As the MMOG industry begins to shift towards a more friendly attitude
toward fast-paced action-oriented gameplay, it was only a matter of
time before more contenders would step up to take the reigns as a
leader in the MMOFPS sub-genre. Earthrise,
under development by Masthead Studios, is aiming to bring the
experience of aim-and-click shooting into the realm of the MMOG, and
wrap it all up in a fun and engaging sandbox game experience worthy of
being called a AAA title.
Ambitious? Beyond a doubt. With previous success in the MMOFPS
sub-genre generally considered non-existent, Masthead is gambling on
being able to deliver a game that can appeal to both shooter and RPG
lovers, and stand toe-to-toe with existing MMOGs that already command
the monthly subscription fees of thousands or millions of gamers.
Point and Shoot. The
days of "hands-off" combat are over!
What is Earthrise
offering to entice you away from your world of hotbars and tab
targeting? To begin with, an elimination of the whole concept of
"hands-off" combat. In this game, it will not be an option to sit back
and let your 1-2-3-4-5 buttons do the talking. Enemies will maneuver
out of your crosshairs, and out of your range, and will even use the
environment around them to thwart your incoming hail of bullets. Combat
in this game will make you feel like you are in control of the outcome
of every battle. You win if you get the high ground and take out their
snipers, and you lose if you get too close to the flamethrower-wielding
psycho without wearing your fireproof underoos.
But don't fear your death, for you are one of an army of clones sent to
repopulate this desolate land after its near-annihilation. And death
simply means a return to the nearest cloning station. You see, this is
Earth, but not as you know it.
Let me set the scene for you...
In the late 21st century, mankind's bickering over dwindling resources
eventually boiled over into the Third World War which practically
eliminated life on the planet, and irradiated the entire surface.
Fortunately, as these events were unfolding, the Continoma Project was
born. This project was a vast technological "ark" that stored the DNA
of all living things on the planet, including humans, and included the
means with which to reproduce them at a later time. A few hundred years
after the war was over, the Project began cloning humans to resettle
the planet, called the Pioneers. These Pioneers eventually settled the
city of Sal Vitas and conquered the island of Enterra (which was once
England). But peace did not reign, and internal strife eventually
caused war to break out among the newly-cloned civilization.
As far as post-apocalyptic scenarios go, it's pretty standard. People
blow up the world, machines are left to clean up, machines create
clones of people, clone-people go to war and try to blow up world again
- rinse and repeat. It's not exactly innovative or groundbreaking, but
at least it's familiar and it gives the world a good story-related
reason for the old MMOG respawn mechanic. It also sets up for a very
easy-to-accept tutorial scenario, as the cloning stations walk you
through the use of your "new body."
Welcome to your new
clone body. Please don't break this one.
Unfortunately, it also left me personally feeling as though there was
absolutely nothing at stake, and no reason to care about the character
I was creating and learning to use. Hopefully the developers include a
"skip tutorial" function after you've ran it once, as having to do this
with every character you build would become exceedingly mind-numbing
after even just one or two times through it. Huge maps filled with
almost nothing to do except stare at the pretty scenery (which is
pretty), and a hustle speed that feels closer to a crawl, combine to
create an immense amount of wasted time over the course of the tutorial
experience. Couple this with the complete lack of mission waypoints or
printed directions, and you could conceivably spend hours just being
guided through the monotonous task of picking up one weapon and killing
things with it, then moving onto the next map to pick up a different
weapon and kill different things with it. A little streamlining of this
process would go a very long way toward enticing new players to stick
Sure is pretty. Wait, I
have to run HOW far?
Once you finally trudge your way out of the cloning facility where you
were born - err, hatched? - you will almost immediately find yourself
face-to-face with recruitment officers from each of the warring
factions that call this brave new world their home. On one side is the
law-abiding and draconian Continoma, and on the other are the fiercely
independent freedom fighters of The Noir. At first the decision seems
fairly simple - choose one side or the other to fight for - but
according to the developers, your affiliation with one side or the
other may not always be as official as it seems on the surface. It's
even said to be possible to eventually play as an unaffiliated
independent criminal carving out your own place in the world.
This is just one hint of the massive scale of the sandbox-type
experience that Masthead is attempting to create within style="font-style: italic;">Earthrise.
