Firefall hands-on preview

The first thing you’re going to hear about Firefall is that it’s a competitive online shooter. So immediately the question you should be asking is why you should even remotely care. After all, we’re already inundated with more competitive shooters than we could ever possibly sample, let alone master. So the question that Red 5 Studios needs to answer is why we should all stop playing Black Ops, Battlefield Heroes, and Halo to pick up their latest title.

Well, the first reason is that it’s free to play. Two years ago most of us probably would storm out of the room cursing if we found out somebody was wasting our time with another junky F2P game. However, the last two years have seen enormous advances in what developers are releasing under the F2P banner. Firefall highlights this better than perhaps any other game in existence.

First of all, it’s beautiful. Red 5 has taken a stylized approach to the graphics in this game, and it looks wonderful. More than just being attractive though, World of Warcraft has shown that stylized graphics can help a game stay relevant long after its technology has gone out of date. It also allows people with less beefy PCs to play at high settings.

It’s not just about graphics though. The animations are also pretty great. For example, when a player is “killed” they fall on the ground and their jet pack begins to pump furiously, pistons on the back pump what seems to be liquid into the body. It serves no function, but it’s really neat to watch.

To use an example that very few people will understand, the whole game sort of resembles the recent MMO from Hi-Rez Studios, Global Agenda. The two games share more than a passing resemblance too. Both are massive online shooters, both feature stylized colorful aesthetics, and both have awesome jet pack mechanics.

The major difference though is that Firefall is just a lot more fun. We were able to try out the competitive multiplayer first hand this week and came away fairly impressed. The only concern is whether this game will be able to differentiate itself enough to make it worth it. No matter how awesome they are, jet packs aren’t enough to pry us away from current online favorites.

Class-based shooters are a ton of fun, but they’re a dime-a-dozen. Every game from Black Ops to Team Fortress 2 employs a class system so it doesn’t really make you special anymore. Especially not with Firefall’s ho-hum list of classes revealed thus far: Assault, Medic, and Recon (a sort of stealth sniper). What makes a game special is when it understands the way that level design interplays directly with a class system. Thankfully, it seems that Red 5 studios gets it.

You can see it in the way our demo was laid out. There were deep trenches for heavy weapons classes to duke it out in. There were clearings where mid-range classes could gain the advantage, and throughout the level there were spires of sorts spiking up into the sky. If you used your jet pack properly you could fly up and get a great vantage point on the level, perfect for snipers. Of course, the sniper never has too much of an advantage because anybody can fly up to knock him/her down.

There are also special moves that can serve as equalizers. If a long-ranged class finds themselves embroiled in close-quarters combat, they can launch themselves into the air and slam the ground to cause large amounts of area damage. Unlike a lot of class shooters, it seems like everybody can be a threat at any time in Firefall, and that’s certainly refreshing.

The part of Firefall that we haven’t gotten a chance to see yet is the purported massive open world cooperative gameplay. This is supposed to operate similarly to Champions Online’s instance system whereby hundreds of players can occupy the same online area, questing and helping each other out.

Firefall is definitely showing plenty of potential. At the very least it should be poised to take over the – relatively small – F2P class-based shooter market from Battlefield Heroes. As for whether or not it will stack up against the best in the genre? That’s a tougher question, but it definitely deserves our attention. This game could end up making waves when it releases late this year.

Mar 23, 2011

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