firefall ships, it gave me a good feel for overall
level design which can be as important in a shooter as the ammo in your guns.
Too basic and youre left with maps where snipers control the pace of combat.
Too busy and it can be hard to even spot enemies amongst all the ground clutter
let alone get a clean shot off from more than a few meters away.
The Sunken Harbor seemed to nail the middle ground between those two extremes
perfectly, even though its not an overly massive map. There was a good balance
of high vantage points and trenches as well as plenty of well-placed objects
that added not only a nice visual touch to the environment, but had a direct
impact on map pacing as well.
Another thing that immediately stood out for me is that character and combat
animations are incredibly fluid which can up the immersion factor for many
gamers. This becomes even more important once you consider that Firefall allows
you to play in either first or third person, over the shoulder view.
The stylized graphics may not be to everyones liking, but this approach also
means that framerates will remain high even on lower-spec systems. In fact,
Scott even mentioned that the systems being used for the demo were far from top
of the line, so players with extreme gaming rigs can expect an even richer
graphical experience than what was seen on the show floor. Even better, Firefall
takes full advantage of current 3D technology, so if youre looking for a great
persistent shooter to use your 3DVision capable rig, Firefall should be right up
Beyond the basics of level design, animation, and graphical prowess, Firefall
also hits the mark in terms of the sorts of bells and whistles youd come to
expect from a modern shooter. Various power-ups are peppered throughout the map,
and the game also boasts a fairly robust leaderboard tracking system.
Pulling up the leaderboard at any point during a competitive match can give you
quick feedback about most things players do to contribute to their teams
victory. In other words, healing and team assists are just as important in
determining who contributes the most during a match.
Likewise, the leaderboard can give you a quick reference point for which
battelframes your team members are currently using, or even if theyve just
taken a dirt nap and are waiting to respawn back in your base.
Swapping Battleframes Mid-Match
At any point in the match youre able to go back to your teams base and swap
out which battle frame you have active. In other words, youll never be locked
into a specific role just because its what you were using when the match began.
While there is currently no limit in place to how many times you can switch
roles during a match, this may change at some point in the future based on
In the currently unlimited role swapping setup, this allows teams to adapt their
strategy on the fly in ways that most online shooters only partially account for
through standard weapon swaps. So say the enemy team has you pinned down with a
few Recon snipers but most of your team is currently using their Assault frame.
You can quickly switch to Recon, take out the snipers with a few of your own,
and give your Assault players a chance to close the gap.
Likewise, if your team is taking maybe too much of a beating, you can fairly
quickly refit to gain additional healing support as needed. This adds a layer of
depth to the competitive metagame thats rarely seen in this style of gameplay.
Cooperative Ability Chaining
Players will also be able to slot abilities that can be chained together for
more potent results. To help illustrate this, two of my Assault battleframe
abilities could be chained together to pack a pretty mean punch:
Crater Launches you up in the air, slamming you back down to cause AoE damage,
or even direct damage if you manage to land on another player when you descend.
The amount of damage it does is in direct proportion to how high you were when
you triggered the ability.
Afterburner Takes all of your energy and launches you in a direction based on
where your reticle is currently pointed. As Scott pointed out, If you happen to
do that while pointed up, and then at the top of your apex hit your Crater, you
can do a hell of a lot more damage with your Crater.
These chained abilities can also extend to the other members of your team. For
example, the third Assault ability, Overcharge, increases your rate of fire, but
by doing so it also very quickly empties the ammo in your clip. But as Scott
explained, The Medic has a Supercharge ability which basically negates the
clip, so you have an unlimited clip. So the Medic does a Supercharge, the
Assault does an Overcharge and now theyre pumping out way more damage than
either could have done by themselves.
Also shown for the first time anywhere, the Recon battleframe essentially
fulfills the role of being Firefalls sniper class. While youll be able to play
Recon exactly as you might expect a sniper class to function on a core level
in other words finding a good vantage point to lodge projectiles in the other
teams heads Recon also has a few other unique abilities up their metal
For example, the Resonating Bullets skill will stick to your target and explode
after a short period. However, you can hit the same target multiple times so
that when the explosion occurs it causes much more damage.
Perhaps my favorite Recon ability in the demo was the Cryo Bullet. According to
Scott, The Cyro Bullet is the Medics worst nightmare. If you shoot a Medic
with it, it takes all of their energy and then puts an ice-based snare on them
so they cant move very fast. As you can imagine, this is a very powerful means
of isolating single targets or taking enemy medics out of the equation.
The third Recon ability allowed me take advantage of the slowing effect of Cryo
Bullets by launching a mine which, when triggered, caused a fair amount of AoE
The net result is that the classic sniper role has been turned on its head to
make Recon fulfill a much more interesting support role. While we were only
shown three of the available Recon abilities during the demo, it will be
interesting to see what else youll be able to slot to change the way Recon is
Even though we were only shown a single cooperative PvP match type during the
demo, it was enough to get me hooked on Firefalls unique approach to the genre.
The battleframe system offers enough diversity to allow you to fulfill multiple
roles even within a single match. This also helps the metagame from ever becoming too stagnant, a fate that far too many shooters suffer and can lead to a rapid decline in popularity. Best of all that also means the game wont
punish you just because you made a handful of uninformed decisions during
character creation which is another recurring design flaw in online gaming.
Once you factor in Firefalls persistent world and deep character advancement
systems first shown last year at PAX Prime, I think its safe to say the game
will easily cater to both the extremely hardcore shooter crowd, as well as those
of you who might normally shy away from that style of gameplay.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Firefall Game Page.