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Sunday, September 4, 2011

PAX Prime 2011: Firefall Demo

Okay, so since I was at PAX Prime 2011, I had a chance to sit down with a number of demos that seemed rather scattershot. This is because I am one guy just now starting to generate connections, so things have to start slow. Still, I was elated with my first press demo ever for the huge title from developers Red 5 Studios named Firefall, an MMO that plays like an FPS or a 3PS depending on your preference. And best yet, it's entirely free to play. For the full demo impressions, hit the jump!

It's important that I'm honest about my experience with MMO's. I played City of Heroes over six-years-ago for about two or three months, but since then I've been unable to touch a single one, not entirely out of personal choice but rather because my computer has never been capable of running them (and still isn't). Take that knowledge into account when I say that upon playing Firefall just a bit, I instantly wanted more.

Now, this may be a result of me just never really having a chance to get into what makes MMO's so addicting, but at the very least it says that "Yes, Firefall is tall enough to ride this ride." As soon as I had the chance to boot up a character, I randomized my selection to become a strong black guy and named him "KillDeath" because I wanted to be taken seriously among the other PAX demo groups. After a mild training session where a dev instructed me in the controls, I was off to join my team shooting players from the opposing faction as they attempted to blow up parts of our base. So far, so good.

Though you have the choice between being in a first-person perspective or a third-person perspective, I much preferred to see what my character was up to and when someone was right on his back via the third-person view. Also, I felt less claustrophobic. This will all be subjective for players, so I'm happy that there is the choice between the Halo crowd and the Gears of War crowd, meaning everyone can play as they'd like.

The big mechanic that had me enjoying myself the most was the standard mode of transportation: the classic jetpack. You're able to jump into the air, then if you hold the jump button you're able to fly around with a jetpack for as long as it allows you (a few seconds) before needing to quickly recharge upon landing. It's a very simple mechanic, one that I'm sure players of Tribes know all too well, but I found myself more than anything wanting to just rip around the area leaping from rooftop to rooftop via my jetpack.

Regardless for my love of boost-jumping, I found that I was having an extremely hard time aiming properly. I felt as if my character couldn't really aim correctly into the left half of the screen, though there are two things at play here before you shout "Aha, bad controls!" First, I was playing with a mouse that clearly wasn't set up for quick tracking, so it would only move a little in any direction, whereas I'm used to a mouse that zips from one side of the screen to the other with a simple flick of my wrist. Secondly, I was looking at a screen that was angled weirdly toward where I was standing, and I'm also notoriously bad at dealing with wonky perspectives. Take those two things into consideration before passing judgment.

No matter my inexperience with a mouse and keyboard and my beginner-level finger gymnastics, I found the gameplay to be very easy to pick up and play through. After doing very little to successfully help my team in player-versus-player matches, I switched over to the player-versus-environment map and really felt myself at home, mostly because as long as I was killin' bad guys I was making definite headway with my team.

The backstory of the world is a bit complicated and will definitely make more sense when you play through it yourself, but the long and short of it comes down to the Earth being hit by a meteor that kills off most of the planet's life and then mutates a bunch more of it thanks to the McGuffin element that can cause and solve all of life's problems. In essence, the game comes down to placing value on mining for important minerals and defending civilization over just shootin' enemies.

That being said, I rather enjoyed shootin' enemies with my big ol' boom gun. Every gun has an alternate fire, which adds for variety, and each class can use different abilities such as a stomping crater attack that was particularly satisfying. At one point I encountered a pair of enemies that the dev told me should be nearly impossible to kill at my current skill level. This sounded like an adequate enough challenge, so I focused all my efforts into showing him I wasn't a complete scrub with video games and took those suckers out.

The art style really stands out to me as it's very clearly not going for a realistic approach but rather a more caricatured aesthetic similar to what you'd see in Borderlands or Team Fortress 2. I tend to hate realistic shooters, so the softer style and brighter color scheme really appealed to my inner child while the pew-pew guns and jetpacks appealed to my...well I guess those appealed to my inner child as well. Long story short, my inner child was pleased.

You can disregard all of these details though if you will only take away this one last little detail: The entire game is free. Thank God that the world of video games has begun to see free games as a wonderful business model, so when Firefall is officially launched by the end of this year, everyone can choose to jump right in at no extra cost to you or anyone else. And if I can convince my computer to try its hardest and work faster, I'd love to be among those early adopters.

Firefall is shaping up to be a fun experience. There's no need to ask "Hey, is it better than World of Warcraft?" Firefall is not World of Warcraft, nor is it attempting to be. I'd much rather play Firefall at this exact moment due both to the price-structure and the overall atmosphere the game presents. Red 5 Studios have got their hands full with the launch, but I hope to see Firefall succeed. It's worth it, so give it a shot when it officially launches this December!

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