Updated Wed, Jul 10, 2013 by Dalmarus
Firefall is a free-to-play first person shooter MMO from Red 5 Studios out of sunny California. During the closed beta, the team was engagingly entertaining. They’ve had live events with such celebrities as Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle). Over the last year or two, they’ve also made for some very impressive showings at conventions like PAX, where they decked out a full sized RV to make it appear as though it had come right out of the game. They’ve done the same thing with statues and weapons, and in my personal opinion, had some of the best swag ever seen on a convention floor.
It’s too bad this enthusiasm for engaging with the community and intricate attention to display detail doesn’t appear to have transferred to the game itself. Considering the fact that Firefall is coming from a studio packed with industry veterans, I’ll admit I was genuinely shocked by a number of issues within my first 30 minutes of playing. Since I have the distinct feeling the game is going to need some love, let me go over the things the team got right before I delve into the issues I feel sullied a potentially interesting MMOFPS.
The game appears to use cell shading and while I’m not entirely sold on the brilliance of that move, I will say that Firefall’s art style is cool. I like the different looks of the battlesuits, the colorful scenery, and the distinctive colors of various enemies I ran into. A downside to this style in an online setting is that when numerous players are on the screen at once it can lag out pretty heavily. Fortunately, this didn’t happen very often, or at least not to the point of being annoying.
The voice acting in the game will either amuse or irritate the hell out of you. I’m not sure that anyone is going to fall into the middle. The people you deal with have exaggerated accents (though there are a wide variety of accent types) and are prone to using a lot of slang. It can be pretty entertaining at times. Even though some may find the amount of all out camp a little annoying, I will freely admit that it had me chuckling on more than one occasion.
There is a harvesting system in Firefall that’s vaguely reminiscent of Star Wars: Galaxies in that you have to scan an area to find out if there are any resources worth taking the time to harvest. Some areas will be inaccessible to your harvester (called a Thumper), others will have nothing more than trace amounts, and others still will have loads of goodies. Once you scan an area and set your Thumper out, it’s time to get ready to fight because the noise your harvester makes attracts the attention of a wide variety of critters (think Dune). It’s up to you to defend your harvester while it does its thing. Ideally, you need to defend it until it’s full, but you can send it on its way any time. You’ll often find other players helping out in these situations, and while I’m not entirely sure I got any rewards myself (you can see the harvester’s loot if you defend it successfully), there was some fun to be had killing the weird bugs that popped up.
The last thing I can think of that I genuinely enjoyed was the freedom of movement in the game. I’ve said it multiple times in the past and it still holds true – I hate games that put me on a rail and never let me off. My brief time in Firefall may have left me completely confused as to what the hell was going on, but one thing it certainly did right was let me pick any direction I wanted and get into whatever trouble I ran into on my own without forcing me to follow a specific path. I do wish there was a warning that characters can’t swim before I died in the ocean, but eh… them’s the breaks.
Now that we’ve gotten the good out there for everyone to read, and I’ve made it clear that I don’t despise Firefall 100%, let’s go over some of the things Red 5 Studios desperately needs to fix during this open beta (read: soft launch, so quit acting like it isn’t!)
One of the things I am an absolute sucker for in any video game, whether on the PC or console, is a good intro cinematic. I LOVE them. No, seriously… like in a creepy sort of way even. They set the tone of a game and are normally a person’s first real introduction to the story you’re getting ready to throw them into. Because of that, I find it imperative that intro go off without a single hitch. Sadly, that’s all the intro for Firefall did do – hitch. While trying to watch it, the scene would constantly stop and freeze every 1-2 seconds. I don’t know if it was being streamed from their servers instead of having been pre-installed on my own hard drive during patching (which it really should have been if not). It was incredibly painful to try and watch, which sucks because from what I was able to piece together from its mangled delivery, it looks as though it would have been pretty damned cool.
As a result of this, when I finally entered the game, I had barely the slightest clue what the hell was going on. I caught something about our own spaceship popping out of a space gate and malfunctioning, crashing to Earth, some alien or virus, and then crashing into Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Um… yeah.
Then came the character creator and I immediately cringed. Are we, or are we not, supposed to finally be in an age where we can quit with blatant sexism yet? Please? FFS Red 5, what the hell were you thinking? I have no problem with the models used (someone finally moved away from stick figure females) so I give you points there. At the same time though, why the hell are the men standing there like some Abercrombie and Fitch model looking tall and mean, while the female characters are thrusting their hips out at me as they lean back in a ridiculous pose? Oh, it gets worse…
As you look through the various options for hair, eyes, etc (though there aren’t many, I think they actually look pretty good), the men continue to stand there, looking cool, sometimes even turning their heads in a fighter-pilot-esque “yeah, I know I’m cool” way. The women though… oh dear gods, I just want to punch a unicorn. Rather than the women standing there in a similar pose to the men, they start doing this obnoxious hip-swaying and shoulder-turning thing. It immediately pissed me off. Truth be told, I’m not super sensitive to this kind of thing, but it’s so blatant here as to be completely impossible to miss.
The final piece of game failure I’ll harp on here is the “tutorial”. I put that in quotes because even attempting to use that word is an exaggeration. To keep this simple, let me give you a list of rules every tutorial should follow first:
Unfortunately, Firefall fails in every single rule above. The tutorial voice actor speaks so fast and spits out a string of uninterrupted instructions that it’s impossible to keep up with her. The biggest problem with the game is that they do a lot of things differently than other MMOs and don’t give a player the information necessary to know what to do in a clear manner. Doing things differently is not only fine, it’s awesome. Just be sure your brand new player doesn’t get so frustrated they want to chuck a keyboard across the room, and you may stand a hope in hell of keeping them.
The overriding themes for my Firefall experience have to be, “What the hell is going on?” and “How the hell do I do X?” Without a doubt, there is potential in the game, and the amount of depth in the leveling and crafting systems is pretty intense. So what’s my verdict so far? I’ll obviously keep playing it for now (keep an eye out for a proper preview piece next week), but I admit, the constant question of what was going on and how to do things left me frustrated. Let’s hope things improve as I get further into the game. For the sake of Red 5 Studios, I certainly hope it does.