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 didnÂt 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, havenÂt fared quite as well at the developers may have hoped. Yet as many will tell you, free-to-play doesnÂt necessarily have to equate Âpoor production valueÂ either.
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 itÂs pertinent to give a few simple points of reference before diving headlong into the nuts and bolts of what gameplay in Firefall is all about.
As CEO and Chief Creative Officer Mark Kern began his presentation of 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 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 wouldnÂt really win me over before taking it for a test drive, itÂs 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 weaponry.
Firefall takes place 200 years into EarthÂs 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 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 youÂll 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 thereÂs 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 werenÂt 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 RasaÂs control points.
Unfortunately one key ingredient in any team-based action shooter wasnÂt present in any form in the presentation, aka we werenÂt 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 itÂs still a bit too early to say just how compelling the complete package for Firefall will ultimately be, itÂs certainly earned a position on my Âgames to watchÂ 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.