These last few months have been pretty interesting with the Betas of no less than three Free to Play FPSs: Hawken, Mechwarrior and Firefall. Truely the golden age of the Tactical FPS has arrived, so lets go sacrifice a few chickens at the alter of the gaming gods and live it up before the world ends in six days*.
These three titles share a lot of ground beyond their commerce model and genre. Most superficially they are all mech style games, or in Firefall's case, powered armor. Of course they are free to play with by-in elements, and to some degree, first person shooters. Their commonality begins to drop off substantially after that and what may float your boat for one will sink like Battleship at the boxoffice in another. For those of us with limited time and attention spans, seperating the cream frrom the crap is vital, especially for those who don't have the patience in waiting for a 4gb download and numerous patches.
For my brothers and sisters in ADHD arms, this overview is for you. It isn't a comprehensive review of each game, but it should give you an idea of what you might or might not like. Or utterly hate. Like Worms: Revolution. Yes, I'm still bitter about that.
As an analog to the dystopian Battletech universe, Mechwarrior has had a number of successful- and not so successful -PC titles attributed to the franchise as far back as 1989. In its hayday you could actually stroll on over to a Battletech Center and jump into a full immersion cockpit and I'm pretty sure I still have my membership card somewhere from back when. Regardless, it was only a matter of time before it went online in the here and now with Pirahna Games offering.
So far there's not a lot here as a Beta offering-- Only a handful of maps and the mechs themselves, but it's enough to get a good idea of the commerce model and how the game plays. In a nutshell Mechwarrior feels like a Mechwarrior game. For those who have missed out, you're driving a giant, walking tank; that is to say big, lumbering and powerful. Of the three games highlighted here, it is the the most simulator driven, faithfully allowing the player to manage parts, weapons, armor and as always, heat. It looks good and feels authentic, but the current gaming modes clash with the mechwarrior style. The only game mode at the moment is Capture and Hold team death match and most of the maps are smaller and cluttered, putting the feel of the game at odds with the strategic nature of a walking tank.
It's still enough to get a good idea as to where the game is going and supposedly an open world campaign is slated to be introduced in the near future. The environments are nice and detailed, as are the special effects and explosions. Sadly, you won't see anybody go critical in this version of the franchise. The cash shop appears to be fairly balanced at the moment and while there is a pay to win aspect in buying specific mechs with better base attributes, I doubt it will be enough to turn the tide against a skilled player. Cosmetic purchase and garage slots will also be availible, so for the moment, the cash shop doesn't appear overly lopsided and you can even subscribe after a fashion.
Personal Opinion - MW: Online seems to be a reasonably faithful reproduction of the franchise that isn't quite there yet in terms of Beta. You'll get a taste of what this game is about even though the arcade sized maps are a tad misleading in nature. Its simulator roots may not be for everyone. Assuming Pirahna continues to develop MW:O and doesn't get overly greedy, this should be a title worth competeing for your gaming dollar.
The first offering by Adehisive Games, Hawken could be thought of as Mechwarrior light. If you don't like the relatively slower pace of the Battletech universe, Hawken speeds it up with a healthy dose of WASD combat and smaller, more nimble mecha. The visual styling rings a number of nostalgic bells, many of them from Japanese culture like Ghost in the Shell, Armored Core, etc. Players will boost around the battlefield, swap parts in the garage and generally lumber around an exquisitely detailed battlefield leaving destruction in their wake.
As of this posting the game seems decidedly Player vs Player with a number of admittedly compeling matches that include (for the moment) siege, capture and hold, death match and team death match. It sounds pretty cut and dry, but the modes are creatively implimented, usually incorporating some unique wrinkle to liven the match. In game combat certainly replicates the feeling of a midsized mech; that being clunky and pounderous, but still more repsonsive than Mechwarrior. You can boost forward and side to side for increased manuverabiliy, deploy missiles, mines, turrets, etc for a more tactical experience. Mech customization is the keynote of Hawken beyond the various combat modes, which quickly brings us to the most important question: Cash shop?
From the Hawken FAQ: "Adhesive Games will be following the example of games that successfully use the free-to-play model without unbalancing the game. In Hawken, many things available for purchase will be visual customizations and aesthetics. In most cases, weapon and armor upgrades that can be bought can also be earned through playing the game. More details on that in the future." And... "Meteor Credits are used in-game to instantly unlock new mechs, mech parts, repair drones, camouflage, weapons, items, attachments, boosts, and more!"
Right. I'm pretty sure that is the definition of pay to win, or at least part of it. Yes, I'm sure you can grind content to get the same items, but wether paying for the same is overly offensive is ultimately up to you, the player. As always, the game is in Beta but it's a solid product even if the value of the cash shop is in question.
Personal Opinion: If you're looking for a faster pace of combat that is visually stunning with superior audio, look no further. While F2P-FPSs are hardly in short supply, Hawken definitely has sex appeal, especially if your tastes run toward gun and run mech action. For me, the pacing felt too clunky. I got WASD controls and still felt like I was lumbering around... Which was some of the point, I'd imagine. There was a lot of hype touting Hawken to be the next big thing and while it's certainly pretty, it isn't ground breaking.
And being real here, the cash shop as explained in the FAQs makes me wary-- At very least it unearths the worn argument of grinding for stuff versus paying for the advantage outright. The application of the the disclaimer "in most cases" raises an eyebrow as well.
Didn't I just visit this one? If Mechwarrior represents the heavy mech genre and Hawken midrange, then Firefall takes the lightweight belt. Players don classed power armor to explore a transformed earth under siege by not only mutated wildlife, but alien invaders. Scifi plot is at the heart of the Firefall story with the gameplay revolving around it in a manner rarily seen. The world battlefield is truely dynamic and can transform while you're asleep as siege points are taken and reclaimed. Theoretically entire servers can be lost to the invasion.
Firefall's gameplay is also WASD and their power armor occupies many of the archtypes we're all familiar with: Sniper, DPS, Tank, Medic, and Engineer. Close analogs to Firefall's gameplay would be Starsiege Tribes and Halo classic. If you for some reason get tired of the dynamic world, there is alway s PvP multiplayer with the classic modes you know and love. While you can literally trip over FPS PvP everywhere and anywhere (see Hawken), its the ambitious dynamic world and the campaigns slated to go with it that will hold your attention long term.
The cash shop seems simple and fair. About the only thing you're paying for is character customization and garage slots. To save you time and space here, see my beta first look here.
Personal Opinion: Unless you simply don't like the FPS genre (hey, you can change to third person) along a more tactical line of gameplay, there's a lot of win. It's an ambitious project with a fair commerce model that deserves a second look.