Additional open-ended content includes the complete lack of a
class-based system that restricts your initial choices to just a few
types of equipment or skills, as well as a player-ran economy that can
respond to the supply and demand of a living community of gamers as
they struggle for dominance over one another. Earthrise will
also feature territorial PvP conflicts and resource ownership,
as well as customizable guild bases.
As great as all of these features sound, they're currently suffering
from a number of design faults that are likely to alienate many
potential gamers before they even get a chance to experience the depth
that this title has to offer.
First is the trudgery of a tutorial. I mentioned it before, but let me
just nail the point home: I've only had the opportunity to invest about
16 hours into this game, and easily half of that was spent in the
tutorial maps. Some of this delay was caused by bugs that would prevent
me from progressing, others by a lack of indication on how to proceed,
and still others simply because I truly could not sufficiently
understand the combat mechanics to a degree that made me feel like I'd
actually completed my combat training. Most of it, however, was simply
having to run back and forth across gargantuan zones filled with
nothing but great scenery (and the scenery style="font-style: italic;">is great - I'll
freely admit that).
One of the many beautiful environments that you, too, can get stuck in!
Beyond the tutorial, travel didn't seem to improve much. Aside from
still hoofing it across zones the size of Iowa, I was also repeatedly
tasked with returning to my commanding officers after engaging the
enemy, resulting in a lot of back-and-forth retracing of my earlier
steps. One of the first missions I received had me take out a few enemy
soldiers that were patrolling a deep trench - my only means of leaving
the immediate area - and then report back to my commander, only to find
out that my next mission was on the far end of that same trench. This
meant having to re-engage and re-eliminate those same entrenched enemy
soldiers before I could even get to the point I had to be in order to
attempt to fulfill my next mission. And if I died (which I did,
repeatedly) I would have to do it all over again.
And all of that was after I found that trench, which took me probably
30-60 minutes on its own. The mission said "near here." Well, buddy...
there's a lot of "here" to be "near" in this zone. Could you be more
Think it looks awkward
to hold? You should see me try and run carrying this thing.
To add to the frustration of all of this excessive and unguided travel,
you will be making these runs while watching the disjointed and
unnatural animations of a strangely disfigured humanoid. The models
themselves look pretty great, and there's something about the way
they're shaded and colored that allows them to stand out nicely from
the surrounding scenery - a very important graphical feature in a
PvP-centric shooter - without looking out of place in the world around
them. But all of those good looking models fall apart when anyone
starts moving. And heaven forbid you jump - oy vey! Ultimately, the
game currently looks fantastic, as long as you never ever move. Sadly,
in a twitch-based game of fast combat and real-time tactics, holding
still will never be an option. I was pleasantly surprised to see
ragdoll physics at work with the corpses of slain enemies, though.
On a brighter note, there are quite a few good things to say about the
current state of the sound and music in this game. Voice overs are
abundant and generally well-made, and the soundtrack absolutely nails
the vibe of "near future techno with a war going on." Ambient noises
like waterfalls and chirping wildlife are also pleasing to the ears,
but I found the weapon effects to still be lacking. Gun noises are not
the greatest point to cut corners on the sound effects budget, since
most of the game is supposed to be spent firing bullets at your enemies
and not listening to chirping birds and waterfalls.
At the end of my preview experience, I've walked away considering this
game a concept that has a lot of potential but is far too rough at this
time to warrant an immediate investment. With a release date of
February 4th right around the corner, I'm not foreseeing the brightest
future. I'd estimate another 3-6 months of solid development time could
smooth out some of the rough edges and allow the game to become a more
polished experience, but that's just not happening at this point.
What the game has is the great foundation for an open-ended sandbox
experience that could potentially stand on its own in this market
alongside games like EVE.
The story is interesting, the PvP is meaningful and intense, and the
economic side of the game sounds deeply complex and satisfying. Sadly,
that incredibly foundation is currently supporting the inconsistent and
crooked timbers of a poorly-built home on the verge of collapse. With a
really nice paint job.
will hit retail shelves on February
4, 2011, and cost US$49.99 plus a
monthly subscription fee of $14.99.
For more information,
check out their official website:
href="http://www.play-earthrise.com/">http://www.play-earthrise.com/ and don't miss out on Ten Ton Hammer's Q&A with Producer Atanos Atanosov.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Earthrise Game Page.